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Saturday, August 16, 2003
 
Journalistic integrity


Yesterday, I expressed my surprise that Susan Watts was so willing to identify David Kelly as her source. A letter in the Guardian from a working journalist (here - second letter) makes the same point
Susan Watts's claims about sources and confidentiality do not make sense. If Dr Kelly wanted, for his own purposes, to deny he had been her source, that was his concern, not hers. As a working journalist, I would very much like to know the reasoning behind her statement that his evidence to the foreign affairs select committee "relieved me of my obligation to protect his identity". The BBC's head of news, Richard Sambrook, was absolutely right to reject this claim.
Richard Sambrook is exemplary on the matter: (Here - click on 'Hearing transcripts', Wednesday 13th August, afternoon, page 171)
20 I think Dr Kelly -- in my view he was attempting to
21 protect himself and not to indicate that he had been the
22 source for either Andrew Gilligan's or Susan Watts'
23 report in the fullest sense. On that basis we still
24 owed him a duty of confidentiality and I think it would
25 have been quite wrong to have identified him in those
p. 172
1 circumstances.
Now, I know that the Hutton enquiry is not meant to be even peripherally about journalistic standards. But remember that yesterday I predicted that Susan Watts would become known as a journalist unlikely to respect a source's confidentiality. One cannot but wonder what she's up to.

One can (sort of) appreciate the point that she did not want her story to be used to support Andrew Gilligan's report. However, in all material respects, it did this, whether she likes it or not. So why was she trying to distance herself from the BBC's position? Could it be that she was acting on the advice of her solicitor?

Had she, perhaps, been told it would be best for her if she were to try to rubbish much of David Kelly's taped conversation with her and to unmask him as her source? Again, one can only speculate that the unprofessional position she attempted to adopt was intended to protect her in case the whole Hutton enquiry should reflect badly on the BBC and, by association, on Susan Watts as an employee.

But this hardly makes sense - her reputation will, I suggest, be more sullied by her unprofessionalism than by her association with the BBC, no matter what the ultimate 'verdict' on the Corporation.


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