BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for March 2011

Total outage of BBC websites

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:53 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Last night, just before midnight, there was a thankfully rare event: a total outage of all BBC websites. We're still investigating precisely what happened, but as I said last night, I promised to keep you updated as we find out more.

It appears the websites went offline when some of the essential equipment that we use to direct people to the site - known as routers - failed. These routers not only act as the main funnel for all traffic coming into the site but also "broadcast" the location of BBC Online so that it can be "found" on the internet.

Normally this would not cause any problems as we plan for events like this and run backup equipment. But, in an unusual turn of events, these also failed meaning that the whole of BBC Online became unavailable. A number of internal services were also affected.

Thankfully we were able to get most services back up and running within an hour, just before midnight.

The outage clearly didn't go unnoticed, with many of our readers turning to Twitter to talk about possible explanations and using the #bbcblackout hashtag on their posts.

We'd like to apologise again to everyone who couldn't get onto the BBC News website last night.

My colleague Richard Cooper, who is in charge of the BBC's digital distribution, has also written about the incident here, where you can leave comments and feedback.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Technical problems

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 00:31 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

It's not often we get a message from the BBC's technical support teams saying, "Total outage of all BBC websites".
But for getting on for an hour this evening, until just before midnight, that's what happened. We haven't yet had a full technical debrief, but it's clear it was a major network problem.
We'd like to apologise to everyone who couldn't get onto the BBC News website during that time.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Coverage of the TUC rally

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Helen Boaden | 17:09 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The news coverage of the BBC, perhaps more than any other media organisation, comes under intense scrutiny for fairness and impartiality. This is as it should be. Licence fee payers represent the views of the whole country and they have a right to expect that the BBC reflects the diversity of their views.

But, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, this past weekend has highlighted just how difficult it is for an impartial broadcaster to please all the people all of the time.

The extensive BBC News coverage of the TUC rally in central London featured interviews with major figures on the march, protestors and critics. Supporters were challenged regularly - and robustly - on their alternative to the Government's programme and the Cabinet Office Minister Frances Maude featured prominently throughout a day of rolling news. We also tried to set in context the relatively small scale of the violent demonstration and to put across the views of the vast number of peaceful marchers.

Despite all this the BBC finds itself criticised by one prominent MP and several newspaper columnists for being biased towards the protestors - at exactly the same time as fielding complaints from people who thought that we were too hard on the demonstrators and their cause. This was a big news story and feelings about the Government's economic programme run high on both sides.

It is perfectly true that it is sometimes difficult to strike the correct balance and I hold my hands up when we don't get it right. On this occasion, though, I think the BBC did serve its audiences appropriately and thoroughly.

Click and Digital Planet merge

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Steve Titherington | 14:15 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

At the World Service we are changing the science programmes. Budget restraints mean that we have to cut them in duration and end the main documentary strand, but at the same time keeping the daily slots really prominent in our output.

Click logo

 

We are also changing the way we make them so they have space to help shape the day's news agenda. Our audience is mostly young - keen to understand the world and question why we live the way we do. The range of science we offer from pure research to practical application, we hope works for all our audiences around the world. From today, Digital Planet is renamed Click - matching its sister programme on World TV. They remain separate programmes, separate presenters and in many ways their own individual take on technology.

So why bother? Well I guess we are trying to make a statement about the way we work and what we offer across radio and television and that it's the "big picture" we offer. The television programme is a great way to see just what technology does, Click on the radio remains a great place to talk about the implications of this technology.

As presenter Gareth Mitchell wrote:

"The focus of the new show will be the same - reporting the human side of technology from around the world, just as we always have."

It doesn't mean radio can't do what TV does, or TV can't do what radio does, but letting our audience know that both are doing it in a complimentary way seems like a good thing.

You already would have seen or heard the different presenters appearing on the radio and TV programmes and that will continue. It's already easier to access audio and video on the main Click site.

At the heart of the idea is recognising, especially around technology and the web, that there are real chances for a multi-media experience building on what TV and radio do best. So the radio programme increasingly will be broadcast/recorded live with web chat integrated with the programme as it unfolds.

There's already been some discussion and debate about the name change online and that will continue I'm sure. Please give it time to settle in and let me know what you think.

