BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for December 2006

Saddam's execution

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 14:53 UK time, Saturday, 30 December 2006

The execution of Saddam Hussein was always going to pose us some dilemmas.

BBC News has kept a constant presence in Iraq this year, despite the safety issues and the cost of doing it, because we judge events there to be such a big and important story. A few days ago, when it seemed that the execution was imminent, world affairs editor John Simpson and Clive Myrie went into Iraq to reinforce the bureau - without knowing exactly how long they would have to stay there.

As it turned out, the execution came rather quicker than many expected. Many of our competitors don't have any permanent presence there and took the decision not to send in anyone to cover this story.

As it became clear that Saddam would probably be killed last night or today, there were several conversations between the senior figures in BBC News about what we would probably show if the execution was televised - which seemed likely. One decision was that we wouldn't show the moment of execution itself - even if it were made available (which it wasn't).

This morning I was in the building as the pictures actually came in from Iraqi television. We showed them on a time delay first on Breakfast to give us the option of cutting out - which we did on first showing.

We quickly reached the decision on Breakfast (and for the early part of the day and evening on BBC One) not to show the noose being put around Saddam's neck as there could be many children on school holiday watching - possibly passively. Even then, we gave a warning ahead of John Simpson's report.

For News 24 and for the late evening bulletin tonight on BBC One, we decided to show all the pictures of the execution as people are choosing actively to watch a news channel - and the late bulletin is on after the watershed.

We have also tried to reflect all the voices and views: Shia and Sunni, Arab world, European and American - although no British government minister wants to comment on camera today, nor does President Bush.

I hope the decisions we have made have allowed us to tell the story properly and well across all the channels whilst respecting the audiences they all have, at this time of year in particular.

(Guest) editor at work

Post categories:

Peter Hanington | 13:23 UK time, Thursday, 28 December 2006

Guest editors, unlike small puppies, are not for life. They're just for Christmas. And I think it's probably just as well.

The Today programme logoDealing with this year's crop has been an absolute pleasure, of course. But the combined enthusiasm of Yoko Ono, Zac Goldsmith, Rowan Williams, Clive Woodward and Allan Leighton - not to mention a globe of excitable geographers (is that the correct collective noun?) - have pushed me and senior producer Richard Knight close to the edge.

Take Zac Goldsmith. Now come to think of it, he is quite a lot like a puppy - a gorgeous little golden retriever judging by the way the women in the Today Programme office react to the very mention of his name. Educated, sophisticated and - let's face it - worldly, the women of Today have been asking us for weeks whether Zac was planning to come in for his guest edit. We told them all yes. So perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised when so many turned up for his programme wearing fewer clothes and a lot more perfume.

Being Zac must be a bit like being the Queen - but while she smells fresh paint wherever she goes, he has to endure clouds of Chanel Allure.

You can get too close and start to lose your news judgement. Picture the scene in the studio the other morning as some breaking news threatened to push one of the guest-edited items off the end of the running order. I reacted badly. "I don't care how many American Presidents have died! Yoko asked for a piece on flightless birds and she's damn well going to get it!"

Fortunately calmer heads prevailed and - as in previous years - I was dragged from the studio and locked in the disabled toilet till the programme ended.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:41 UK time, Thursday, 28 December 2006

The Independent: "Former BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey, the man said to have been brought in by Margaret Thatcher to "sort out" the corporation, has died aged 83." (link)

The Guardian:
Columnist Mark Lawson on news at Christmas - "Holiday news shows convey an attitude that is otherwise considered anti-journalistic: a hope that nothing bad happens." (link)

The Daily Record:
"The SNP want BBC Scotland's Hogmanay Live TV show broadcast to the rest of the world - claiming it is a 'huge cultural asset'." (link)

The news at Christmas

Gary Duffy | 14:30 UK time, Monday, 25 December 2006

As we all know, the news never stops and a small but dedicated team kept the website fully up to date on Christmas Day. With the death of James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul", the Queen's annual message, as well as messages from church leaders around the world, and continuing conflict in Iraq and Somalia, there was plenty to report. In among those breaking news stories was a report that that scientists may have found a way to stop an alcoholic's craving for drink.

The shared experience of Christmas around the world was marked in our picture gallery of the day, which included two 'Santas' enjoying Bondi Beach. I could tell they were from my home country of Ireland as they had only managed to turn slightly pink in the Australian sun.

Jane Little, a BBC correspondent in Washington reflected on the controversy surrounding attitudes to Christmas, while Huw Williams in Basra reflected on 'just another day' for British troops on duty far from their families.

We also posed the question - for those who chose to escape the frenzy of the kitchen or the sometimes unavoidable tensions of a family gathering(!) - 'Is it OK to go online on Christmas Day?'.

The only difference in the normal newsroom routine here was when the journalists stopped for a festive glass of wine and some top of the range BBC sandwiches. I'm sure you didn't notice the interruption and normal service has now resumed.

The cross and the veil

Helen Boaden | 15:09 UK time, Sunday, 24 December 2006

If you asked me what words described the most challenging news theme of 2007, I would answer “the cross and the veil”. For me, that little phrase has become a shorthand for the divisions around identity, religion and politics which have galvanised fury and passion in many of our audiences and given us more than a few editorial headaches – many of which have been reflected through this Editors’ blog.

For an organisation committed to impartiality – which means we don’t take sides – we try to reflect all and every opinion in an argument. In practical terms, that meant that early in the year we showed enough of the Danish cartoons to give audiences an idea of what infuriated some Muslims. But we did not show them fully. We felt that would have caused gratuitous offence. Consequently we got it in the neck from both sides. Some called us cowardly for failing to defend free speech; others said we were offensively provocative in showing anything at all. Five Live was targeted by a systematic lobby campaign against the cartoons being shown and there was a small demonstration outside Television Centre. Being impartial, we reflected both sides attacking us on our own airwaves and quietly braced ourselves for the next such row.

It came in the form of an entirely inaccurate newspaper report that I had banned Fiona Bruce from wearing her cross on air. As I am generally not in favour of banning things and issuing edicts, the allegation that I had done so in this case came as something of a surprise to me.

The real story is much more mundane. At a seminar on impartiality run by the BBC’s Governors, I was asked what I might do if a Muslim news reader asked to wear a headscarf on air. I honestly replied that although I wouldn’t be very happy if it distracted audiences from what she was saying, I had recently noticed Fiona wearing a cross on air. Since I had no intention of banning that, I didn’t feel I could ban the headscarf. To do either would have been a sign of partiality.

