BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Democracy Live

Mark Coyle | 14:40 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

Democracy Live screengrab

If you're a user of Twitter, you may have spotted the quiet arrival of the BBC's new website called Democracy Live at the end of last week.

The site is officially launched today but for technical reasons, we lifted the barriers to the outside world on Thursday evening. Although we didn't announce its availability, such is the power of social media that people were quick to find us and start tweeting about the site.

Total Politics even reviewed Democracy Live on Friday and concluded by saying: "It brings a decidedly 21st century edge to watching parliamentary discussion."

"DL", as it's become known in the BBC, is the result of about 18 months of development work.

It brings together for the first time in the BBC, live and on demand video coverage of proceedings in our national political institutions and the European Parliament. Democracy Live builds on previously available content in the form of video streams, guides and biographies.

But the real magic lies in the site's search function, which is unlike anything the BBC has done before.

Read the rest of this post and leave your comments on the About the BBC blog.

Cameras in court

Mark Coyle | 09:00 UK time, Thursday, 8 May 2008

There was a slightly surreal element to the experience of watching three Scottish judges delivering the Nat Fraser murder conviction appeal ruling.

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Surreal in the sense that only in exceptional circumstances - such as the Lockerbie trial - have cameras been allowed into our courts.

On this occasion, BBC Scotland had been given permission to record the Fraser decision being announced.

A number of their lordships, we were told, were keen to demystify the work of the courts and make what goes on there more transparent.

Certain ground rules were laid down in advance. We were only able to show the three judges and we could not show Fraser or any of the lawyers involved in the case.

If there were any interruptions from the packed public benches, we were prohibited from including this footage online or on television. In the event, there was none.

The judges rejected Fraser's claim that there had been a miscarriage of justice in finding him guilty of murdering his wife Arlene, whose body has never been found.

The ruling delivered, a tape was taken from the court in Edinburgh and beamed from a satellite truck to Glasgow.

BBC Scotland was the designated "pool" broadcaster, meaning that we supplied the footage to other media outlets as well.

Once received, the entire hearing, lasting just short of 18 minutes, was put on our website and excerpts were used later on television.

Between about noon and midnight on Tuesday, this video was viewed 7,400 times. A second, shorter clip was viewed 5,329 times.

But there was another act still to come. As he was led out of court, handcuffed to a custody officer, Fraser was walked past the waiting media. This too was captured on camera and the resulting footage was accessed 3,829 times online.

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The questions rang out: "Has justice been done?" "Where's Arlene, Mr Fraser?"

Fraser stopped and replied: "The fight will go on, as will the, the..."

The custody officer was pulling him towards the waiting prison van but Fraser wanted his moment.

In his North East dialect, he told the officer: "Hud on a second..." in the same way he might have asked a friend to wait for him while he chatted to a third person.

Before the officer's persistence won and Fraser was hauled towards the van, he stated: "...as will the fight to get to the truth." And then he was gone.

On a footnote, we hear through the grapevine that their lordships were pleased with the way their proceedings were handled by the media. It may be that more cases will be opened up in this way.

It transpires that shortly after we put the first video clip online, a grandchild of one of the judges rang him to say they'd seen him in court.

M'luds are, after all, human like the rest of us.

Fuelling the panic?

Mark Coyle | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

It's always a sobering experience for journalists to hear in no uncertain terms from their readers, viewers or listeners.

GrangemouthOur coverage of the planned two-day strike by workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery has prompted quite polarised points of view on our Have Your Say pages.

Many writers have expressed support for the workers whilst others reckon the action is a throwback to the "bad old days" of 1970s industrial unrest.

A third strand of the argument has emerged, one where we, the media, are being accused of fuelling the "petrol panic-buying" fire.

Here are two such comments from our Have Your Say:

"The panic buying is caused by the media. If they kept quiet, the chaos at the pumps would not be as intense. Ian Drysdale, Cumnock."

"Tell people there is a crisis with no real thought to how the message is put out and there will be a crisis. Mark Mitchell, Glasgow."

But should we ignore the fact that queues have formed at some petrol stations and that some have imposed rations on motorists?

The expressions "damned if we do, damned if we don't" and "chicken and egg" spring to mind.

It's difficult to imagine how we could report properly on this story without at the same time trying to predict the consequences of the refinery being out of action on people the length and breadth of Scotland.

That said, we've been trying hard to avoid the phrase "panic-buying" on the BBC News website unless we're quoting its use by an interviewee. I must admit though that it has cropped up in places.

Human nature being what it is, even the most selective use of words would not entirely prevent some people from wanting to keep the needle on their fuel gauges right on maximum.