Steve Titherington is senior commissioning editor for BBC Global News

Tweeting the Budget

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:30 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Twitter users amongst you might be interested in this blog post on the BBC College of Journalism website by my colleague Trushar Barot about the thinking behind the use of a #BBCBudget hashtag yesterday for our Budget coverage.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC School Report News Day 2011

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Helen Shreeve Helen Shreeve | 16:20 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tomorrow BBC News will be joined by 30,000 School Reporters. These 11-14-year-olds have been learning about journalism at school with the help of their teachers and the BBC. Their task is to complete their own reports by 14:00 GMT and upload it to their school websites. We're linking to them all so BBC audiences can get the news from more than 800 schools.

Screenshot School Report website

With all that's going on in the world today - the Budget, the crisis in Libya, the earthquake in Japan - what will they prioritise? It's difficult for the BBC to make choices about which news stories to cover so how will the students? If you're an 11-14-year-old living in the UK, what is important to you right now?

We recently conducted a School Report survey which gives an interesting insight into the world of some of our young reporters. About 24,000 children from School Reporter schools completed the questions, many relating directly to the 2011 national census.

The results have been sent to the schools that took part to use on News Day. I was struck by the low numbers choosing the answer "being famous" to the question what do you hope to have achieved by the time you are 30. It's the fifth year for School Report and the young people who work with us always confound the media stereotypes.

The range and quality of stories coming in already is amazing: St Albans School Reporters question England football captain John Terry live on the BBC News Channel and Sky Sports News, Hounsdown School investigates heart unit closures, and 15-year-old Mohammad talks sports with students in Afghanistan.

On News Day, there will be seven hours of live TV and radio coverage through the School Report website and red button. And this year we'll make history with the first live television broadcast from the new Studio Block at MediaCityUK in Salford. In London, School Reporters have interviewed the prime minister at a School Report press conference at Downing Street. Ed Miliband did the same at a school in Lambeth. Students have also interviewed Nick Clegg in his office, and there will be interviews with political leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We'll be updating a live news feed on our website and our @BBCSchoolReport Twitter feed throughout News Day, so please follow what our School Reporters are doing and let us know what you think.

Helen Shreeve is editor of BBC News School Report.

Coverage of world changing events

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Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 15:50 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

It is an understatement to say it's been an extremely busy time in the newsroom and for our teams in the field over the last couple of months in the light of the series of major international stories we have been working on, including the disaster in Japan and the situation in Libya and the wider Middle East.

In my own career I find it hard to recall a period when there has been so many huge stories happening across the world at the same time. Inevitably, this has led to some discussion in the press about our newsgathering budgets being under pressure and how we cope with this.

I have made it clear that we must be able to continue to cover stories of this magnitude and that is exactly what we will keep doing. Despite the strain on the newsgathering budget the BBC has made provision through its wider budget to ensure that in coming weeks we are able to bring these critical stories back to our audiences comprehensively and rooted in eyewitness reportage.

Diary events that we know are coming up are being looked at hard - and there's no doubt that on some occasions we will need to pull back from certain things to make sure our reporting of the biggest stories doesn't suffer.

As we have always done we make tough editorial decisions and allocate our resources accordingly but the last few months have shown that at an extraordinary time we must continue to be recognised for delivering excellent coverage of these world changing events.

Fran Unsworth is the head of Newsgathering.

Reporting from Libya

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 15:31 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Some weeks ago, I wrote on the blog about the difficulties of reporting from Libya. Shortly afterwards, three of my colleagues from BBC Arabic were seized and abused by the Libyan authorities before being released. I said at the time that Libya was a "tricky" place to report from at the best of times - a month on, it's perhaps an understatement to say it remains so.

Allan Little

Every war has the "journalists' hotel" - the Hotel Continental in Saigon, the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, the Palestine in Baghdad. This time, the Government has corralled around a hundred reporters from around the world into the Rixos Hotel - a smart, Turkish hotel that has just celebrated its first anniversary. It's the garden of the Rixos that you see night after night behind Allan Little and Jeremy Bowen.

But in truth, in recent days, it's become a bit of a gilded cage. International reporters are not free to move around Tripoli - even before the start of the air assault by Britain, France and the United States, the BBC team needed Libyan "minders" to leave the hotel. In recent days, they've not been around - this morning, on Twitter, one of my colleagues in Tripoli likened it to serving a prison sentence, albeit one with a fancy hamam.