Many disagree with me on this. Some think the cross is part of British culture and therefore acceptable while the headscarf is definitely not. Others think we should ban the lot – thus fostering a secular view of the world which many would regard as taking sides against religion. You can see how tricky this may become for us.

I don’t see any sign of the passion about identity and Britishness diminishing soon. Indeed, with a certain combination of circumstances, it could all become much more heated and divisive. For BBC News, that means yet more fine judgments and challenging decisions lie ahead as we try to serve all our audiences fairly and impartially.

Roll on 2007!

Harry Potter hype?

Tim Levell | 15:08 UK time, Friday, 22 December 2006

Newsround has long been associated with breaking news about Harry Potter, not least because our reporter Lizo Mzimba has set himself up as something of a world expert on Harry Potter. He can get through to people in Bloomsbury, Warner Bros and even JK's office faster than anyone we know.

newsround_logo_4.gifThis has meant that we have tried to take a step back from too much Harry Potter coverage in recent months and years, because we don't want Newsround to be known only for that story, and also because we don't want to be seen to be pushing a "product".

But it still amazes me that, whenever we have a Potter story, the response is astonishing.

On Thursday, we were the first news organisation in the world to confirm that JK Rowling had announced the title of the seventh and final book. Read our story here. The accompanying vote had started moving upwards before we'd even finished publishing the page.

We are watching comments appear in our inbox at a rate of several a second.

There's a worldwide web of fans who are out there, ready to pounce on any Potter story as soon as it's published. We aren't trying to hype him, honest. But we just can't avoid the power of the web response.

Oh my Newsnight - results

Peter Barron | 13:38 UK time, Friday, 22 December 2006

Congratulations to Joe Blanks who - if you've been following this you'll have deduced - has won our Oh My Newsnight competition with his film about Malawi (which you can watch here).

Newsnight logoIn the spirit of the competition I don't know too much about Joe or how his film got to be made, but he appears to be just 16 and the film was the runaway winner among our viewers. I thought it was terrific - a powerful story, snappily produced, and the idea of letting British schoolchildren taste the food that goes to their African counterparts did more to humanise the issue of aid than many a professionally produced news item.

My personal favourite though was Matthew Bristow's extraordinary piece about the making of cocaine in Colombia. Some viewers grumbled that it should have been disqualified on the grounds that it had already appeared on YouTube before we announced our competition, but I think that would have inappropriately nit-picking. Matthew's film had the rare distinction of showing something I suspect most people didn't already know and had certainly never seen on TV - quite an achievement. It was also a bold idea to produce it without any commentary, making the subtitled list of the ingredients that go into making cocaine even more chilling.

Thanks to everyone who entered and took part in the discussion, the voting and indeed the controversy. I'm bewildered that anyone could seriously suggest that allowing our viewers ten
minutes out of the hundreds of hours of airtime Newsnight produces each year to tell us what they think is important is somehow a negative development. At the very least we've had a great debate about the value of user-generated content, which has surely been the media story of 2006.

So would we do it again? I hope so, but that'll depend on whether there's demand for Oh My Newsnight 2, and a fresh supply of films worth showing). Let us know.

Tom Stephens interview, II

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 12:47 UK time, Thursday, 21 December 2006

Those of us involved in the editorial decision-making at the BBC this week have read the comments to my earlier entry on this blog. Clearly nothing I say at this point is going to change many people's minds.

What I would stress on the issue of potentially prejudicing any future trial is that we do not believe the decision to broadcast the interview has in any way done this. Our legal advice was very clear. There has be a substantial risk of serious prejudice and the interview we transmitted, in which Tom Stephens gave his own account of events, did not constitute this.

In terms of the decision to broadcast, I can only reiterate how the position had changed between the time of the original conversation and the point at which we broadcast it. By that time, Tom Stephens' identity was prominently in the public domain, he had been substantially quoted and pictured in a front page story in the Sunday Mirror, the full conversation he had with our reporter was available to the police and he had been arrested.

It is worth reflecting on how it would have been viewed in some quarters, if given all those changes, we decided to keep from the public an extremely relevant piece of description and insight. A rather different group of critics would undoubtedly have accused us of deliberately withholding relevant information when there was no legal reason to do so, despite the fact that an extraordinary change in circumstances had taken place since the recording.

The conclusion we reached was based on all of these considerations weighed carefully against the arguments pointing in the other direction. We continue to believe we made the right judgment.

Today's guest editors

Peter Hanington | 09:41 UK time, Thursday, 21 December 2006

The Today programme logoThe Today Programme planning team is a highly secretive unit. Their work is often described as the black ops of radio. They're particularly dangerous at Christmas when they take on five guest editors.

This year's editors include Yoko Ono, Dr Rowan Williams, Zac Goldsmith and Sir Clive Woodward - so discretion is a must.

However the the team has decided to release a few clues about the editors' content just to heighten the sense of anticipation.

todayeditors.jpgAs you will see, their clues take the form of a popular Christmas carol and should be sung aloud to the tune of Away in a Manger:

This Christmas no danger
of a bid for John Krebs
"This Show must be stranger"
That's what Yoko said

And Bluer and Greener
Said Zac in two minds
With discipline said Woodward
Throughout the back line

And when we asked Rowan
"What would Jesus do?"
He said "Drop Thought, shoot Humphrys and
Merry Christmas to you".

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 08:54 UK time, Thursday, 21 December 2006

Daily Mirror: Tony Blair's appearance on Chris Evans' radio show "was scripted in a memo... detailing plans for a farewell tour". (Link)
Guardian: Catherine Bennett on Bishop of Southwark return to Thought for the Day. (Link)
Financial Times and others: Reports on Lord Stevens report into football transfers, and ongoing fallout of Panorama investigation. (Link)

Different view of politics

Peter Knowles | 16:12 UK time, Wednesday, 20 December 2006

We got used, over the years, to seeing Parliament from one perspective. Head and shoulders shots of speakers in debates, then Mr Speaker… and a wide shot, when desperation strikes.

bbcparliament2.jpgAfter a while, the innovation of showing cutaways for people named in debates was introduced, and the world continued to spin in its usual course. We could (sometimes) see who was being talked about. But there was still no sense of interaction or of the flow of the debate.

