BBC BLOGS - The Editors

BBC News comes to Burma

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 13:13 UK time, Monday, 17 December 2012

BBC World News will soon be available in Burma. Those are words that, even six months ago, I would not have imagined writing. But Burma, a byword for media censorship and repression, is starting to open up.

In September I visited Burma to begin the negotiations which led to this breakthrough in BBC distribution. I was struck by how rapid the media changes are for a country where state media had been long stuck in a repressive timewarp.

A World Service team visited the state broadcaster. We saw the most surreal newsroom I have ever visited. There were no journalists there. "Why not?" we asked. "We don't need them yet. The news hasn't arrived."

We learnt the news is literally delivered once a day by the state news agency. The job of the journalists was to read it out, word for word, unaltered.

But those journalists and editors are now keen to have the BBC's help in learning about open and balanced journalism. It will be a long road, given the ingrained habits of censorship and self-censorship.

But the BBC, through its pioneering media development charity BBC Media Action, is able to offer training to editors and journalists to teach them what independent journalism is. Even officials from the Ministry of Information, the former censors, asked if they could go on BBC journalism courses. Alongside the desire for training, the opening up of Burma to international broadcasters is naturally to be welcomed.

However, there is a long way to go. The massively popular BBC Burmese service, which we estimate is listened to by more than eight million people a week, is not yet allowed to broadcast within Burma. It is transmitted only on shortwave, faithfully listened to, as Aung San Suu Kyi has done for so many years. We urge the government to fully open its airwaves.

And we told the Burmese government that the BBC would continue to scrutinise the country closely. Indeed, as it becomes possible for our journalists to travel within the country, reports such as Fergal Keane's recent searing Newsnight film on human rights abuses in Rakhine state, will form a key part of the BBC's role in the country.

We will also continue to report the progress being made in the political and economic spheres.

At this early stage of opening up, it is hard to know if the hopes of media freedom will be fulfilled, but it is at least an encouraging sign that the BBC can now report from and to the country in English.

Authoritarian governments everywhere are asking themselves if they can and should hold back the free flow of news any more. And, as they ask themselves these questions, politicians, officials and journalists are looking to the BBC as the international exemplar of quality, impartial and independent journalism.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC Global News

New audience figures for BBC Global News

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Recent times have not been the easiest for the BBC's international news services.

New Broadcasting House

New Broadcasting House

The challenges our journalists face have never been so severe or varied, from increased harassment and intimidation to persistent efforts to censor BBC content.

With global competition only intensifying, the BBC World Service has also had to face significant cuts to its funding, undergoing disrupting and painful change.

In this context, we're announcing today that the BBC's global weekly audience estimate has seen a steady rise by 14 million to 239 million in 2012, up 6% from last year.

This has been driven primarily by the performance of our BBC Arabic and BBC Persian services. As tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa unfolded, audiences increasingly turned to the BBC for independent news they could trust.

The figures are cause for cautious confidence but certainly not complacency. We still have significant challenges ahead, including the need for BBC World Service to make additional savings and the integration of our domestic and international news operations in state-of-the-art new facilities in New Broadcasting House.

And while BBC World Service has managed to increase its overall audience to 180 million from 166 million in 2011 (an 8% increase) by delivering distinctive, high quality journalism, this should not mask that the BBC no longer serves audiences in some individual countries in the way we did previously.

Funding cuts from the Foreign Office have lessened the BBC's ability to take our journalism into some countries, and the overall figures would have been even higher still without these reductions.

With the Chinese, Russian and Iranian governments all pumping money into journalism designed to give their own perspective on the world, there's no room for complacency.

But the figures do underline the lasting importance of our international mission.

The combined increase across all our international news services is first and foremost a credit to the dedication, bravery and professionalism of our journalists. In today's world, theirs is a tough calling.

In the past year, the BBC's Arabic Service has seen a record rise in audiences with 25 million adults weekly tuning in. BBC Persian TV has doubled its reach in Iran, with an audience of 6 million people, despite facing a campaign of censorship and intimidation by the Iranian authorities.

Our English language radio programming on the BBC World Service has also performed well with audiences holding firm at about 44 million overall. Journalists have consistently delivered high-quality international coverage ranging from the global economic crisis, Afghanistan, the deaths of Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden and famine in the Horn of Africa to South Sudan's independence and the horrific killings in Norway.

But while our mission endures, how we deliver it must evolve.

This rise in our reach shows the BBC's global strategy, increasing access to our content on new platforms, is working. We must continue to respond to the changing needs of our audiences to stay relevant.

The global audiences for BBC World Service, BBC World News and bbc.com were 145 million for radio (down 1% this year), 97 million for television (up 13% including a 45% increase in BBC World Service TV platforms) and 30 million for online (including a 20% increase for BBC World Service online). This includes a strong year for the BBC's international mobile services. The bbc.com mobile site reached 2.7 million unique users per week, a 30% increase from 2011.

None of this is cause for us to rest on our laurels.

But these figures are a step in the right direction as they underline the international desire for the sort of independent journalism that the BBC provides. Globally, there remains a dire need for journalism that isn't slanted towards any one country, political or commercial viewpoint.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

China and international censorship on World Press Freedom Day

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:31 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Today is World Press Freedom Day and during recent days we have learnt that BBC World News, our 24/7 international news channel, has been jammed by Chinese authorities during stories they regard as sensitive.

This included Damian Grammaticas' report yesterday on Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng leaving the US embassy.

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This deliberate electronic interference of the channel's distribution signal is just the latest in a long line of examples to block our impartial news and prevent it reaching audiences.

The BBC's Chinese language website has been consistently blocked in China, apart from a brief respite during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and our radio broadcasts in Mandarin were historically subject to persistent frequency interference for decades.
And these issues are certainly not just restricted to China.

In November, BBC World News was taken off-air in Pakistan by cable operators for broadcasting a documentary entitled Secret Pakistan.

BBC Persian TV has suffered deliberate interference to its broadcasting signals intermittently since its launch and the online service has consistently been blocked.

Other international broadcasters including Deutsche Welle and Voice of America have also been subject to deliberate electronic interference by the Iranian authorities.

In addition, in recent months, new tactics have been introduced which should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent international media.

This includes the intimidation of the families and acquaintances in Iran of BBC Persian's London-based staff. All journalists should be allowed to operate freely and any attempt to intimidate those known to them, is very concerning.

We strongly condemn these acts of censorship and harassment. The BBC has a long history of standing up to these attempts to prevent access to free media. This includes working closely with other international broadcasters to highlight these issues and encourage concerted international action.

We would again urge the countries where jamming, censorship and harassment emanates from, to stop these restrictive practices.

It is also imperative that the global community is doing all they can to counter attempts to block authoritative news.

The challenges that our international journalists face have never been so many and varied.

The BBC will continue to represent the voice of free media where there is no other access to fair and authoritative news - be it because of suppression and persecution of journalists, a growth in state sponsored media or attempts to jam or censor our news.