During yesterday's Commons debate on Libya, the prime minister paid tribute to the bravery of the British journalists in Libya. But he also suggested that those reporting from Tripoli were reporting under what he called "very, very strong reporting restrictions".

While it's true that we can't see everything we want, we can say whatever we want. Our correspondent in Tripoli, Allan Little, is not subject to censorship, and there is no requirement for him to submit his pieces for approval prior to broadcast. The restriction is on movement - something we have made clear in our reporting.

But reporting restrictions are not just confined to Libya. British military operations are covered by "Defence Advisory" notices - agreed by senior officials from Government and also from the media. Such agreements are not new - the UK Government first sought agreement from the media not to publish information "of value to the enemy" nearly a hundred years ago.

Since 2000, there have been five standing "DA Notices" - the first of which covers current military operations. These are voluntary, and are advisory. On Saturday, the MoD asked British news organisations not to detail timings of planes leaving the UK for operations in Libya during the opening hours of the air campaign, or reveal the detail of weapons being carried - the BBC agreed to the request. You can read what is covered by DA notices here.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

Comments and making our coverage more social

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Alex Gubbay Alex Gubbay | 09:25 UK time, Friday, 18 March 2011

Following on from our website editor Steve Herrmann, I wanted to share with you more details about how we plan to integrate your comments into our stories, as one element within our overall aim to make our website feel more social.

Screenshot of Have Your Say

And why, as part of that strategy, we have decided to close our Have Your Say platform.

We have for many years made a virtue of including UGC (user-generated content) in our output - for example, within our recent coverage of both the Middle East and Japan, across TV, radio and online, you will have seen, heard and read lots of newsworthy first-hand material which has either been sent directly to us or which we have sourced and verified from the wider web.

But take one look at our popular Live Page coverage on any big story, and you'll now also see tweets, comments, blogs and other web links regularly curated within our overall narrative to help provide context and rounded reaction to unfolding events.

We have also for many years run our Have Your Say debates, but within a specific section on the site, often in something of a silo away from the rest of the content. So having changed the underlying technology last year - to bring it into line with the pan-BBC system, we are now in a position to surface that interactivity more within the stories - themselves.

Screenshot of comments

And in doing so, we hope - with the introduction of editors' picks and the return of a recommend option - to showcase interesting additional insight and perspective.

Editors' picks will be the default view once any comments have been selected, but users will be able to then tab to see all comments and also rate them, functionality I know has been sorely missed since we had to remove it in last year's transition phase.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed us trying out our comments module across different stories in recent months. The full functionality (including rating and promotional modules showing numbers of comments) is not yet implemented, but should be within a matter of weeks.

Even at this point, we will still only enable it on a selection of content each day, determined by our editors and the news agenda - as is currently the case with Have Your Say. Moderation will also work exactly as it does now.

However, once we have rolled out, we intend to close Have Your Say in its current form - most likely in early April. Though World Have Your Say - the BBC's global interactive news discussion show - will continue across BBC World Service, World News TV and online.

It is a reflection of the changing online landscape and the advent of social media that we feel the time is now right to move on from Have Your Say.

This process is essentially about us online focusing more now on encouraging discussion around our content itself, rather than looking to host or manage a community.

As my colleague Ian Hunter mentioned a couple of months ago - in terms of bbc.co.uk as a whole, "the next phase of our approach to social will be to move from a site which offers a few fairly circumscribed social experiences to one which is more social everywhere".

And indeed embracing the different ways and places we can look to do that, on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, as well as on our own site.

This is why, in the coming weeks, you will also notice changes to our share tools (showing total shares/breakdown by site and using short URLs), making it easier for you to send our stories - as with this story - onto your friends and comment on them via your networks.

We have also built up a more established BBC News presence on social media - spearheaded by our @BBCBreaking Twitter account - which last week broke through the 1 million follower mark. We'll be doing more to make this and our other BBC News social media accounts easier to find from the website.

At the same time, we're also taking the opportunity to think about how we can better promote and integrate key information, stories, pictures and video which you send or share with us into our online output as well as TV and radio, and more consistently signpost when we want it, and how.

I'm really proud of the excellent curation and audience relationships we build from our UGC team with so many people each day - and I want us to reflect that even more clearly when the result of that work is, to name but a few examples, video which makes it into a package on our News at Ten, a great interview which leads the Today programme on Radio 4, or an iconic image for a website photo gallery.