This is more than a little odd because, compared with most other assemblies around the world, Westminster manages to "do" debate pretty well. Others - including the US Congress – restrict the broadcasters to mug-shots, for fear of showing how very few attendees there are. The result for the most part is absolutely stultifying, with speeches made not to contribute to a debate but rather to be "read into the record". Terrible television, every time, guaranteed.

houseofcommons.jpgBut an experiment that started in the Lords has changed all that. This week the Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, has agreed to change the rules to allow the cameras to follow the normal flow of the action, and to show reactions from around the chamber. It’s not the same thing as being there yourself, but for the first time the outside world is getting a real sense of the place – of the intimacy of the Westminster chambers and the closeness of the protagonists, standing feet away from each other across the debating chamber.

Nothing can make an empty chamber look full, or cheer up a dull and poorly made speech. But our experience so far (the experiment came in at the start of term, and has now been made permanent) is that following the debate as the director sees it, and seeing MPs’ and Lords’ reactions, is going to make Parliament a lot more watchable.

We’re still some way from complete freedom to capture the whole picture. Protests in the public gallery are still "off limits" to the cameras. The cameras on the Despatch Box, where the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition square off to each other, are still so high up as to miss the "in your face" nature of the conflict that is Prime Minister’s Questions. But the million or so viewers to BBC Parliament, and the many more who watch it on the news and in political programming, are closer now to seeing Parliament as it really is than ever before.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:17 UK time, Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Daily Telegraph and others: Report on Margaret Beckett's interview on Today programme (Link)
Daily Mail: Claims BBC didn't report background of two men convicted of killing PC Sharon Beshinivsky. (No link available)
Times: Magnus Linklater on Contempt of Court rules (Link)
Guardian (and others): Cartoons on the Bishop of Southwark's return to Thought for the Day. (Link)

The Tom Stephens interview

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 09:37 UK time, Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Last week a BBC News reporter spoke to Tom Stephens in Ipswich. Their 36-minute conversation was recorded but was intended for background and not for broadcast.

Following Tom Stephens' arrest on Monday, we took the decision to transmit the interview on the basis that there had been an exceptional change in circumstances. The anonymity, which Mr Stephens had sought to preserve by making the interview for background only, no longer applied. His name and many other details about him were very much in the public domain.

We felt there was a compelling public interest in letting the public hear what he had to say. He knew all five of the murdered women, two of them well. He had much to say about the world of drug dealers and financial pressures in which they lived. On balance it seemed to us to be wrong to deny people the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the events of the past few weeks.

Of course, we reflected long and hard about the legal and ethical issues this interview raised. We are confident that nothing we have broadcast could prejudice any future trial. We also reached the conclusion that nothing we broadcast could reasonably be expected to impede the ongoing police investigation. A full copy of the interview had been made available to the police.

Ultimately our judgement was based on what we felt would be right for our audiences - should there be an opportunity to hear the interview or did it remain inappropriate to broadcast something recorded six days earlier on a different basis? In the very rare circumstances of this case, we took the decision to share Tom Stephens' account.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:21 UK time, Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Daily Star, Telegraph and others: References to BBC interview with Tom Stephens. (Link)
Daily Mail: Newsround poll on children's views of Christmas. (Link)
Independent: Steve Richards says the BBC is "anti-politics". (Link)

Newswatch

Host Host | 11:41 UK time, Monday, 18 December 2006

On this week's Newswatch, the programme for viewers' complaints about BBC TV News, Kevin Bakhurst, controller of BBC News 24, discussed the issue of labelling the Suffolk murder victims as 'prostitutes'. You can watch it by clicking here.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:22 UK time, Monday, 18 December 2006

Daily Telegraph: Jeremy Clarkson 'ticked off' by BBC for saying car was 'a bit gay'. (Link)
Guardian:
Interview with Newsnight editor Peter Barron. (Link)
Guardian: Columnist Jeff Jarvis on making corrections to internet articles. (Link)
Daily Telegraph: Philip Johnston on Today programme's 'Christmas Repeal' (Link)

Newspaper readers

Ceri Thomas | 15:18 UK time, Friday, 15 December 2006

Usually, the only way to guarantee that some snippet of news about the BBC will appear in a newspaper diary is to ask people inside the corporation to treat it as top secret.

The Today programme logoGenerally speaking, if you do that you can expect Fleet St to be buzzing with the news within an hour or two at most. So it was surprising (and disappointing in a curious way) to find something in the Daily Telegraph's diary this morning that just wasn't a secret at all: from next Monday, the newspaper reviews in Today will be read by the presenters rather than the news readers.

Sandwiched in the Spy column between David Cameron on one side and Chrissie Hynde on the other, the article says the change will alarm "those who have criticised the programme for lacking political objectivity". But it's hard to see why when the presenters will be reading out the same scripts written by the same people (in the Radio Newsroom) who write them now.

The presenters already read out some of the paper reviews, of course - early in the programme and on Saturday morning, for instance - so this is a smallish change. And The Telegraph is right: we're hoping it will help everything flow along a little more smoothly.

Conspiracies won’t go away

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 10:44 UK time, Friday, 15 December 2006

Nearly three years of investigation, at a cost of £3.7 million, and yet the report by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Stevens, into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, will not end the conspiracy theories about her death.

The conspiracy theories live because questions remain, encouraged by missing evidence and failures in the investigation. The theories live because an increasing number of people distrust official sources of information, and also because some people just cannot bring themselves to believe the official explanation no matter what.

The Conspiracy Files series is looking at four modern controversial conspiracies: the death of Princess Diana, 9/11, the Oklahoma Bomb and the death of the government scientist Dr David Kelly (episode details here). We chose them because important questions have been raised about the official explanation. That is not to conclude either way. We set about trying to find the evidence. Alison Peterson, commenting on my blog entry last week, implores us to find and analyse the facts. I hope that’s what you saw in the first programme How Diana Died (BBC Two last Sunday).

Just because an official says something does not make it true, but equally it does not make it false either. We need to know the sources of the information we use and we are always looking for corroboration. We spend a lot of time working out what the real story is and how much weight to place on any particular piece of information.

Valid questions have been raised about the death of Princess Diana - why was the road reopened just four-and-a-half hours after the crash? Why was there no CCTV footage available from any of the cameras along the route? Why has a crucial witness, who drove the Fiat Uno which was hit by Diana’s Mercedes, never been found?

But in the end we did not find any convincing evidence to support the conspiracy theory that Princess Diana was murdered by the secret service on the orders of the British Establishment. We revealed a vital new piece of evidence that the French authorities had carried out DNA tests on the driver’s blood and found it matched his parents. This evidence makes it clear that the blood samples, which showed that the driver, Henri Paul, had three times the French drink drive limit, could not have been switched in an attempt to cover up a secret plot. What is more, the evidence suggests Henri Paul was driving too fast on a difficult section of road, he lost control before he hit the second car, and that neither Dodi Al Fayed nor Princess Diana were wearing seat belts, and yet they could still be alive if they had worn them.