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we repeat the call on international governments and the relevant regulatory bodies to put maximum pressure on those who seek to block access to trusted and independent news.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News

Families of BBC staff being harassed in Iran

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The BBC has become accustomed over many years to relentless criticism from the Iranian authorities. Often the verbal claims made by the Iranian government and media are so exaggerated that we ignore them and rely on the good sense of our audiences in Iran and around the world to discount their wilder statements.

Ayatollah Khamenei listening to a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

However recent direct actions against the BBC by Iran cannot be ignored.

We are seeing the levels of intimidation and bullying as well as attempts to interfere with our independence reaching new levels - particularly since a documentary about the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei was aired.

In recent weeks the jamming by the Iranians of international Persian language TV stations, such as BBC Persian TV and the Voice of America's Persian News Network has intensified.

The jamming prevents Iranian audiences viewing a vital free service of information. In the past week alone, hundreds of Iranian viewers have sent emails and used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reach out to us.

They tell us how much they value us as a source of reliable independent news, ask us to persevere and to look for other - not prone to interference - ways of broadcasting BBC Persian TV.

Iran is a member of the United Nations body the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); as such the Iranian government is a signatory to international communications treaties that are designed to allow the free exchange of information and data, for the benefit of all.

The BBC and other international broadcasters have called on governments and international regulatory bodies to put maximum pressure on Iran to desist in this flagrant censorship.

The second category of direct action by Iran is aimed not at our audience but the BBC's own staff. Many of our Iranian employees who live in London are fearful to return to their country because of the regime's attacks on the BBC. But although those journalists are beyond the direct reach of their government they are now subject to a new underhand tactic.

Iranian police and officials have been arresting, questioning and intimidating the relatives of BBC staff. We believe that the relatives and friends of around 10 BBC staff have been treated this way.

Passports have been confiscated, homes searched and threats made. The relatives have been told to tell the BBC staff to stop appearing on air, to return to Iran, or to secretly provide information on the BBC to the Iranian authorities.

Six independent documentary makers whose films have appeared on BBC Persian TV have also been arrested in Iran. Although these film-makers have never been employed or commissioned by the BBC, they are paying the price for an indirect connection to the BBC.

These actions and threats against the BBC have been accompanied by a dramatic increase in anti-BBC rhetoric. Iranian officials have claimed that BBC staff are employees of MI6, that named staff have been involved in crimes, including sexual crimes, and that BBC Persian is inciting designated terror groups to attack Iran.

Whilst these claims are clearly absurd, the intensity of language magnifies the fears of BBC staff for their family and friends back in Iran. Given the vulnerability of those family members we have thought hard about drawing attention to this harassment. But this public statement has the full support of all staff whose families have been intimidated.

Our Iranian journalists have made their own decisions to work for the BBC, which they knew might cause hostility from their own government. But their families are innocent bystanders and it is outrageous that they should also be victimised.

This issue is wider than the BBC and is behaviour that all people who believe in free and independent media should be concerned about.

The BBC calls on the Iranian government to repudiate the actions of its officials. And we request the British and other governments take all necessary means to deter the Iranian government from all these attempts to undermine free media.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

BBC stringer killed in Afghanistan

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:51 UK time, Thursday, 28 July 2011

This morning we received the extremely sad news that the BBC's stringer in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan, Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, had been killed. He died in the city of Tarin Kowt during a prolonged assault involving suicide attackers. The sympathies of the BBC and all of his colleagues go to Ahmed Omed's family and friends.

Ahmed Omed Khpulwak

 

Only this morning he was reporting on BBC Pashto about another Taliban attack that happened last night. For the past three years he has been constantly reporting from a very difficult part of Afghanistan. The BBC and the whole world are grateful to journalists like Ahmed Omed who courageously put their lives on the line to report from dangerous places.

The BBC World Service has a deep and extensive commitment to the country of Afghanistan. To the world at large that is represented by the News correspondents who broadcast in English to the UK and the globe. To the people of Afghanistan that commitment is represented by the reporting and voices of the BBC teams in Afghanistan broadcasting in the languages of Pashto and Dari.

At the last count the BBC was listened to by 40% of the population and is by far the most trusted international news provider in the country. That trust has been earned over many years by the commitment to fair reporting and the bravery of dozens of reporters and stringers across the country. Ahmed Omed Khpulwak was one of those brave reporters who have created that bond of trust with the people of Afghanistan.

The BBC is trying to establish further facts about his death and will do all we can to support his family.

Peter Horrocks is director of BBC Global News

BBC World Service and Afghanistan

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:00 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Today's Daily Telegraph makes a number of serious accusations against the BBC World Service and its staff, claiming a leaked US intelligence document suggests our Afghanistan team are part of a "possible propaganda media network" and that BBC employees may have al-Qaeda sympathies.

While I accept that the wording of the intelligence document is not entirely clear, I would strongly disagree with the Daily Telegraph's interpretation of it.

There is a danger that an entirely false impression is created which could have serious consequences for the BBC team who risk their lives daily in reporting from Afghanistan.

There is no evidence - past or present - against members of its staff in relation to supposed al-Qaeda sympathies and we have received no approaches from any security agencies.

This is the full quote from the leaked document:

"The London (UK) number 004420752xxxx was discovered in numerous seized phone books and phones associated with extremist-linked individuals. The number is associated with the BBC. (Numerous extremist links to this BBC number indicates a possible propaganda media network connection. Network analysis might provide leads to individuals with sympathetic ties to extremists or possibly possessing information on ACM [Anti-Coalition Militia] operations.)"

The reference to "network analysis" seems more likely to be a suggestion that intelligence officers should look for other suspects in possession of the phone number than a suspicion that there were BBC employees sympathetic to the extremist cause. In that context, the suspected "propaganda media network" would clearly relate not to the BBC but to a network of extremists who have a BBC number in common.

The BBC Belfast newsroom, where I worked in the 1980s, used regularly to receive claims concerning terrorist violence from extremists. By any reasonable interpretation, if a number of those extremists were then caught in possession of the BBC newsdesk number an intelligence report on the subject would have been more likely to conclude that the extremists were part of a network rather than the BBC was part of such a network.

Because of the BBC's prominent and trusted role in Afghanistan, due to the reliability and impartiality of our journalism, all sides in the conflict regularly contact the BBC to pass on information and give their side of the story. Of course we test all such information rigorously, especially that from extreme organisations.

Today I have written to the editor of the Daily Telegraph pointing out this alternative explanation of the leaked document.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

Painful day for BBC World Service

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:16 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Update, Monday 31 January: Thank you for your comments. I have replied to some of them here.

It's been a painful day for the BBC World Service and its audience of 180 million around the world. This morning I announced a fundamental restructure to the BBC World Service in order to meet the 16% savings target required by the UK government's Spending Review last October.

Sign for BBC Bush House

 

At the moment BBC WS is funded by Grant-in-Aid provided by the government.

BBC WS will be funded by the licence fee from April 2014.