We have some thoughts in development now, but any feedback would be appreciated, not least about ways we can make it easier for you to submit newsmaking content to us, especially via mobile, and even if you also intend to post it online in other places yourself.

In the meantime, I'll come back on here soon to confirm when comments will be fully functional across the News site, and the precise closing date for Have Your Say.

Alex Gubbay is BBC News's social media editor. You can find him on Twitter @AlexGubbay

The BBC and private investigators

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David Jordan David Jordan | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 16 March 2011

There's a lot of fuss in a couple of newspapers this morning over whether the BBC ever uses private detectives in any of its journalism. It stems from a suggestion from one private detective that he may have done some work for Panorama almost 20 years ago.

The BBC's response to that suggestion has been to reveal that we do use private detectives occasionally and exceptionally to help with programmes. To some that has conjured up pictures of dozens of gumshoes beavering away for the BBC, busily hacking into private voicemails or other people's e-mail accounts, or accessing deeply personal and private information illegally. All practices which have allegedly been happening frequently in some newspapers, as Panorama chronicled on Monday.

It is worth stressing that we are not aware of any BBC programme ever having commissioned a private detective to carry out this sort of illegal activity at any time in the past. It would be totally unacceptable and a serious breach of our editorial standards.

But engaging private detectives to do things of this sort is very different from asking them to undertake lawful activity as part of an investigation in the public interest. For example, consumer investigation programmes, where we have already established prima facie evidence of wrongdoing, may sometimes have difficulty in establishing the whereabouts of rogues, whose misdemeanours they have uncovered, so that they can confront them with allegations of that wrongdoing. We might employ third parties to carry out the necessary surveillance to find out where they are and where they might be approached and, on occasion, to obtain a photograph of them. Usually we track down individuals we want to speak to ourselves. But in very hard cases we might employ the specialist skills of a private detective to help us find someone. That may not be for suspected wrongdoing but could be to locate a witness to events which happened some time ago and who we are hoping will contribute to the programme.

So we could use third parties in a number of entirely lawful ways to help investigations and other programmes. But even if we did, their conduct would be governed not just by the law but by our own Editorial Guidelines. Undercover operatives, who are usually "clean skins" for obvious reasons, have to conduct themselves in accordance with the Editorial Guidelines and, often, a detailed protocol governing what they can and can't do. Any activity commissioned from a private detective would be managed in the same way if it involved breaches of privacy. The editorial guidelines are clear: intrusions into privacy need a strong public interest justification. And that does not include a prurient interest in the private lives of celebrities.

So suggestions that the BBC might use private investigators for political stories are wide of the mark and those who are "genuinely surprised the BBC used private investigators to stand up stories" should remain surprised. The BBC validates and stands up its own journalism wherever facts and information come from.

David Jordan is the BBC's Director of Editorial Policy and Standards

BBC News website developments

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:43 UK time, Wednesday, 16 March 2011

If you are a regular visitor to the BBC News website there are some developments heading your way which you might be interested in.

Screenshot of BBC News Japan earthquake site

It's obviously an incredibly busy time in the Newsroom and our journalists are still working flat out to cover the disaster in Japan, as well as the events in Libya and the Middle East. We've seen record traffic (15.9m unique users last Friday, for example) as people have come to the site for updates, followed our Live Page coverage and watched unprecedented amounts of video.

But even while the news teams are busy with all this, our product development colleagues are continuing to work on a number of things to improve the site over the coming weeks and months. Some are coming soon, so I wanted to tell you a bit about them here.

Most of these things are being developed largely behind the scenes for now, but they should make a noticeable difference to you, so what follows is an early preview of the headlines. As the various developments progress, I'll be able to tell you more about them, or ask those working on each project to explain in more detail:

Your comments: One development which we have already tried out in a few places around the site is the addition of comments to stories, part of a wider move towards making the site feel more, well, "social". We've had our Have Your Say pages for many years, but we want to give you more opportunities to interact and reflect your thoughts and experience around the stories themselves, because this can add valuable insight and information to our own journalism. Alex Gubbay, our social media editor, will give more details on this soon. We will also be making it easier for you to share stories with others, by improving the share tools on our pages, and by getting more of our stories out onto services like Facebook and Twitter - where people are increasingly expecting to find them. The @bbcbreaking service on Twitter for example has now got more than 1m followers.