Other commenters included Laurie Phillips, Gareth Williams and Gary Scott who suggested that we attacked straw men. Yet in the programme about Princess Diana we tackled and answered all the key questions - whether Princess Diana’s driver was drunk, driving too fast, part of a secret service plot, whether a second car was also part of the plot, and whether Princess Diana was about to get married or was pregnant. We did not dodge any of those important questions. Furthermore, we pointed out information that is difficult for the authorities, such as the absence of CCTV footage.

A number of you looked forward to the other programmes in the series, which continues in the New Year, especially the programme about 9/11. To answer questions about what we are covering in the 9/11 programme, we are covering all the key issues, including World Trade Centre 7, which was not hit by an aeroplane but which collapsed. And yes we did contact Professor Steven Jones, but he did not want to be interviewed for the programme and instead we interviewed the co-chair of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, Professor Jim Fetzer.

Some wondered if the BBC was somehow part of the cover-up. I hope you’ll see that the evidence we produced about Princess Diana’s death, and my background, show that is a daft suggestion.

I produced a series of Panoramas with John Ware which did not pull their punches but equally did not assume every official statement is necessarily false. A film on the Hutton Inquiry and the events surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly (“A Fight to the Death”) was critical of both the BBC and the British Government - hard to see how I was part of a conspiracy there. Another Panorama examined in detail the case Tony Blair made for taking Britain to war with Iraq (“Iraq, Tony and the Truth”), and quoted for the first time from the Downing Street memorandum of July 2002 which revealed that the Head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, as saying that the intelligence and the facts regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “were being fixed around the policy” by the Bush Administration.

Oh and by the way, in answer to one comment, no I am not and have never been a spy.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:18 UK time, Friday, 15 December 2006

Daily Mail and others: Lib Dem culture spokesman criticises Christmas TV schedules. (Link)
Daily Telegraph: Report that the Today programme newspaper review will no longer be read by newsreaders and will instead be read by the main presenters. (Link)
Daily Mail: Richard Littlejohn on the debate about the use of the word "prostitute". "Will we have to call their pimps 'leisure services procurement advisers?" (Link)
Daily Telegraph: Andrew Roberts criticises BBC News website animated reconstruction of Diana, Princess of Wales's car crash. (Link)

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:15 UK time, Thursday, 14 December 2006

The Independent: "Sir David Attenborough has called for a "moral" crusade against wasting energy." (link)

The Guardian: Reports on preparations for the BBC's new sports news programme, which is scheduled to launch next summer. (link)

The Guardian: Columnist Mark Lawson takes a look at TV coverage of Parliament. (link)

Care of the community

Gary Duffy | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 13 December 2006

How does a community feel when it suddenly finds itself caught up in the whirlwind of a terrible tragedy that also becomes a major news event? My colleague Tim Fenton, who was brought up in Ipswich, gave the BBC News website a telling insight into the distress this can cause, even for those not directly touched by events.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe Suffolk town and the surrounding area have been at the centre of unwanted attention from across the World following the murder of five women. With a population of about 140,000, Ipswich is in Tim’s words, "much like any town anywhere". As he points out it is big – but not so big as to be impersonal, and clearly local people have been sharing the sense of trauma. One reader wrote on our Have Your Say page: “I live approx 10 mins walk from the football ground - the area where the girls went missing from. I'm not normally a nervous person, but certainly won't be going out anywhere on my own anytime soon.”

As journalists we have been trying to reflect these feelings without adding unnecessarily to the fear that is already gripping many parts of this community. For reporters on the ground there is also the difficult balance to strike between accurately reflecting the mood of local people while trying to avoid being excessively intrusive.

There has also been a need to reflect carefully on the overall tone of a story whose consequences have spread far beyond the families most directly affected. It’s not possible to claim we always get that right, but we should be able to reconcile the journalist’s instinct to report the news while always keeping such concerns in mind.

Audience response

Host Host | 17:20 UK time, Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Five Live's Matt Morris wrote on Monday about the use of the word "prostitute" in the Ipswich murder inquiry. BBC viewers, listeners and users have been offering feedback on how the story has been reported - here are some more of their thoughts.

Lee Taylor was among those who still felt strongly about the labelling of the women as prostitutes. "I was a bit offended by your headline today 'Third prostitute was asphyxiated'. It makes the victims seem less than human to call them prostitutes rather than girl/s or woman/women which is what they are."

Many callers took issue with the use of the term "girls" since the victims are all adults.

Matt Wells wrote that he heard "a (female) correspondent on the midnight Radio 4 news use the phrase 'local women AND prostitutes admit they're terrified'. What a dehumanising form of words. Are prostitutes not women too? Surely it should have been something like: 'Local women, and prostitutes in particular, admit they're terrified.'"

Some users felt it was necessary for the word prostitute to be included. Dave Browne wrote: "What's the alternative? 'Someone was killed somewhere, somehow'? You might as well not bother! Any news story will be made more tangible and gain news value if it includes plenty of facts. Yes, it may be insensitive to broadcast details that innocent victims or their families would rather were kept private. But with every fact left out of a story such as this, its power to inform seeps away."

Simon Hatton wrote: "The term prostitute is correct: because as prostitutes these women are making themselves more vulnerable to attack, and therefore, it is necessary for the police to make this distinction in order to curb the panic surrounding these murders. It is not a matter of degradation in the slightest."

Gina Hickley picked up on Matt's question of whether the women's jobs would have been included if they had been plumbers. She thought it would. "If three plumbers had been murdered and two were missing, surely you would report their trade as it would be pretty freaky? The serious point here is that if I were a sex worker/prostitute in the Suffolk area I would be grateful for the information and would either wait until the serial killer is caught before I go out to work again, or switch catchment areas."

Jack Matthew Leahy pointed out the assumption that the killer of the women was a man. "What makes this a 'he'?" he asked. And Joanne said: "I'm far more concerned about giving the murder a name - 'The Ipswich Ripper'. It gives him/her something to 'live' up to."

Many callers thought various interviews with Brian Clennell , the father of one of the missing women, had been inappropriate.

Your further comments are welcome.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:51 UK time, Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Metro: Newsreader Fiona Bruce discusses the recent controversy over her wearing a cross. (link)

Manchester Evening News: "Business leaders have met BBC chiefs to seek assurances that the corporation is still planning to move to Salford." (link)

The Scotsman: An extended interview with Today programme presenter John Humphrys. (link)

Eating humble pie?