Over the next three years, we will have to make to an annual saving of £46m by April 2014.

In all the changes announced today, the aim has been to protect the WS, its quality and reputation and, where possible, our footprint.

Our choices are based on the needs of our audiences and the limited resources that we now have available.

Under these proposals we expect 480 posts to close over the next year and by the time the BBC World Service moves in to the licence fee we estimate the number of proposed closures to reach up to 650.

Today I announced:

• The closure of five language services; Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian, as well as the English for the Caribbean regional service.

• The end of radio programmes in seven languages, focusing those services on online and new media content and distribution. These include: Azeri, Mandarin Chinese (note that Cantonese radio programming continues), Russian (some programmes will be distributed online only), Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian.

• Reduction of most short-wave and medium-wave distribution.

• In World Service English the schedule will become simpler and some programmes, Europe Today and Politics UK will be decommissioned. There are other changes to the schedule.

The closure of services and programmes is painful. This is not a reflection on their performance. They're all extremely important to their audiences and to the BBC. And I pay tribute to the brilliant journalists who have done a superb job for their audiences and the BBC.

We are making cuts that we would rather not be making.

We estimate that there will be an immediate drop of more than 30 million in our audience figures as a result of these measures. We will need to make investments in new content and services to be able to respond to competitive pressure and audience and technology changes. It's the only way to avoid further reductions in our reach.

In our programming in English, we will invest in some of our highest quality and best known radio programmes. World Have Your Say will have an extra daily edition and From Our Own Correspondent will add short daily programmes to its weekly offer.

Our aim has been to maintain the great quality of the English programming, despite the need to make significant savings. And I believe it is possible to do that.

The strength and quality of radio in English is the cornerstone of the World Service and long may it live.

From April 2014 BBC WS will be funded by the licence fee.

The director general and the BBC Trust have committed to protecting the World Service. The director general, Mark Thompson, said that he intends to restore some of the funding we are losing in the interest of audiences when World Service becomes licence fee-funded in 2014.

After today's announcements a lot will change.

What won't change is the BBC's aim to continue to be the world's best known and most trusted provider of high quality, impartial and editorially independent international news.

We will continue to bring the BBC's expertise, perspectives and content to the largest worldwide audience, which will reflect well on Britain and its people.

Finally, I am immensely proud of all the World Service staff that have, under a period of huge uncertainty, continued to deliver brilliant programmes. My aim is to ensure that, whatever the pain today and over the coming months, we will continue to produce that superb journalism and we remain the most trusted broadcaster in the world.

You can find details of my full speech to staff on the Press Office website.

I would very much like to have comments or questions from BBC audiences around the world, so please post your points here and I will endeavour to answer them.

Update 1130, 31 January: Thank you for your comments.

We have been overwhelmed by the messages of support both from our audiences and public opinion for BBC World Service. Most have expressed their disappointment at some of the decisions taken especially regarding closure of services and stopping short-wave distribution.

Let me clarify first one of the issues that is quite fundamental in the current debate - that of the funding of WS, as expressed in one of the comments here by James Rigby: "Why should the British licence-fee payer fund broadcasts for overseas audiences?".

Currently BBC World Service is funded by Grant-in-Aid from the FCO. The plans, I announced this week, cover the next three years till 2014. For the next three years, BBC WS will be funded by Grant-in-Aid from the FCO. It is this funding that has been cut as part of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review.

Many members of our audience have written to express their willingness to help with the cut to our funding. "I wish that before going to these drastic cuts that the BBC had asked people outside of the UK if they would be willing to pay for the services -I know I would pay!", writes cfgarside. We are grateful for those offers of support. But the charter under which the WS operates does not allow for receiving money from individuals to fund the WS.

BBC World Service Trust - the BBC's international charity - is funded by external grants and voluntary contributions and a small amount of core support from the BBC. It receives donations from the public.

BBC WS Trust works to strengthen the media in developing countries and shares expertise with broadcast partners. Some of the discussion programmes produced are also broadcast on World Service in various languages.

"I am deeply disappointed about the cutting of BBC WS Caribbean Service...Please reconsider us here," writes Frank Power.

BBC Caribbean service has indeed been a one of the oldest and most distinguished services the BBC has provided in English. The Caribbean Islands have important heritage links with the UK and BBC content will continue to be available through a number of outlets including a network of FM relays serving potentially 80% of the population in Antigua, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

I would be happy to respond to comments or questions from audiences around the world. Please do post them here.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Continuing coverage of the Pakistan floods

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 20:25 UK time, Friday, 27 August 2010

The flooding in Pakistan has caused hundreds of thousands of people to be in desperate need of food, shelter and water. Nazes Afroz, Regional Executive Editor for Asia & Pacific for the World Service, explains how they have been contacting us and how World Service and BBC Urdu are getting news and information to them.pakistan_ap.jpg

It's been four weeks since we first reported the flood story in Pakistan. Very rarely, we carry on covering a disaster story like the way we are doing with this one.

In the case of the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, the 2006 Asian tsunami or Haiti's crisis early this year, the breaking and the unfolding nature of the story ended within a few days and the world media's attention moved away from reporting the disaster to the impact and recovery angles in a week or so.

But currently the disaster phase hasn't come to an end yet. As I write this, new areas are being submerged with more flood waters flowing in and hundred of thousands of people are still moving away from their homes to safety.

Close to a million people are completely dependent on supplies by helicopters, as roads and bridges to those areas have been washed away. Our coverage is still largely focussed to the ongoing disaster and the plight of the survivors.

When the disaster struck a month ago, it became apparent that the story would be very big, affecting millions of people. As the story became bigger within the first few days, we made the decision to start a "Lifeline" programme with essential life-saving information for the flood victims.

The broadcasts contain information like fresh flood alerts, weather reports, how to cope with diseases, how and where to get aid etc. From our past experience we have found that at the time of any major disaster, people tune in to radio for such essential information.

The BBC World Service Trust, the BBC's international charity, quickly found the funding to carry out this humanitarian information service or "Infoasaid" for the victims. We also felt that we needed to broadcast in Pashtu alongside Urdu as the main language of the badly affected north-western part of the country was Pashtu.

When we approached our 34 FM partner stations, they readily agreed to take this "lifeline Pakistan" service on their airwaves ensuring an audience of 60 to 80 million across the country. pakistan2_ap.jpg

The Urdu service had to put together the editorial teams very quickly in Islamabad. They also decided to use a toll-free phone with voice recording facility and asked the flood victims to call and record their stories. This generated a huge number of calls across the length and the breadth of the country.

They recorded more than 800 calls within the first four hours after it was opened up. People were telling their stories of despair and utter hopelessness. They were trying to reach the world through these recordings, saying how desperately they needed urgent help - shelter, food and water. These voices are forming important segments of the BBC's overall coverage of the flood story.

