Blair Dismisses BBC Report on Iraqi WMD Intelligence

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The governors of the British Broadcasting Corp. (search) on Sunday stood by a report that government officials doctored intelligence about Iraq's weapons to boost the case for war.

In a statement issued after a meeting on the issue, the governors and senior management of the state-funded broadcaster said the report was in the public interest.

The story -- denounced by Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) as "absurd" -- has soured the BBC's relationship with Blair's administration.

Blair's communications chief Alastair Campbell has accused the BBC of bias in its war coverage.

Environment and Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw also demanded Sunday that the BBC apologize for the report that alleged officials in Blair's office "sexed up" a dossier on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons (search) to persuade skeptical lawmakers of the need for war.

But the governors called for an apology from Campbell, saying the BBC's overall coverage of the war "has been entirely impartial."

A parliamentary committee investigating the government's use of intelligence to justify war is due to report on Monday.

The BBC governors said "exceptional circumstances" had allowed for the use of a single source in the report on the September intelligence dossier by correspondent Andrew Gilligan. The BBC's guidelines warn against the broadcast of stories based on a single source.

Gilligan in May cited an unidentified senior intelligence official as saying Blair aides had redrafted an intelligence dossier to include claims that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice.

In an interview published Sunday in The Observer newspaper, Blair said the allegation was "about as serious an attack on my integrity as there could possibly be."

"The idea that I or anyone else in my position frankly would start altering intelligence evidence or saying to the intelligence services I am going to insert this, is absurd," he added.

The BBC's governors said that the broadcaster had never accused Blair of lying.

The BBC acknowledged that the Today program, on which the story ran, should have kept a clearer account of its dealings with the Ministry of Defense on the story and that it could have asked Blair's press office for a response prior to broadcasting.

"However, we note that firm government denials of the story were broadcast on the Today program within 90 minutes of the original story broadcast by Andrew Gilligan, and these were followed soon after on the same program by equally firm denials from a defense minister," the governors said.

Blair's office at No. 10 Downing St. said it was "saddened that the BBC continues to defend the indefensible."