Tim Levell | 10:31 UK time, Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Childhood obesity is one of the great issues of our time, and certainly a subject on which Newsround frequently reports.

Newsround logoWe even (let me get my defences in early) have an online special section, packed full of advice and inspiration to help children stay healthy.

So a recent mince pie competition got me thinking about what our policy should be on such eating (or over-eating) competitions.

I'm torn.

On the one hand, children can clearly see that it's a piece of fun. In our TV piece, we dwelt on the disgusting shots of people pushing food in their face, to exaggerate its unhealthiness. We scripted and edited it to make it as ridiculous as possible. And our presenter stressed in the intro that it was definitely a "less healthy pursuit".

An image from a mince pie-eating competitionSo I am convinced most children would have laughed along and poked fun at the competitors, rather than reaching for the nearest Mr Kipling six-pack.

On the other hand, simply by covering the event, we are arguably endorsing it. And with such a sensitive subject, we shouldn't be reporting anything which might encourage children to take up unhealthy behaviour.

But that makes children seem very literal and unsubtle; and everything we know about children's media habits says that they are astute enough to understand the subtext behind what they're watching. And what's the point of children's TV if you can't have any fun?

And yet, and yet. Every time I write a letter defending our policy, something in me worries that we are being irresponsible.

Thoughts?

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:05 UK time, Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Daily Mail: Reports that Panorama's investigative reporter John Ware has left the programme. (link)

The Guardian: "The BBC faces an uphill battle to persuade Gordon Brown to allow it an inflation-busting rise in the licence fee..." (link)

Emotive words

Matt Morris | 16:07 UK time, Monday, 11 December 2006

When someone's been murdered, does it matter what they did for a living?

Radio Five Live logoMany people have contacted BBC News to complain that we have made a point of describing the women who've been killed in the Ipswich area as "prostitutes". The problem must be the description, and not the language. At least once on Five Live we referred to the women as "sex workers". This euphemism hardly rebuts the basic complaint, expressed succinctly in one text message we received - "just call them women".

The complaint took two forms - we wouldn't bother to report that a murder victim was, say, a plumber, and when we report that the victim was a prostitute we are being judgemental and implying that her life was less worthy than another's. In the end I don't think either of these points bears much scrutiny. It all comes down to reporting the relevant facts.

In this case, the fact that the women were prostitutes was crucially relevant. It suggests, if nothing else, that prostitution is a dangerous way to earn a living and that a prostitute is more likely than most people to meet a murderer. That has to be the starting point of the police inquiry. The assistant chief constable of Suffolk has urged prostitutes in the area to stay off the streets.

And implying that a prostitute's life is less worthy than another's? We protect ourselves from that accusation partly by neutral, impartial presentation of the facts. OK, but sometimes people have an emotional response to the news however it is framed. That means there should be careful scrutiny of headlines and scripts to avoid the unnecessary use of emotive words such as "prostitute".

It also means asking the type of questions asked on Five Live this morning - i.e. when a prostitute is murdered, do the police devote as much time to the inquiry as they would to any other murder?

Euro-information

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:32 UK time, Monday, 11 December 2006

What should the European Union do to communicate better with its 459 million people?

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI was at a meeting last week where the European Commission invited editors and reporters from media organisations around Europe to give their views on this as part of a White Paper consultation on European Communication Policy.

We volunteered some practical and fairly uncontroversial suggestions about how EU institutions can best get their day-to-day messages across, such as ensuring officials at all levels are equipped to respond promptly to media interest and questions, using the potential of the web to fuller effect, making sure there’s good forward planning for information about big events.

There was criticism of some media coverage of EU affairs as superficial or one-sided. The journalists countered that their role was to hold the EU to account rather than simply convey its messages. There did seem to be a general recognition that journalists often don’t do enough to explain what the EU actually does and in fact sometimes don’t know enough themselves to report on it confidently. (It was in recognition of this that the BBC last year put its news journalists through a short online training course on reporting the EU).

Margot Wallström, the Commission Vice-President, who hosted the meeting, spoke lucidly about the need for transparency and openness at all levels of the EU and the right of citizens to be informed and to have a say. (Perhaps to encourage others along these lines, she runs a blog about her day-to-day work).

That all seemed entirely sensible. But there was a wider issue lurking behind the discussions, which is whether Europe’s people feel a sense of real connection with the EU and its workings and if not, why not, given that its institutions are acting in their name. That is a harder one to tackle.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 10:24 UK time, Monday, 11 December 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC is to trial a new catch-up TV offering with its own personal video recorder." (link)

The Independent: An extended interview with the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen. (link)

Financial Times: Reports that "the BBC could be forced to double its proposed cost cuts". (link)

Money talk

Jonathan Baker Jonathan Baker | 16:30 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

There's been a lot of hullabaloo about BBC pay rates this year, both salaries for on-air talent (Jonathan Ross) and executive bonuses (Mark Thompson and the BBC's top bosses). So I suppose it's not surprising that the figures revealed in the press today about correspondents' salaries ("Female reporters paid £6,500 less than men by BBC" - Independent) are of interest too, although they are of a rather more modest order.

I'm one of those who has to set those salaries, and there are always many factors to take into consideration. These include experience, level of contribution to the news output, performance and profile. The hardest area to put your finger on is talent - that element of individuality, personality and star quality which people bring to the air waves. Difficult to define and subjective perhaps - but you know it when you see and hear it.

One thing that absolutely isn't a factor is the sex of the correspondent. The figures might seem to point that way, but I think it's more that they reflect that a majority of our senior correspondents are men, with a high level of experience. Which is an issue in itself.

Breakfast chat

David Kermode | 16:00 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

Heading home last night, I felt guilty about two things.

Breakfast logoHaving read all the comments in response to my blog, I'd chosen to ignore the postings about the irritation felt by some of our viewers about presenters 'chatting'.

This theme crops up from time to time. So what I should really have said is that I make no apology for it. It's about tone, it's about us feeling 'real' in the morning, rather than feeling 'sterile' (which used to be a regular complaint). I'm sorry if it irritates, but I think it's key to the warmth of our show. I suspect this is a hornet's nest, which is why I chose not to address it yesterday. But that was probably a mistake, so there you go.

The second thing? I was accused of 'announcing' our decision to go early with decorations, rather than blogging for opinion. This is probably a fair point, but we were responding to the sheer number of e-mails and texts we'd already received to the programme site.

Anyway, I feel better now.

