“The day I knew that I had made it in journalism, is the day that I was invited to take part in a program called Celebrity Surgery, a reality show from the people who bought you, Operations Live”, jokes Andrew Gilligan, one of the UK’s most renowned journalists. “I have probably been subject to quite a bit of surgery in the media anyway.”
Here he is referring to his impressive but by no means faultless career in journalism. Gilligan, 44, began his career in journalism after a placement with The Independent in 1994, he later worked for the Cambridge Evening News and moved to The Sunday Telegraph as a defence reporter.
In 1999 he was recruited for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with the title of Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent. He worked on the Today programme until 2004 where he resigned amidst the fallout from a claim he made in May 2003 regarding the ‘sexing up’ of the war dossier that led to the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war.
After the release of the Iraq war dossier in 2003, there were many questions about its legitimacy, the most questionable aspect being claims made about how quickly Iraq were able to launch a nuclear strike if they saw fit. Gilligan claimed that the original dossier, according to his source, had been reported as not exciting enough and had to be ‘sexed up’ before it was released publicly.
On 29 May 2003 in an interview with John Humphrys, Gilligan publicly questioned the reliability of the report, labelling it the ‘dodgy dossier’. He said “It was transformed in the week before its release to make it sexier.” This broadcast eventually led to the suicide of Dr David Kelly, Gilligans informant, on 17th July 2003. Kelly’s suicide led to Gilligan being regarded as somewhat of a sloppy journalist by the press and his resignation from the BBC in 2004.
Despite his resignation, Gilligan still remains to this day that he is not to blame for the suicide of Kelly, as do Kelly’s family. He said to the BBC; “Contrary to Nick Cohen’s belief, neither I nor the BBC betrayed Kelly. Neither I nor the BBC ever revealed him as my source, either in public or in emails to an MP, until after his death. It was his employer, the Ministry of Defence, that effectively leaked his name.”
Fast forward to the present day, Gilligan is now London Editor of The Sunday Telegraph. He has some reservations about the future of journalism as there are a number of threats to it in the wake of the Leveson enquiry. Speaking on the eve of the publication of Lord Levesons report into the News of the Worlds phone hacking scandal, he thinks that statutory regulation of the press will suppress journalists and affect the quality of the news they are able to publish.
He doesn’t think bodies like the Press Complaints Commission are to blame for not holding newspapers like The News of the World to account, he blames the police. In a lecture about the threats to journalism at Leeds Metropolitan University in November, he said to a group of journalism students: “There is quite a strong regulation in place already against hacking peoples telephones, it’s called the law. The problem was the failure of the police to enforce the law.”
He believes that statutory underpinning of the press will only lead to its silence and repression, admitting he spends increasing amounts of time battling ‘bizarre and worthless’ claims of phone hacking.
He says that the problem with regulating journalism lies in the differentiation between good and bad journalism: “the problem with regulating journalism, is that there is a great deal of dispute over what good journalism looks like.” He uses the example of a story that won him journalist of the year at the 2008 British Press Awards. A story exposing the ‘cronyism’ of Ken Livingstones supporters. While Livingstone and his supporters saw the story as a ‘textbook example of bad journalism involving smears and lies’, the profession saw fit to award him journalist of the year as a result of good journalism.
Despite his reservations he still believes that there is a future for journalism in the UK. Remaining optimistic about the future of journalism online using the Guardian as an example of innovative pioneers of online media.