"We are sitting in the Risalpur Centre and waiting for aid. We have been here five times but the administration is doing nothing. There are no arrangements for Sehri and Iftar during the month of Ramadan." Sakina, from Risalpur, Punjab

"We have been without food and water for three days. The devastating flood has damaged everything. People are suffering from diseases. We need medicine, water and food." Ahmed Ali from Kashmore, Sindh

"We are trapped in the flood water. We have nothing to eat or drink. Please rescue us. Our lives are in danger. For God's sake rescue us, otherwise we will die. Please help us, please!" Khyber Husain, Jacobabad, Sindh

Some of these messages are broadcast in Urdu, some in Pashtu and some are passed onto the Pakistani authorities and relief organisations.

After four weeks, the main question now being asked is how we are going to sustain interest in the story.

It needs no elaboration how important Pakistan is in terms of geo-politics. There are already discussions and debates as to what end this massive disaster will change Pakistan.

This is something we will be focussing on soon after the acute phase of the disaster is over, and once the country enters the reconstruction and rebuilding phase. So the story will not go away.

BBC's SuperPower season

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:08 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

Twenty years ago, a quiet British engineer was on the cusp of changing the world. Tim Berners-Lee was ironing out the wrinkles in a project that would become the "world wide web". As he readily admits, no-one could have predicted its significance.

Today, BBC News launches a two-week season on radio, television and the web taking stock of his invention and considering how it is changing our lives.

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It's a chance to stand back from the break-neck pace of change of the last two decades and to consider how far we have come, and how much further there is still to go.

For some of our audience, the web may have become a mundane part of their lives. For others, it will be untested waters. No matter what your experience, we hope the season will use the BBC's reach to uncover untold stories and give you a fresh perspective.

We are calling the season SuperPower, a phrase that - we think - resonates with other events two decades ago. Then, the Iron Curtain was falling and the power relationships that had dominated the latter half of the 20th Century had come to an end.

The world's superpowers were changing and new ones - with new power structures - emerged. The web grew up against that backdrop and its effect on the new landscape may have only just begun.

SuperPower is a chance to examine these changes and to ask who benefits: who is wielding this new-found power?

One example is the distribution of knowledge. One view has it that information traditionally imparted power, and that the web is the first medium where everyone can make his or her voice heard. But of course, if you want to take part, you need access.

We live in a world of haves and have-nots. Less than one-third of the world is currently online; for more than 4 billion people, it is still an unknown. During the season, we will examine that imbalance.

Our On/Off project has been following people in the village of Gitata in northern Nigeria as they make their first tentative steps on to the web using mobile phones.

The village, two hours north of Abuja, is not connected to the electricity grid and has minimal links with the outside world. So how will they react when they finally join the "global conversation"?

By way of contrast, we will drop in on South Korea - the most wired nation on Earth - where we have persuaded two families to give up their high-speed connection for a week. Can they still function when severed from a society that is apparently so reliant on the web?

We will also address how this technology has united previously-isolated people and given them a tool to share their experiences. BBC Russian has spent time with disadvantaged and disabled people to see how the web has allowed them to participate in societies from which they had been excluded.

This is a common theme of the web. It is a tool that allows people to contribute to and engage with organisations and people that were previously off-limits. Conversely, it has also forced some organisations to be more transparent and open.

This has been keenly felt in journalism. When I joined the BBC, the relationship with the audience was a one-way street. We made programmes for broadcast and - bar the occasional letter - that was the end of the deal.

Today, our audience is, as we often point out, at the heart of our thinking. And so another part of the season, MyWorld, will consist of your films, about your perspective on the wired world. And of course, we also want to encourage you to participate in the discussions and debates about this emergent power.

We also aim to also reflect what is being said on the web about the season and about world events. Blogworld will highlight the best of blogosphere in multiple languages, while the BBC News website has partnered with the non-profit network of citizen journalists Global Voices to give different perspectives on the news.

Of course, any technology can also be used to more nefarious ends. So the season will examine censorship, online crime, cyber-warfare and other more regrettable consequences.

Twenty years ago, only the sci-fi-minded could have imagined countries attacking each other with computer code. But now virtual walls join bricks and mortar as means by which countries protect themselves from outside threats.

The world has been transformed.

The season is a chance to step back and consider this change and ask: if we are all to share this new SuperPower, what shall we do with it?

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC Global News.

Bob, Band Aid and how the rebels bought their arms

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:59 UK time, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Update 4 November 2010: This blog post was the subject of a complaint by the Band Aid Trust. A BBC investigation upheld the complaint - click here for details.

An edition of the BBC World Service programme Assignment, alleging that money intended for famine relief in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s was used to buy weapons, has prompted an angry response from aid campaigners.

Andrew Whitehead, Editor, News and Current Affairs at the BBC World Service, explains how the story came about.

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By Andrew Whitehead

A quarter of a century ago, the BBC's Michael Buerk achieved something very rare - he not only reported the world, but changed it a little bit.

His vivid on-the-spot coverage of a famine "of biblical proportions" in Tigray in northern Ethiopia pricked the conscience of the richer part of the world.

The money came pouring in. Bob Geldof's Band Aid and Live Aid led the way in galvanising public attention, raising cash and mobilising a huge relief effort.

As a result, many thousands of lives were saved - and tens of thousands of those facing starvation received food.

In the past week, the BBC World Service has broadcast an Assignment documentary - you can listen to it here - based on the testimony of key figures on the ground in and around Tigray in the mid-1980s.

It presents evidence, compelling evidence, that some of the famine relief donations were diverted by a powerful rebel group to buy weapons.

The documentary has revealed some uncomfortable facts and provoked a strong response. This morning a British newspaper, The Independent, gives over its front page to complaints from Bob Geldof and several leading charities. They accuse the BBC of "disgracefully poor reporting".

The suggestion of aid money being to diverted to buy arms is "palpable nonsense", in the words of Phil Bloomer, director of Oxfam's campaigns and policy division.

Geldof goes further. "This is a Ross/Brand moment in BBC standards for me," he told The Independent. "It is a disgrace."

OK, so let's stand back a moment. This documentary was put together by Martin Plaut, Africa Editor at BBC World Service News.

He has a particular expertise in the Horn of Africa, and indeed reported from there on the famine back in the 1980s. He has spent almost a year gathering material and doing research for this documentary - and the BBC stands by his journalism.

As so often is the case, the famine that afflicted northern Ethiopia was compounded by war. Much of Tigray was controlled by a hard left-wing rebel group, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front. They were fighting the Ethiopian army, then the largest in Africa.

This was also the era of the cold war - and the Americans were seeking to undermine the Soviet-aligned Ethiopian government.

It is not in dispute that millions of dollars of relief aid was channelled through the Relief Society of Tigray (Rest), which was a part of the TPLF rebel movement. It was the only way of reaching those in desperate need in rebel-held areas. What Martin Plaut's documentary uncovers is the systematic diversion of aid received by Rest to buy arms for the TPLF.

Martin tracked down two key former members of the TPLF who explained how they managed to divert the money.

They are now at odds with the then TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi, who is currently Ethiopia's Prime Minister. But they are credible voices.