PS: I have received a bauble from the editor of GMTV, who tells me it was left over from his grotto. This is very kind of him, but I would have preferred some of the money he chucks at his viewers each morning to persuade them to watch.

I feel much better now.

Window on your World

Peter Rippon | 15:55 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

pmwindow.jpgThe great PM programme 'Window on your World at 5' event took place this week. There is now a really enthusiastic web community on the PM Blog and we thought it would be fun to give people a chance to do more than just blog.

We asked people to take a photograph of what they could see as PM came on air last Tuesday. We were completely overwhelmed by the response. We expected to get a few hundred sent in. We got thousands. It's going to take us ages to put them all up. Thank you to all who took part. It is oddly profound and humbling to see so many people in the mundane act of choosing to listen to us.

The danger with conspiracies

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 14:43 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

Conspiracies are everywhere. They have well and truly entered the mainstream.

But in an age when official sources of information are increasingly being questioned, can the BBC be trusted to report conspiracy theories?

I certainly was daunted, as well as excited, when I started producing a series for BBC Two called The Conspiracy Files.

The very words we use to describe conspiracies and conspiracy theories are highly charged. Calling anything a conspiracy theory is, to some, a criticism.

Conspiracy theorists have been criticised for not understanding how history works, looking for the hidden hand of some secret power behind every event and every high-profile death. Real life, or so the conventional wisdom has it, is always much more complex and random.

The final insult to conspiracists is that when a conspiracy theory turns out to be true, it is hastily redefined by many people as investigative journalism. Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the like are just good stories.

diana.jpgBut what is the dictionary definition of conspiracy? Should people be nervous about being called conspiracy theorists? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a conspiracy as simply “an agreement to perform an illegal or wrongful act”. According to that definition in recent years we have had more than our fair share of real conspiracies. Not much to be nervous about there.

The first programme in the series, How Diana Died, will be broadcast this Sunday at 9pm on BBC Two. Certainly as soon as I started to delve into what really happened in Paris in August 1997, I was right away impressed with just how little I knew and how many valid questions there were with the official version.

Sceptics have raised important criticisms of the original French investigation – how the crash scene was handled, and how crucial forensic information was analysed, to mention just two.

In an opinion poll for our programme, carried out by GfK NOP, we found out just how little confidence there is in the official version.

There is no question in my mind that the issues and the conspiracy theories should be investigated by the BBC. Watch the programme on Sunday and see if we were up to the challenge.

The Conspiracy Files series returns in the New Year to examine the conspiracies surrounding the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma bomb, and the death of Dr David Kelly.

Arms consensus

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 14:17 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

If the people who contribute to The World Tonight's Listener Debate are anything to go by, most of our listeners are very doubtful of the wisdom of the government's decision this week to renew Britain's nuclear weapons system, Trident.

The World TonightPolls on the issue have suggested the general public are more sanguine about the government's plans, and over the next few months there will be consultation and then a vote in Parliament. Although, with the main parties all generally in favour of retaining a nuclear capability, it seems unlikely our listeners will be happy with the outcome of this process.

My colleague Nick Robinson blogged earlier this week on the way the government has said it wants to take this decision in an open and transparent manner, so I won't add any more to that.

But listening to the former head of the British Army, General Sir Michael Jackson, on the Today programme on Thursday, I was struck by the lack of consensus in the armed forces on the need for Britain to have nuclear weapons.

Gen Jackson argued that the uncertain nature of future threats means we should keep our nukes. Last Friday on The World Tonight, we spoke to the former head of ordnance for the army, General Sir Hugh Beach, who told us that the money should be spent on making the armed forces fit to face the threats we know about and face now.

In the post-Cold War world, our government has used our armed forces more and more to intervene abroad to stabilise countries, as in Sierra Leone; or to stop a state from attacking its own citizens, as in Serbia; or to disarm and remake a state our government see as hostile to our interests, as in Afghanistan and Iraq. General Beach argued that the armed forces do not have enough of the right equipment to do these things and the money that is spent on strategic nuclear weapons would be better spent on such things as helicopters and ground attack aircraft.

So the military men seem as divided as the public and politicians on this one which makes reflecting the various views in this debate a particular challenge.

As for our listener who asked why Britain has a 'strategic nuclear deterrent' while other countries have 'weapons of mass destruction' that's another area where consensus is difficult to find...

Warning: Moron-free zone

Peter Barron | 11:23 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

Jasper Gerard in the Observer was scathing. "Leave us some moron-free zones," he wrote of our Oh My Newsnight experiment, which invited viewers to send us their short films. I'm not sure if he thinks his readers are morons too, but it's certainly one way of getting rid of them.

Newsnight logoHe was of course referring to Jeremy Paxman's viral marketing masterstroke of last week (you can watch it here). Until that point business had indeed been a little slow, but following prominent coverage in the Daily Telegraph, among others, contributions have rolled in and we can now present the shortlisted lucky 13.

As far as I can see there's not a funny animal or a moron among them.

There is fascinating stuff about cocaine making in Colombia, refugees returning to Northern Cyprus and how hard it is to find a paperboy in modern Britain.

You can watch them here, vote for your favourite and tell us what you think. The winners will be shown in a special moron-free zone at the end of the programme in January.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 11:03 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

Daily Mirror and others: George Bush and BBC's Nick Robinson clash at White House news conference. (Link)
Independent: BBC gender salary disparity revealed. (Link)
Daily Mail: Lord Puttnam expresses interest in succeeding Michael Grade (Link)
Daily Mail:
Roy Hattersley advises new BBC chairman 'not to underestimate the inclinations of the viewing public'.

Decking the halls

David Kermode | 16:51 UK time, Thursday, 7 December 2006

It's interesting, following my blog yesterday, that various people I know have now contacted me to ask what on earth I am doing listening to viewers and sticking up the tinsel (no, seriously, it'll look better than that) early.

Breakfast logo"Have you gone stark staring mad?" was one such response. "Christmas starts far too early as it is."

One viewer asked us this morning whether we were being bullied by the Daily Mail? This concern was touching, but I'm happy to say that if we're being bullied by anyone, it's by our viewers (we'd already announced the change of plan, on this blog, before the papers wrote about it).

For those who hate Christmas decorations, then at least give ours a try - they will be extremely tasteful.

And for those who still hate them, then a red button development could perhaps one day present the answer...

TV from Tehran

Richard Porter | 11:58 UK time, Thursday, 7 December 2006

We learnt some very interesting things about life in Iran yesterday - not just because of what's been happening on air, but also behind the scenes.