Live reporting: We're continuing to develop our Live Page format - which provides a combination of live streaming video and instant text updates based on the widest possible range of sources. It's a format which has proved effective, and popular, during major developing stories such as those of recent weeks. Expect further development and improvement of these pages, as we make them an even better vehicle for reporting all the biggest stories.

BBC correspondents: Our authoritative correspondents' blogs from the likes of Nick Robinson or Robert Peston are one of the most successful ways in which we are able to provide you with the BBC's analysis, expertise and context. We are working on a new format for these which will incorporate each correspondent's blog posts plus their other content and contributions, from news articles to TV packages to tweets. That way, if you want to know what a particular correspondent is saying or reporting on, you will be able to find it in one place - and on more platforms, not just the website.

Video: There is no doubt that video is an increasingly important part of the way users of the News website get their news. We launched a new version of the video player a couple of weeks ago, which is lighter and faster and has been redesigned to more clearly offer other related video. In coming months we will continue to analyse how video is consumed across the site and other digital platforms, and what else we can do to make it work even better. For example, we are planning to introduce the HTML5 video format soon for video clips on platforms that do not support Flash.

Internet TV: Before long it'll become easier to see web content on a TV screen, as internet-enabled TV sets become more common, and we will want to introduce services combining the ability of online news to provide headlines and reports on demand with the viewing experience of watching TV. My colleague in BBC Future Media, Phil Fearnley is speaking at the IPTV World Forum next week about our approach, so more on that soon.

Mobile: More than 3 million people a week view our mobile service and our iPhone and iPad apps, which we launched last year. At present we are working to bring our app to a wider range of smartphones, but we are also thinking hard about what comes next and what people want and expect from news on their mobile device, smartphone or tablet.

Organising our content better: This is a big project, but not as immediately visible as some of the others I have mentioned. Under the heading of "metadata" we are working on a system to label and categorise every piece of content we make so that each story, video and audio clip is tagged and easy to find and sort. That should allow us to provide you with much more specific, tailored sets of news and information about particular subjects. It will make it easier to automate as much of this as we want to, instead of largely sorting things manually as we do now. For example, we produced hundreds of pages, automatically using tagging, during the World Cup - something which would have been close to impossible to do manually.

Linking: We haven't forgotten our ongoing aim of improving our links to other websites. We've seen the number of instances of people using external links from the BBC News website increase, recently reaching 7 million a month, but there is more to do, and we are doing some analysis on how this is going.

Measurement and metrics: Last but not least, the way we keep track of how our online content is being read, watched or listened to is a key part of getting all these things right. So one immediate priority is bringing in a new system for this and consolidating the knowledge we have about how the site is used.

That's a quick overview of the various projects going on to improve the BBC News website in coming months. They are all designed to make sure you can keep up with our news output on any device you choose, and to ensure we can continue to innovate and develop it as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

As I said, these are just the headlines, and there is still much to do. But as these various projects make progress, we hope to be able to tell you more about them here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC staff attacked in Libya

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Liliane Landor | 21:30 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

On the 20 February, on this blog, BBC World News Editor Jon Williams wrote: "Reporting from Libya is tricky at the best of times - clearly, the situation there right now is anything but."


Feras Killani (L) and Goktay Koraltan at a hotel in Tripoli, Libya, on 9 March 2011

Feras Killani (L) and Goktay Koraltan

Never a truer word spoken. Nevertheless, the BBC deployed on the ground in Tripoli and the "liberated" areas, as well as at the borders with Egypt and Tunisia. Our reporters are working hard for our domestic and global audiences to make sense of a complex and fragmented story that came hard on the heels of Tunisia and Egypt and yet is so radically different.

The BBC's news gathering operation is flawlessly run. Nothing is ever left to chance. All our reporters and correspondents go through a strict and robust safety training, equipped to deal with the most unpredictable of situations. So, with our BBC Arabic team working with their English colleagues in Tripoli and elsewhere under the watchful eye of our Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, I was confident everything was taken care of.

But it would be untrue to say that I didn't expect "the call", the editor's nightmare come true. And "the call" did come.

Paul rang London to say our BBC Arabic team in Tripoli had been detained by pro-Gaddafi forces. Feras Killani, Goktay Koraltan, and Chris Cobb-Smith had been arrested at a military checkpoint outside the city of Zawiya.