One of these former TPLF fighters, the rebel army commander at the time, makes an allegation which has attracted particular controversy - that the organisation made a policy decision that only 5% of the money received by Rest would be spent on relief, with the bulk going directly or indirectly to support their military and political campaigns.

Among the other accounts featured in the World Service programme, Robert Houdek, who was the senior US diplomat in Ethiopia in the late 1980s, states that TPLF members told him at the time that some aid money and supplies was used to buy weapons. A CIA document paints the same picture.

Bob Geldof was given every opportunity to express his point of view while the documentary was being made, but declined to be interviewed.

Some relief agencies - including Christian Aid and Cafod - pointed us towards their staff involved in directing food supplies 25 years ago, and those voices were included.

Two key aid workers active in and around Ethiopia in the 1980s confirm in the BBC World Service programme the way in which relief was channelled through Rest - though they dispute that there was a significant diversion of money for arms buying.

"If we were being conned, I think it was on a very small scale," said Stephen King, then overseeing from Sudan the work of Catholic charities in providing food to the starving.

The documentary did not say that most famine relief money was used to buy weapons - it did not suggest that any relief agencies were complicit in the diversion of funds - it explicitly stated that "whatever the levels of deception, much aid did reach the starving".

But there is a clear public interest in determining whether some money given as famine relief ended up buying guns and bullets.

And that's what the evidence suggests.

--

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC Global News.

Update 4 November 2010: The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld a complaint from the Band Aid Trust about this blog post.

The complaint said:
• By using phrases such as "key figures", "compelling evidence", "uncomfortable facts", "uncovers systematic diversion of aid" and "credible voices" the article gave unwarranted support to allegations which were not sufficiently corroborated.
• The article gave support to the allegation that "95% of the money received by Rest was spent on military and political campaigns" when this allegation was not sufficiently corroborated.

The finding:
• The article gave a misleading impression that there was evidence of large-scale diversion of Band Aid money.
• The article was not clear about the extent to which the credibility of the claim of 95% diversion of aid by Rest was open to question.

For full details of the Band Aid Trust complaint and findings, click here.

Africa debate

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:10 UK time, Thursday, 17 December 2009

You might have read some of the coverage about a World Service Africa Have Your Say debate yesterday, or my colleague David Stead's blog post about it last night.

The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused. But it's important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.

The programme was a legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion about proposed legislation that advocates the death penalty for those who undertake certain homosexual activities in Uganda - an important issue where the BBC can provide a platform for debate that otherwise would not exist across the continent and beyond.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

The End of Fortress Journalism

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:17 UK time, Friday, 17 July 2009

The BBC College of Journalism has this week made available a document called the Future of Journalism.

It's a collection of papers discussing the changes to news in a digital age from a BBC media conference that took place late last year.

In The End of Fortress Journalism, I've written about how journalists are having to reassess how they work. Some people (including Charlie Beckett, Jay Rosen, Daniel Bennett and Bill Doskoch) have been kind enough to tweet and blog about it.

I'd be interested to hear your views on what I've written. There's an excerpt below, and you can download the collection (The Future of Journalism [359Kb PDF]).

Most journalists have grown up with a fortress mindset. They have lived and worked in proud institutions with thick walls. Their daily knightly task has been simple: to battle journalists from other fortresses. But the fortresses are crumbling and courtly jousts with fellow journalists are no longer impressing the crowds. The end of fortress journalism is deeply unsettling for us and requires a profound change in the mindset and culture of journalism.
 
Fortress journalism has been wonderful. Powerful, long-established institutions provided the perfect base for strong journalism. The major news organisations could nurture skills, underwrite risk and afford expensive journalism. The competition with other news organisations inspired great journalism and if the journalist got into trouble - legally, physically or with the authorities - the news organisation would protect and support. It has been familiar and comfortable for the journalist.
 
But that world is rapidly being eroded. The themes are familiar. Economic pressures - whether in the public or private sectors - are making the costs of the fortresses unsustainable. Each week brings news of redundancies and closures. The legacy costs of buildings, printing presses, studios and all the other structural supports of the fortress are proving too costly for the revenues that can now be generated.

If this all sounds a bit grim I can make no apology, but I do think - and mention in the paper - that there are some reasons for optimism. Do let me know what you think.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Stop the blocking now

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:03 UK time, Sunday, 14 June 2009

BBC audiences in Iran, the Middle East and Europe may be experiencing disruption to their BBC TV or radio services today. That is because there is heavy electronic jamming of one of the satellites the BBC uses in the Middle East to broadcast the BBC Persian TV signal to Iran.

Satellite technicians have traced that interference and it is coming from Iran. There has been intermittent interference from Iran since Friday, but this is the heaviest yet.

It seems to be part of a pattern of behaviour by the Iranian authorities to limit the reporting of the aftermath of the disputed election. In Tehran, John Simpson and his cameraman were briefly arrested after they had filmed the material for this piece. And at least one news agency in Tehran has come under pressure not to distribute internationally any pictures it might have of demonstrations on the streets in Iran.

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However, the availability of witness material from Iran is enabling international news organisations to be able to report the story. Viewers of BBC Persian TV have been in touch (in Farsi), sending videos, stills and providing personal accounts.

It is important that what is happening in Iran is reported to the world, but it is even more vital that citizens in Iran know what is happening. That is the role of the recently-launched BBC Persian TV which is fulfilling a crucial role in being a free and impartial source of information for many Iranians.

Any attempt to block this channel is wrong and against international treaties on satellite communication. Whoever is attempting the blocking should stop it now.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Putting India's election coverage in motion

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 20:33 UK time, Sunday, 26 April 2009

We have had a variety of comments from BBC audiences around the world concerning the BBC's India Election Train. Some people are enthusiastic. Others have complained about the cost and appropriateness of the BBC hiring and painting a train. I will attempt to explain the thinking behind the project.

I hope that effective coverage by the BBC of the Indian elections would be a priority for all users of the BBC - whether in the UK, India or internationally. Covering an election is not just about reporting the political campaigns and the eventual results. It is also an opportunity to examine the country and its people in depth.

India is an increasingly important country and this is the world's biggest-ever election. Our reporting of it takes as its theme the question: "Will India's voters revive the world's fortunes?" We will be assessing whether the comparative strength of the Indian economy might assist the rest of the world that is in recession, and therefore have an impact on us all.

Using a train allows us to journey through this vast country, reaching remote locations. The journey allows us to assess issues like the economy, regional differences, religion and caste identity etc. Our teams are not remote from the story. At each stop, they will be reporting from the location, mixing with people and reporting their views to the world. They won't just be doing this for English-speaking audiences. They will also be reporting in 13 languages, including Hindi, Somali, Urdu, Tamil, Burmese, Vietnamese and Arabic.