BBC World logoWe've been hearing from a group of eloquent, passionate and idealistic students in Tehran as part of School Day 24, the centrepiece of our season of programmes called Generation Next.

The idea was been to link up students in Iran with students in the UK and the USA, and get them to ask each other questions and share their views about each other's cultures.

We've had some fascinating discussions about the nuclear issue, the conflict in Iraq, freedom of the media, even the wearing of headscarves. One young Iranian said, "I have an experience I want to share with everyone in the world". And because of the BBC she can, since she is being broadcast across the UK and to more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.

All of this supports one of our key objectives on BBC World, which is to connect and engage audiences by facilitating an informed and intelligent dialogue - we call it a global conversation. And that's happening with School Day 24, where dozens of schools all around the world are connecting with each other - students in Jerusalem talking to students in the West Bank, Russians talking to Georgians, Indians to Pakistanis - all of these, and many more, broadcast by our radio colleagues at BBC World Service in addition to our TV broadcasts.

Students in Iran watch the broadcastBut as I said, our experiences off air have also taught us something about life in Iran. The university we've been filming at, the Islamic Azad University, could not have been more helpful. Our correspondent Frances Harrison and her dedicated team have spent many weeks negotiating the arrangements and the university has pulled out all the stops to help us. And when it came to the filming, no one was monitoring the students or telling them what to say - they were left on their own to say what they think.

Contrast that with the attitude of Iranian TV, which agreed to let us rent one of their satellite dishes so we could broadcast all of our links live from the university. Then, as it came closer to the big day, it became clear that someone, somewhere had cold feet. Suddenly the dish we'd been promised was needed elsewhere and, eventually, we finally realised we weren't going to get it. Instead, Frances would have to record all her interviews and feed them over to us from her office.

It meant we couldn't get live interaction between the students - and maybe that's what somebody wanted to stop from happening. But the university was clearly pretty cross about the whole thing and was determined to let us go ahead with the interviews.

So perhaps that tells you something about the nature of Iranian society. That some people are more relaxed about engaging with the West than others. That perhaps they are suspicious of the BBC and the Western media - or worried about what their own students will say. Perhaps there's just too much red-tape. But the students know where they stand - they want to keep the conversation going and have been busy signing themselves up for various chat sites to enable them to do so.

Even without the live link-up, it still feels like we've started something...

Civil title

Tim Bailey | 11:13 UK time, Thursday, 7 December 2006

Reader P Harvey sent in this e-mail to The Editors:

    Why was the report on civil partnerships (Radio 4 Monday, 6.00 news) covered by the religious affairs correspondent? This is a secular matter.

An interesting point. And the answer is, I fear, very mundane. We used the religious affairs correspondent on this story for the simple reason that he alerted the programme to its importance and interest, and he offered to file on it. There was nothing more to it.

I, of course, accept that this is a secular matter. It may be of interest to note that BBC correspondents do cover a wide number of issues within their portfolios; none more so than the religious affairs correspondent. However I do think that, on reflection, it would have been better to have introduced the report with the words "This report from Robert Piggot", rather than what we did - "This report from our religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggot".

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:33 UK time, Thursday, 7 December 2006

Mirror: Fake tickets for Strictly Come Dancing have been sold. (Link)
Sun: John Simpson criticises Michael Grade for leaving the BBC. (No link)
Daily Mail: BBC Breakfast responds to viewers calls for Christmas decorations, quoting David Kermode. (No link)
Daily Telegraph and others: General Sir Mike Jackson gives the Dimbleby lecture. (Link)
Guardian: Review of the Generation Next season. (Link)
Guardian: Timothy Garton Ash says a low licence fee settlement has dangers for the BBC. (Link)

Christmas decorations

David Kermode | 13:35 UK time, Wednesday, 6 December 2006

It's Christmas - official.

Breakfast logoThis week our breakfast rivals stuck up their festive decorations, tree and all. Their studio now resembles some kind of grotto.

We don't generally watch our rivals that nervously, because we do generally aim to be different in the morning.

But, many of our viewers flick between the two shows - and they are currently demanding to know where our decorations are.

Problem. Our decorations are all planned (the design process takes a while), but they weren't due to go up until Monday 18th December. The thought of holding out another ten days is too much to bear. We've changed our minds - the decorations will go up this Monday instead.

This, I guess, represents a victory for the viewer. Some of our emailers and texters were polite - "would it be possible to have decorations please?", some were concerned - "why is there no tree? Is this political correctness?" and some forgot about the season of goodwill in their choice of words.

There are plenty of people who think Christmas starts far too early, of course. This morning we heard some top drawer humbug from one of the creators of 'Grumpy old men'.

So when is the correct day to put up your decorations please...?

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:55 UK time, Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Manchester Evening News: "The BBC could get the money it needs to move to Salford, even if the corporation ends up with a low licence fee settlement." (link)

Evening Standard: "The BBC will be left without a chairman until at least April, following Michael Grade's shock defection to ITV last week." (link)

More on murder

Peter Rippon | 14:54 UK time, Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Thanks to the dozens of you who contributed to the posts about how we cover crime.

The PM programme logoSome common themes emerged and we can take a lot from what was said. There were pleas for more context in our reporting. We do it, but we will try to do more. The most common criticisms were that we do too many stories purely for their shock value, and that we are guilty of creating panic and an unnecessary fear of crime.

Are we guilty? On Radio Four I am confident we are not. In fact, our instincts can tend to be too conservative. We are comfortable doing stories when there is an issue attached but when it is just a powerful human story we sometimes shy away.

There was a heated debate in the PM office as the Soham story unfolded. Some felt we should not cover it because when it first broke there were no apparent issues involved. It was just an awful compelling story. However, we were right to tell it in the constrained and sober way we did. We were right to report the Tom Ap Rhys Price murder for the same reasons. To ignore a story when it has become such a major part of the national conversation risks us appearing out of touch and irrelevant.

One of the other consequences of your comments was that I was invited to an internal BBC editors' forum on crime. Our home editor Mark Easton had some interesting thoughts on crime statistics that are food for thought for those wanting us to use them to give more context to reporting. He says:

    "We must be very wary of crime statistics. The numbers do not tell us whether crime is going up or down. In fact, they massively underestimate the level of criminal behaviour in this country.

    "Most crime, much of it very serious, never gets reported to the police. It never gets identified by adult victims responding to the British Crime Survey. In the year 2000, police in England and Wales recorded approximately five million suspected crimes. Analysis by the Home Office suggested there were actually 60 million crimes committed that year. A report by Lord Birt for Downing Street looking at the same year concluded the figure was closer to 130 million crimes.