Legal and moral questions

Mark Coyle | 12:18 UK time, Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The appearance on YouTube of footage taken by a camera phone during a case at the High Court in Glasgow brought into sharp focus what I believe to be a significant dilemma for the BBC.

The clip showed three young men, who later admitted beating a man to death, in the dock. The judge is seen in the background.

The video had been entitled: “The troops in the high court” and there were accompanying posts boasting about the killing.

The story first appeared on the front page of a Scottish newspaper and was followed up by many media outlets, the BBC News website among them.

The issue for us was whether or not we should provide a link directly to the video on YouTube.

On one hand, we should - providing we’d undertaken sufficient checks to ensure that the video was in fact genuine. But if we’d been able to establish that, would we have come close to colluding with a criminal or criminals? Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it an offence to use in court any sound recording instrument “except with the leave of the court to do so”.

The video is pivotal to the story therefore we should direct readers to it, so this argument goes. Part of the BBC’s online remit is to provide clear signposts to other web content. If we don’t provide the link, the reader will ask why it’s not there and go straight to YouTube to find it (not always an easy task).

On the other hand, we shouldn’t. Again, assuming that the video is genuine, clearly a crime had been committed and would a link from the BBC News website have a) made it appear that we were “conspiring” with the commission of that crime and/or b) tacitly endorsing the crime and glorifying it by saying: “Here it is, come and click on it!”?

In these circumstances, is our disclaimer: “The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites” below links on stories sufficient to distance ourselves from any criticism?

There are legal and moral questions here. The former is about the recording and storing of the video, the latter is about the BBC being seen as a publicly-funded stage on which law-breakers can perform.

In this case, we took the view based partly on legal advice from a BBC lawyer in Glasgow that we should not link to the video. I think that was the right decision, taking into account the reaction of the mother of the dead man. She described the footage as “sickening”.

We did not include it in our television news coverage of the story either. STV, the commercial channel in Scotland, made extensive use of it.

We have to bear in mind an increasingly complex set of factors as the internet generation becomes more sophisticated, and sometimes the BBC will have to be brave in rejecting what other media outlets perceive as a “good” story if it breaches our Editorial Guidelines.

I recently turned down a reporter’s offer to write a story about a clip appearing to show the dashboard of a performance car being driven at 155mph on a road in Scotland notorious for accidents. It seemed a clear-cut case of glorifying speed and encouraging others to try the same feat.

The story later appeared in a newspaper. Was I wrong to knock it back? Discuss.

As a final thought on the same subject, we’re seeing an increasing use of Facebook and other social networking sites following fatalities involving young people. Their friends post tributes and the media lift the words and pictures for our reports. Simply because information has been published into the public domain does that make it acceptable for the media to exploit its existence?

It raises the public/private question as well as the issue of copyright ownership. There are bald legal answers but perhaps the most difficult area to negotiate is the moral one, where there are not only “black and whites” of opinions but many shades of grey in between.

A new home

Mark Coyle | 14:44 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2007

They gathered together, the great and the good from a cross-section of Scottish society.

The occasion - the official opening of BBC Scotland's gleaming new headquarters, built at a cost of £188m, on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow.

BBC Scotland's new HQ

Staff lined the passageways on all five floors to listen to the speakers, Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust; director general Mark Thompson and the guest of honour, Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Pacific Quay represents a model of what the BBC wants to become... a "test-bed" was how Mark Thompson described it.

New digital production systems turning out more, engaging programmes for radio and television and multimedia content online. New working practices, with teams of journalists and other production staff collaborating more closely, stirring the creative spirit, sparking new ideas.

Openness is a theme of this building (you can see pictures of it here). Even the controller, Ken McQuarrie, sits in the open. In fact, one of the few places where staff can close and lock a door behind them is the unisex toilets (which remain a topic of fairly heated discussion).

Scotland can be an uncomfortable place for London-based BBC executives. The director-general referred to the first time eight years ago when he set foot on the then undeveloped wasteland that was Pacific Quay.

Then, he said, there was a "very lively" debate about broadcasting in Scotland. Today is no different and the themes remain broadly similar, with critics labelling the BBC the "EBC", or "English Broadcasting Corporation".

Devolution - and more significantly, the outcome of May's Scottish Parliament elections - has moved the goalposts. The SNP-led Scottish Government (itself a contentious title) has launched a commission to look into the state of Scottish broadcasting.

At the heart of the debate is the 3% the BBC currently spends in Scotland on producing television programmes which are seen across the entire UK network. First Minister Alex Salmond wants that figure to rise to 9%, which represents the proportion of the UK population in Scotland.