So why use a train and why paint it with the BBC logo? Trains are an iconic form of transport in India. This train will carry our broadcasting facilities and act as a mobile studio. It's a practical way to allow the BBC team to cover the vast distances and to get a little bit of sleep between their hard work in each location.

bbc india election train

We have, at low cost, decorated the train so that our large Indian audience and our global TV/online audiences can see what we are doing. As well as reporting the news thoroughly, you need to get noticed in the world's very busy news market. Already over one hundred articles have been written in the Indian press about the train. Getting what we do noticed makes the project more cost-effective, not less.

Lastly, I should address the cost of the train. The UK licence fee is only making a minority contribution to the cost of the project. The overwhelming majority of the other funding comes from the BBC's commercial global news revenues and from the World Service. Bringing the various sources of BBC funding together like this gives great value for money.

I think few international news organisations would have the scope to attempt to bring this intriguing election to life in this way. Our audiences around the world should find something of fascination from this imaginative exercise.

PS I've recently taken over as director of BBC World Service. The new head of the multimedia newsroom is Mary Hockaday.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Jade Goody's death

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 17:15 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009

While millions of you have followed our coverage of the death of reality TV star Jade Goody, some of you have contacted us to question the appropriateness of our carrying the story.

Jade GoodyJade Goody became a phenomenon, both in terms of the interest she inspired in the public and in the effect that her sad death had on awareness of cervical cancer. To make a legitimate news judgement about our coverage, we applied the same criteria as we usually use: should we report this, and if so, how? Knowing that there was a possibility that Jade would die soon, we talked about whether this was a story we would lead on in the absence of other significant news.

Obviously, this kind of discussion is academic until the event actually happens; the circumstances were that the early part of Sunday was relatively quiet - when, later, Ken Clarke made his comments on inheritance tax, many parts of the BBC News output then led on that story.

We know that from the statistics that we have on a minute-by-minute basis from the news website that many more people visited than normally would on a Sunday - and the Jade Goody story was overwhelmingly the most popular story.

We also know that Jade was a very divisive figure and that by no means all of you were interested in the story: the reaction from 5 live's listeners, for example, has been very different to that of the Radio 1 audience. This highlights one of the challenges of producing news through a range of services for all of the UK population. While some of you have told us that you didn't like Jade Goody, or didn't want to hear news about her, we have to bear in mind those licence fee payers who have a strong level of interest and who expected us to provide measured coverage of her death.

Peter Horrocks is head of BBC Newsroom.

BBC News and disabled audiences

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 12:50 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Yesterday, several newspapers picked up on an internal e-mail I sent to BBC News TV presenters asking them to avoid using the phrase "as you can see on your screens" when pointing audiences to the BBC News website. I asked them if they would please spell out URLs, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, pointing out that a significant number of blind people use television news. The phrase "as you can see" excludes people with visual impairments, and means they can't get the information they might want. This is discourteous, and we can do better than that.

BBC News logoCommentators, and one reported "BBC insider", have said: "This is political correctness gone mad." It is not. This issue is not about avoiding causing offence. It's about information and how to access it.

Eleven million adults are considered to have a disability in the UK which affects their everyday life, and this group make up 19% of the working population and an even higher proportion of our audience. For instance 21% of the audience to the BBC News at Six on BBC One is considered to have a disability. Surely it's not political correctness to consider whether the content we're producing is suitably accessible and understandable?

The BBC has a commitment to help people with disabilities use our services. There are various pages on the BBC site which give information about how it addresses this - for instance bbc.co.uk/accessibility which helps arm audiences with tools which enable them to make the most of the web. There's also the Ouch! website - which reflects the lives and experiences of disabled people with articles, blogs, and an active messageboard.

I'd be interested in hearing from you on what more BBC News could do to makes its services more accessible to all and also about the range of stories we cover.

Thanks from BBC News

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 12:57 UK time, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

BBC News audiences helped us out with reporting the news in record numbers on Monday.

Over 35,000 people sent us stills and video of the heavy snow across much of the UK. This was a record both for the sheer number of pictures and almost certainly for the size of the audience response to a news event in the UK.

As well as sending us your pictures, audiences watched and read a lot of BBC News.

About 8.2 million unique users came to the BBC News website, of whom 5.1 million were from the UK - also a record. The BBC News channel, no doubt boosted by huge numbers of people taking an enforced day off work, had a peak audience of 557,000, compared with Sky's peak of 300,000. The BBC News channel's average share across the day was 1.82 per cent, compared with Sky's 0.90 per cent. And there were 195,000 plays of the BBC News channel live on the BBC website.

The BBC1 news programmes were also avidly watched. Breakfast's audience was 1.8 million, a share of 38%; the News at One scored a huge 5.1 million and a share of 44 per cent; the Six ranked even higher with 7.1 million (30 per cent share) and the Ten reached the heights of 7.4 million (32 per cent share).

Whenever there has been a big news story like this we assess it afterwards and see what we can learn from it. Do please let us know what you thought of the BBC's information service across news (national and regional) and weather.

Your pictures and video certainly made it clear that people were having a lot of fun out there.

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Lastly, I'd like to pay tribute to our reporters and TV crews who have been out in the cold and snow for hours on end.

Jenny Hill

Peter Horrocks is head of BBC Newsroom.

Using Prince Harry's words

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 11:40 UK time, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

There has been much controversy prompted by media coverage of the language used by Prince Harry in the video he recorded. Most of the discussion has been about the words he used. But we know it upset some of our audience that we repeated the words in our own coverage. We have also had many comments that we have given the episode too much coverage and that it was a fuss about nothing. This blog examines our editorial thinking and includes, in case you want to avoid being offended, the words in question.

Prince HarryWhen the News of the World broke the Prince Harry story on Saturday night we had to decide whether to use the words "Paki" and "rag head" in our coverage online and in broadcasting. We took the decision that in order for audiences to understand the story we would need to use the words, but that we should use them sparingly. Presenters were told not to over-use the word and to convey, through their tone of voice, that the words, particularly "Paki", are controversial.

It is clear from debate on BBC message boards, blogs and discussion programmes that there is a wide range of views about the word. The majority of comments from the audience have argued that it was a "nickname" and not racist. However within the audience that contacted the Asian Network, most felt it was an abusive term; but not all Asian listeners felt that the use of the word should be prohibited on air.

Given that the word is clearly offensive to an important part of our audience, why did we use it at all? Firstly, for clarity. Prince Harry used the word so that is why we did, as the most straightforward way of explaining the story to the audience. Not using the word could have confused audiences and possibly made them think other terms were used. The response to the debate itself shows that there is no established consensus about the word, with some people believing it can be "affectionate" and "innocuous ", while others would prefer us to avoid using it. In this context the BBC avoiding the word would, in itself, have represented us taking a position on the use of the word which would have not been impartial. Not using the word might also have meant we needed to require contributors to radio phone-ins to avoid it. This would have been unworkable.

The BBC will always be sensitive to the views of all our audiences. In this instance the best thing we can do it is to be moderate and factual in our use of contested language and to hold the ring for the public debate that follows. And the strong views expressed on all sides probably indicate that, one way or another, it was a story well worth covering.