    "Recorded crime figures reflect the crimes the criminal justice system has the capacity to process and chooses to focus upon."

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:51 UK time, Tuesday, 5 December 2006

The Guardian: Reports on possible job losses within BBC News. (link)

The Times: Speculation over who could replace recently-departed BBC Chairman Michael Grade. (link)

Newswatch/Feedback

Host Host | 13:11 UK time, Monday, 4 December 2006

On this week's Newswatch, the programme which discusses viewers' comments on BBC TV News, home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford answered criticisms that the coverage of an offensive e-mail circulated among police officers had become a story about racism rather than decency. You can watch the programme here.

On Feedback, Radio 4's programme for listener views, Jonathan Dimbleby, the chairman of Any Questions? was asked about claims that he was extending his role into that of interviewer. You can hear that programme here.

Radical views

Harriet Oliver | 10:45 UK time, Monday, 4 December 2006

"Some opinions are simply wrong and should not be given airtime".

Radio Five Live logoThat's what one of our listeners said when we asked on Friday if the BBC should allow people with minority, radical and sometimes offensive views on air. The BBC's head of TV news Peter Horrocks was with us to defend his calls (which you can read in full here) for the BBC to take more risks with guests and represent as many different opinions as possible. Interviews with the Taliban and the BNP were examples he gave of things we should hear on air.

My personal view is that he is right, as long as presenters are very well briefed and in a position to conduct a robust interview. There is no excuse for giving such people an easy ride. But ban them altogether? Surely the answer is to challenge them and, in the case of a phone-in programme like ours, give the public the opportunity to challenge them too.

One listener said giving people like the Taliban a platform might help them recruit extremists. But in a multimedia world where such views are widely available in an unchallenged form, isn't it better to test those views on the BBC rather than pretending they are not there?

But I do have sympathy with another listener who complained that if we have Islamic extremists on air then we give the impression that minority groups are more radical than they actually are. Of course it's not all about race, which brings me back to the first listener who thinks some opinions are simply wrong. She was actually talking about interviewing paedophiles. Would I put a paedophile on my programme? Well we have heard from reformed paedophiles before. But someone seeking to justify their behaviour? Perhaps not, but I'm nervous about ruling anything or anybody out.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:48 UK time, Monday, 4 December 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC may be forced to go through with its Salford move by the government, even if the corporation does not get the licence fee deal it has asked for." (link)

The Times: Columnist Helen Rumbelow comments on how an end to Radio 4's "monopoly" may soon be near. (link)

Strong visuals

Tim Levell | 15:21 UK time, Friday, 1 December 2006

When CBBC's Newsround first considered doing a special programme about child poverty, something which affects an astonishing three million children in the UK, the standard documentary techniques were rolled out - undercover filming, moody reconstructions, children showing a sympathetic reporter around their grim surroundings...

Newsround logoBut one of the aims of CBBC is to make television that's engaging for seven to 11-year-olds, and all our recent research shows that bleakness is a turn-off, both visually and emotionally. Children respond best to strong visuals as well as some practical and positive outcomes.

So when CBBC's creative head Anne Gilchrist suggested the idea of using cartoons to tell the children's stories, everyone at Newsround instinctively knew that this could be a very exciting and powerful idea. As far as we know, no one has ever attempted to tell current affairs using animation.

An image from one of Newsround's animationsAnd the result - broadcast online (click here to watch) and on TV from today - is something we are hoping will have a real impact.

Children we've shown it to have really liked the different animation styles, including photo-montage, comic strip and cardboard cutouts. They weren't really expecting a "documentary", but to our relief they've kept watching, and some have even had tears in their eyes by the end.

Most of that is down to the children and their uncompromising stories of neglect, of overcrowding, and of isolation.

An image from one of Newsround's animationsThe show's producer and creative brain, Kez Margrie, spent a lot of time with them, building up their trust and respect, enabling them to talk about their lives with both honesty and dignity. She involved them in every step of the process, from checking the look of their animated characters to agreeing the final edits.

The children are proud of the final outcome. But do you think it works? Would a conventional documentary have been better or more suitable? I'd be very interested to read what you - and perhaps your children - think of it.

Too much conspiracy?

Peter Barron | 11:45 UK time, Friday, 1 December 2006

Wherever you turn these days there are conspiracy theories.

Newsnight logoRecently Newsnight broadcast a piece by the film-maker Shane O'Sullivan pointing to new video evidence that three CIA agents were present on the night of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. That generated loads of earnest debate across the web. Then we've had the assassinations of Pierre Gemayel and Alexander Litvinenko, and theories abound. Lord Stevens' report into the much-theorised death of Princess Diana is due any day, and almost every day new emails and attachments land in our in-boxes pointing to apparent discrepancies in the official version of 9/11, with titles like The South Tower Napalm Bomb Seventh View.

While the conspiracy theory has long been with us, the internet has allowed it to become an exploding and intriguing growth industry. But how much of this stuff should we report?

When Shane came to us saying he thought he had new evidence in the Bobby Kennedy case of course my first reaction was "oh yeah", but when he showed me the video of the three alleged CIA agents, and the testimony of former colleagues who positively identified them, I was convinced the material at least raises new questions - without buying into a grand theory which explains exactly what happened.

Last night an amateur film-maker spoke to me about his belief that there's been a huge cover-up in the official reporting of both 9/11 and 7/7. Why, he asked, doesn't the BBC report the many discrepancies and oddities surrounding the accounts of these hugely significant events?

In fact, on Newsnight we have briefly examined some of these questions, but we've barely scratched the surface of the icebergs of material which float around the web.

The reason we haven't gone deeper is that there's surely no rational explanation for the attacks other than that they were carried out by two groups of Islamist terrorists, however puzzling some of apparent inconsistencies.

But I would say that the fact a conspiracy theory surrounds a story should never be a reason either to run with it or reject it. Take, for example, the stories of white phosphorous at Fallujah and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. One true, one rubbish. But it would be a big mistake to make up your mind until you've had a look.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:50 UK time, Friday, 1 December 2006

Daily Mail: Reports on a speech given recently by the BBC's head of TV News, which you can read in full on this blog. (link)

The Scotsman: "BSkyB chief exec James Murdoch launched a withering attack on the British broadcasting industry, and the BBC in particular." (link)

The Telegraph: "Jeremy Paxman, notorious for his merciless interviews on Newsnight, has turned his fire on the show itself." (link)

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