Today, Mark Thompson played the ball back into the politician's court. He told the audience that network deliveries from BBC Scotland "can and must grow to at least its proportion of the UK population".

He referred to this as a "floor, rather than a ceiling", echoing Mr Salmond's own words delivered last month when he announced the commission.

And so the debate goes on.

Whilst today was about looking forward, history was given its due place in the proceedings.

Mark Thompson remarked that the gathering was standing on Prince's Dock, the former name of Pacific Quay. George Reith, grandfather of the BBC's imposing founder John Reith, had been instrumental in the excavation of the dock.

John Reith's daughter Marista was in the audience. In a book about her father, she talked about his "tall ghost" still stalking the corridors of Broadcasting House in London.

Reith's original office table from Savoy Hill has been restored and placed in the controller's area on the third floor of Pacific Quay, prompting the caution that Kenny McQuarrie shouldn't be surprised if he felt a "stooped and vigilant figure looking over his shoulder".

There were nostalgic words too from Gordon Brown. It was only a few yards away, beside the shipyards of Govan, where his father began his Church of Scotland ministry in 1937.

To be present 70 years later at the opening of Pacific Quay was to send out a message of faith in the regeneration of Glasgow, once the "workshop of the world".

So, warm words and high hopes. After the dignitaries have left and Pacific Quay finds its natural rhythm, BBC Scotland's new home will be judged by the output it produces.

It feels a wee bit like we're in a goldfish bowl with the rest of the BBC and licence-fee payers looking in. Now it's down to us to get the best out of our investment.

Beyond the cordon

Mark Coyle | 11:30 UK time, Monday, 2 July 2007

The events at Glasgow Airport over the weekend brought home to people in Scotland the stark reality that terrorist attacks are not confined to England or to countries further afield. Nowhere is now immune.

Several of the many, many eye-witnesses who recounted their stories to the BBC began by saying they thought the scenes unfolding in front of them were linked to a road rage incident.

Gradually, they realised that they were at the centre of a drama which would shatter any notion that somehow Scotland was cocooned from incidents more commonly reported from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's never a good idea to spend time navel-gazing but for BBC Scotland, covering this story presented some extra challenges.

The News & Current Affairs Department is roughly halfway through moving from our old headquarters at Queen Margaret Drive in the west end of Glasgow, to a new base at Pacific Quay on the River Clyde.

Our radio news operation was installed over the past fortnight at Pacific Quay and Saturday was the first online journalists' shifts there. Television will start the crossing later in July.

There's a close relationship between these three sets of journalists, who share information on stories. Under normal circumstances, the broadcast and online output would all come from the same place but until the move's finished, radio and online will be produced at Pacific Quay while television news is broadcast from Queen Margaret Drive.

In effect, we're running a dual operation for a few weeks at the same time as learning new digital production systems at Pacific Quay which will help us to improve and expand our news services.

Saturday evening saw rolling news coverage on BBC Radio Scotland followed by a two-and-a-half hour special programme on Sunday morning and another half-hour long one in the late afternoon. Television mounted a special Reporting Scotland programme on Sunday evening.

On our website, the lead story on Saturday was clicked on nearly 1.5 million times.

Much of the BBC's coverage was driven by user-generated content in the form of still pictures and video clips taken on mobile phones and e-mailed to us. Yet again, we saw how technology has changed the way news is reported.

Without this material, the scenes showing the blazing Jeep smashed into the terminal building would have remained unseen by anyone not present as the media's journey to the scene of the story was hindered by roadworks on the M8. Then journalists were held back by the expanding police cordon around the airport.

When reporters were able to talk directly to eye-witnesses, there was no shortage of those prepared to step in front of the microphones and cameras.

It's said that Glaswegians are natural story-tellers and despite the life-and-death nature of the situation, humour was still evident.

One in particular struck me. Airport worker John Smeaton spoke about having slipped outside for an unscheduled cigarette break during his shift. He heard the impact of the Jeep hitting the terminal building.

In a matter-of-fact way, Mr Smeaton explained that he ran towards a man who was said to be resisting arrest by a police officer and aimed a kick at him. Reflecting on his actions, his main concern was that he might be disciplined for leaving his post for a fly smoke.

Another exchange is worth repeating. I looked through the many pictures submitted to the BBC and sent texts back to those whose images had been used online and on television to thank the contributors.

Quick as a flash, one person replied and wrote back: "Nae bother, jist glad it wisnae worse. Any chance o' tickets for Knock Hill [a racing circuit in Fife] tomorrow?"

Sadly I couldn't oblige.

Update 1440: It's now been pointed out to me that this blog has been set up in honour of John Smeaton.

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