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Did the BBC send too many reporters to Egypt?

Friday 25 February 2011, 13:50

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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A photograph taken in Tahrir Square, Cairo by BBC Radio 4 reporter Hugh Sykes in February 2011.

All radio presenters who are worth their salt want to go where the action is, but are they all really needed when they get there? After all the BBC has an extensive number of foreign correspondents distributed around the world's troublespots, as well as having foreign affairs specialists such as John Simpson and Lyse Doucet who can be parachuted in.

This week on Feedback some of our correspondents allege that the Corporation went over the top with the number of journalists it dispatched to Cairo. Listener Richard Burridge came up with this list. John Simpson, Tim Wilcox, Jim Muir, John Sudworth, Lyse Doucet, Wyre Davies, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, James Naughtie, Kevin Connolly and Ian Pannell. Several listeners thought Jim Naughtie's presence in Tahrir Square was especially unnecessary.

So was there a cosmetic element to it? That was one of the questions I put to the BBC's Head of Newsgathering Fran Unsworth, who has the immense task of anticipating where, when and how events will develop all around the world, and ensuring that she gets everyone back safe and well, having spent as little money as possible.

BBC News can hardly refuse to cover a major foreign event for lack of money but it's a fair bet that when this year's budget was set for the BBC news department, no-one anticipated the extraordinary events of the last few weeks in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, when she took a short break from deciding who should go where in Libya, and whether it was safe to deploy journalists there at all, Fran Unsworth talked to me about what must be one of the BBC's most demanding jobs, and in particular about the number of journalists she sent to cover events in Egypt.

Let me know what you think about BBC radio's coverage of fast-changing events in the Middle East. Leave a comment here or get in touch via the Feedback web site.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, produced by Karen Pirie, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Feedback is on Twitter. Follow @BBCR4Feedback.
  • The picture shows protesters in Tahrir Square in the days before the fall of Hosni Mubarak. It was taken by Radio 4 reporter Hugh Sykes. We published more of his photographs from Cairo here on the blog last week.

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    Comment number 1.

    Richard Burridge's list puts the matter into perspective. If John Simpson is there some might say that it is a case of "job done".

    I thought Fran Unsworth was unsettled at times during the interview, and I noticed that she did not give a direct answer to the question of the cost of James Naughtie's flight: "generally cheapest for BBC personnel but..." sort of answer.

    Of course the BBC is a huge news gathering organisation and it would be wrong to rely too much on one reporter. I would have liked Fran Unsworth to acknowledge, however, that the BBC should seek to reduce costs where possible. It may be easy for Ms Unsworth to write BBC cheques, but for many people it is not easy to pay the licence fee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    i hope you realise that this could be the beginning of the end? My suspicion is that the entire arab world will go into revolt, resulting in revolutions and a purifying of society. This will result in a loose unification of the islamic nations. Then a leader will emerge who will unite the arab world under islam. This is the antichrist. His name is Allaah. Then within a small space of time Allaah will make war with all the nations of the world, and he will win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I appreciate the amount of coverage the BBC provided over the events in Egypt and the other Middle Eastern countries. This reporting is a valuable resource for me and other students who are trying to stay up-to-date on current world events.


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