Peter Horrocks is head of the BBC Newsroom.

Mistaken report: Delhi airport

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:10 UK time, Friday, 5 December 2008

I'd like to explain about a mistaken report which BBC News carried yesterday. Around 1915 GMT yesterday there was a security alert at Delhi airport sparked by reports of gunshots, which the BBC News channel in the UK reported at 2010 GMT.

A BBC News correspondent who was travelling through the airport was involved in the security alert and reported on air that airport staff had told him that six gunmen had been killed. Versions of this initial report were subsequently carried by the BBC World News TV channel and by BBC News online.

Following urgent checks by BBC News teams and denials by the Indian authorities we subsequently and rapidly reported that six gunmen had not been killed. The security alert had apparently been sparked by a false alarm. We made clear in the online story that our earlier report had been wrong and this remained in the story subsequently.

Clearly we shouldn't have given the reports the weight that we did, and I regret that we did so. At the time we believed them to be correct on the basis of the information received by a BBC reporter on the ground but it is clear that we should have continued with further checks before going as far as we did.

Changing attitudes?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:25 UK time, Friday, 5 December 2008

There has been comment about recent coverage on the BBC and elsewhere of changing attitudes towards Down's Syndrome. My colleague Rob Ketteridge, editor of the documentaries unit in Audio and Music Factual, explains.

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    By Rob Ketteridge
    On Monday 24 November the Radio 4 documentary "Born With Down's" and BBC News reported that more babies are being born with Down's Syndrome than at any time since prenatal screening began in 1989. In 1989 there were 717 Down's Syndrome births. This figure then fell to a low point of 572 in 2001, since when there has been a steady increase to 749 in 2006 - the last year for which figures are available. Since 2001 the proportion has risen ahead of the overall birth rate.
    So far so good and accurate. But do the headline statistics support the idea that more parents are choosing to continue with pregnancies after Down's Syndrome has been diagnosed or when it is a high risk? And if so, is there any evidence that a reason for this could be that social attitudes towards Down's Syndrome are changing?
    Since the documentary was broadcast these questions have become a matter of fierce debate, with some of the medical experts and statisticians as well as some journalists challenging these hypotheses. One issue they have raised is that there has been an increase in the number of older mothers with a higher risk factor for Down's Syndrome during this period. They argue that the rising trend is therefore predictable and without prenatal screening it would be significantly higher. They also state that from 1989 to 2006 the proportion of women choosing to terminate a pregnancy following prenatal diagnosis of Down's Syndrome has remained constant at around 92%.
    To shed more light on this, we need to look at the data in more detail. Bear with me because things are about to get more complex.
    The figures are published annually by the National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register run by Joan Morris who is Professor of Medical Statistics at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. Follow this link [pdf] and look at Table 7 on Page 8 of the latest report for 2006. The table shows that in 1989 there were 1033 diagnoses of Down's Syndrome in total, of which only 30% approximately (318) were prenatal. There were 717 live births and 290 terminations that year. In 2006 there were 1877 diagnoses, of which approximately 60% or 1132 were prenatal, leading to 749 live births and 767 terminations.
    So: in 1989 there were 318 prenatal diagnoses and 290 terminations; in 2006 there were 1132 prenatal diagnoses and 767 terminations. On the face of it, the proportion for those choosing to terminate after a prenatal diagnosis in 2006 doesn't look anything like the 92% figure.
    But - and it is an important but - the 2006 figures also reveal that in that year there were 293 cases of "Unknown Outcome" - a figure that has also been rising over the years. If a high proportion of these were in fact terminations then the 92% figure starts to look accurate.
    Last week I contacted Professor Morris to ask about this. She said: "To obtain the true proportion of women who decide to terminate their pregnancy we had to analyse a subset of the data from cytogenetic laboratories for whom we had excellent follow-up (in other words areas of the country in which we had extremely few unknown outcomes). In these laboratories we found that 92% of prenatal diagnoses were terminated." A footnote to the published tables also states that: "A large proportion of the missing outcomes are from one single large private cytogenetic laboratory in London, which analyses samples from women throughout the South East of England."
    So: there is little evidence here, according to Professor Morris, for a shift in social attitudes leading more parents to continue with a pregnancy after Down's Syndrome has been diagnosed prenatally. Some have argued that the consistency of the 92% figure over this period isn't in itself very surprising: the diagnostic tests (such as amniocentesis) carry a small risk of miscarriage and the argument is that most parents who go ahead with them are likely to be decided on termination already if a positive diagnosis is received.
    However none of this tells us much about the still large number of cases where a conclusive prenatal diagnosis isn't made. In some cases parents might have refused diagnostic testing because of the miscarriage risk or because they had decided to continue with the pregnancy whatever the outcome might be.
    What do we know about the views of parents in this last category? There has so far been little evidence. Surprised by the rising numbers, the Down's Syndrome Association conducted a survey of some of its members to coincide with the programme. In many cases religious reasons were given for continuing with a pregnancy when Down's Syndrome had been diagnosed or was a high risk. But, as we reported, a significant number also cited changing social attitudes towards people born with Down's Syndrome.
    Such evidence is interesting but inconclusive. What is more certain is that the original documentary and other reports could have included more information about the complexity of the data underneath the headline figures - as necessary qualification and context - and more fully represented the debate about how to interpret it.
    Better understanding - not just of the data and other evidence, but also of Down's Syndrome itself and social attitudes towards it for which we are all responsible - seems to be clearly needed. Primarily, though, the documentary focussed movingly, and from more than one point of view, on parents who have Down's Syndrome babies and it engaged with their experiences.

---

I would just add that one of the claims made by Ben Goldacre in his Bad Science blog and Guardian column is that when Professor Morris issued her clarifications after the story was initially covered in newspapers and online, "everybody ignored them, nobody has clarified". That's not true - our website's health pages were updated as soon as we had spoken to her.

Graphic images

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 17:55 UK time, Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The use of the YouTube footage of the Finnish gunman caused much debate at BBC News and was handled differently by us and other UK broadcasters. Our competitors chose to run the full footage of Matti Juhnai Saari issuing his threat "You will die next", followed by him firing towards the camera and the explosion of pieces of fruit across the lens as his bullets found their target. The BBC chose only to run the verbal thereat, but not the firing or the splattered fruit.

A still from a video from YouTube of Matti Juhnai Saari firing a gunIn an age of widespread availability of such footage on the internet, why did the BBC hold back some of this footage and were we right to do so?

Our thinking was that the editorially relevant part of the footage was the threat, which had apparently been seen by the Finnish police prior to the killings. However we decided the firing to camera and the explosion of fruit would be alarming to some audiences and might be considered gratuitous in the circumstances of the mass murder he had carried out.

ITV News in the UK also used a montage of footage of the threats made prior to mass murder by the killers at Columbine High and Virginia Tech. These pictures made the point that there appears to be a copycat pattern of video postings followed by killings. BBC News took the view that it was unnecessary to make that point by repeating those shocking images. Some viewers might feel that by over-using such images broadcasters are contributing to the notoriety that such killers appear to crave.