Now that they've told their story and are safely out of Libya, we know that they were then taken to a massive military compound in Tripoli where they were blindfolded, handcuffed, and beaten. And we know that for 21 hours they were subjected to physical violence and psychological terror at the hands of Colonel Gaddafi's security forces.

They were kicked around, threatened with death, hooded and blindfolded, left in a cage and subjected to mock executions.

Feras, a correspondent of Palestinian descent, was singled out for special treatment.

"[They] took me out to the car park behind the guard room. Then [they] started hitting me without saying anything. First with fist, then boots, then knees. Then [they] found a plastic pipe on the ground and beat me with that. Then one of the soldiers gave them a long stick ..."

It continued later, only this time it was even worse:

"I was on the floor on my side, hands and feet cuffed, lying half on a mattress, and they were beating me... They were saying I'm a spy working for British intelligence."

You could argue this is pretty terrible but after all nothing new; journalists around the world face this kind of violence every day in the course of their work. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 850 reporters killed since 1992. The BBC World service lost two journalists over a 48-hour period in June 2008, when Samad Rohani of the Afghan Service and Nasteh Dahir of the Somali Service were killed in their respective countries. And of course we all recall the four-month ordeal of Alan Johnston, kidnapped and held by militants in Gaza.

But this is not just a story about journalists and the dangers they face in doing their jobs. This is a story about torture and hidden victims, and what happens when there is no one to tell it and lift the veil.

When Feras, Gotkan and Chris were put in a metal cage, they could hear the screams of people being tortured. Soon those people were brought into the cage, men and women, Libyans and non Libyans, some in a terrible state. Their story has to be told.

As he was being beaten, Feras was told by the Libyans that they didn't like his reports. He was being punished for the content of his journalism - that he, like every single one of our journalists, works hard at ensuring impartiality, that he reports in Arabic, on a BBC channel available in Libya, in a language understood by those meeting out the beatings, only made matters worse for him.

Our journalists are tested every day and Libya is but the latest in a series of conflicts they're covering. Some like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, are among the toughest stories to report. Yet when tensions run high and violence becomes the norm, we need to be there, with the insightful, in-depth coverage that only being on the ground can yield.

Liliane Landor is languages controller of BBC Global News

Eight weeks to face the Taliban

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Can you train an Afghan army recruit, in eight short weeks, to play an effective role fighting the Taliban insurgency?

The success of US and UK strategy in Afghanistan hinges on the answer to this because that strategy involves training and equipping the Afghan National Army to play an ever greater role, so international combat troops can eventually leave.

We wanted to find out what this training process is actually like for the raw recruits entering the Afghan armed forces.

Screenshot of Eight weeks to face the Taliban website

From initial concept to finished product

With the help of the BBC Persian and Newsgathering teams in Kabul we decided to follow four young men through the eight weeks of basic training they receive before being deployed.

It took Kabul producer Bilal Sarwary weeks of negotiation with the Afghan authorities to get permission to film and spend time with the recruits, accompanied by BBC Persian reporter Daud Qarizadah and cameraman Abdul Hameed Karimi.

The Afghan army told us no other foreign media organisation had been given such a close-up look at the training facilities or process.

A Taliban attack right at the start of our reporters' assignment highlighted the dangers the recruits face just by wearing their country's uniform. The militants are doing their best to dissuade young Afghans from joining the military.

On the Sunday morning when our team was due to arrive at the training base, attackers ambushed an army bus outside. It was only because our reporters were held up that they were not caught up in the assault, in which a suicide bomber also detonated explosives, killing five soldiers.

The BBC's high risk advisers had already made clear that our team should confine themselves to reporting only from inside the heavily guarded base, as spending time with the recruits outside, whether in uniform or not, was deemed too dangerous.

So this report focuses on life inside the base, the eight week journey from arrival, through basic training, to the moment when they hear where they are to be posted.

We hear from the four young men about why they joined up, what their families think, and their own hopes and concerns, and we begin to get a sense of what facing the Taliban means for them.

We recently published another special report on the BBC News website - Life with the Lancers looking at the training, challenges and day-to-day lives of UK troops in Afghanistan.

This report complements that UK perspective with a view from the Afghan soldiers who are being prepared to take their places.

The report is also running in two separate instalments on BBC World News, and on BBC World Service. If you get time to have a look, let us know what you think.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

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