Of course many online video distributors and international broadcasters have decided to publish those videos and the BBC's decision not to use all of the pictures does not significantly reduce their exposure around the world. Nevertheless we believe our audiences want us to set limits and only to use material where it is editorially relevant.

Queues or no queues

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 10:15 UK time, Monday, 22 September 2008

The BBC's reporting of financial turmoil has helped to move markets and excited much comment. Last year Robert Peston's report on the government's rescue of Northern Rock was followed by much discussion of whether the BBC should have reported in advance of an official announcement. Last week's exclusive by Robert on the impending takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB had a major impact on the market and the Mail on Sunday reported that there will be an investigation into possible trading prior to Robert's story being broadcast.

Mail on Sunday headlineThe current financial turmoil and the high potential sensitivity of the stories we cover means we need to think carefully about what we broadcast and publish. Our first duty is to accuracy and our absolute presumption is in favour of publication. Of course BBC financial journalists operate under legal restrictions and the BBC's own strict guidelines which prevent them from taking any personal advantage from any of the information they possess as a result of their professional activities. But we do sometimes hold things back. I thought it might be interesting to describe two instances of that.

Last Wednesday, after the announcement of the likely HBOS takeover, we received initial reports of queues forming outside HBOS branches in Middlesbrough and Glasgow. We were aware that there was a possibility of outflows of deposits from HBOS. However we decided that queues in two places were not conclusive evidence of a widespread financial phenomena. We decided to wait and watch. The queues later dissipated. I have no doubt that if we had gone ahead at once with broadcasting pictures of those queues that could have had an impact on HBOS.

It made me recall what had happened almost exactly a year earlier after Robert's initial report on Northern Rock. In that case we had information early the following morning that queues were forming in a number of places. However we held off running those pictures until we were absolutely sure of the scale of the queues. By definition they were happening spontaneously not caused by seeing pictures of queuing.

What is the right thing to do in these circumstances? Our normal presumption should be in favour of publication of information. Many in the audience would wish to know financially sensitive information as soon as possible. However in reporting volatile public sentiment we have taken the view that we need to wait until a phenomenon is clearly established before we broadcast.

Naming the dead

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:47 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

The newspapers in the UK are today full of detail about the first woman soldier to be killed in the Afghanistan war. She was first named by the Daily Mail and the other newspapers subsequently named her as well. However BBC News has not given her name.

Late last night, following the Daily Mail's publication, the BBC received a request from the Ministry of Defence not to publish details until members of her close family had been informed of her death. This meant we needed to hold back information for a few hours and we decided to agree to the request.

Our instinct is always to publish information once it is in our possession. However we need always to be sensitive to the personal impact our news can have. Broadcasting reaches into people's lives in a way that newspapers do not. We would usually prefer to hold back information for a few hours rather than run the risk that a relative hears of the death of a named loved one over our airwaves.

UPDATE 11.50AM: BBC News has now named Corporal Sarah Bryant as the female soldier who died in Afghanistan. We named her at the time by which the MoD told us they would have contacted her relatives.

Reporting China's quake

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 13:05 UK time, Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Our Beijing correspondent James Reynolds has blogged some interesting thoughts about the sensitivities of covering the earthquake in China. He (and I) would be interested to know your thoughts.

Picture error

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:21 UK time, Friday, 16 May 2008

Last night the BBC broadcast a still which we said showed dozens of bodies lying in the waterfront of the Irrawaddy delta. We have since discovered that the picture was actually taken in Aceh, Sumatra following the tsunami of 2004. This was a mistake, and we will be correcting it on all BBC output where the still was used.

The BBC has first-hand evidence from its correspondent Natalia Antelava, who recently travelled in the delta, that there were many bodies in the water a week after the cyclone. However the picture we used yesterday to illustrate that truth was itself inaccurate. BBC News apologises for that.

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We will be reviewing our processes for checking pictures we receive.

Comments on changes

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Thanks for your comments on the BBC News branding changes. I'll try to answer some of your questions about our thinking. We will be waiting before we get the results of some quantitative research on how viewers have responded to the new look before deciding whether to make any tweaks to it.

bbcnews_140.jpgMany of you have been perplexed about why a branding change was necessary and you wondered whether we had consulted any members of the audience. We did talk to the audience and that's exactly why we have introduced these changes. Not every user of BBC News is as passionate (positively or negatively) as readers of this Editors' blog. As one comment put it, "the brand of the BBC goes without saying". But I'm afraid that is not the case. Younger people use BBC News less than older viewers. In a competitive environment news content, especially when accessed via aggregation sites, is sometimes hard to identify. Clarifying and reinforcing the BBC News brand is about defending its values for the future, not throwing those values away.

We were accused of "spending tons of money". The £550,000 cost of the changes is a large sum of money, but spread over all of BBC News services in the UK and around the world, and over many years, we feel it gives real value.

In terms of specific criticisms, the changes to the channel names and the bulletins were probably the most contentious. But we believe they do make sense in the context of the increasing lack of awareness of the BBC News brand. Of course if you'd like to carry on referring to the channel as "News 24" and the bulletin as "The Ten O'Clock" then that's fine by me. But I'm proud of BBC News, so I see no harm (and plenty of benefit) in us telling the audience where their programmes come from.

One contributor says that the BBC News brand has been foisted on the regions. You are right that there is an impression amongst some audiences of BBC News as being too London-centric, but we are making great efforts to change that. BBC News needs to reflect the interests of the whole country. So rather than reinforcing a metro-centric impression we want to make sure BBC News is embedded in our first class output in the nations and English regions.

These changes are not about style over substance. They are part of a massive series of changes that are equipping BBC News as an organisation to deliver multimedia journalism to all our audiences. We are spending far more time and money on investing in improvements to the content of our journalism than we are on marketing and branding. I hope later to return to these themes and explain further how BBC News is improving what we provide for you.

New News

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:30 UK time, Monday, 21 April 2008

You may have noticed that BBC News on TV has a new look. BBC News network, nations and regional output on BBC1, BBC News 24 and BBC World have changed. I'd like to explain the changes and ask for the reaction of viewers.

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We know from audience research and feedback that BBC News is widely consumed and generally appreciated on our many outlets. But in a world where news is increasingly available on a variety of platforms from many providers, we'd like to make sure that BBC News is recognised whenever you come across it.

We have asked members of the audience about the key things they associate with us. The characteristics that emerged were - the phrase "BBC News" itself, our distinctive music (by David Lowe), the globe, the colour red, the clarity and accuracy of our news services. We have taken those well-established attributes and emphasised them further and consistently in a set of designs that will apply across all of the BBC's core news services - on TV across the UK and on the internet.

bbcnewslogos_203.jpgWe employed the internationally respected designer and brand expert, Martin Lambie-Nairn, as creative director on the project. His team, in collaboration with our BBC design team led by Paula Thompson, has produced a look which we hope conveys what you said BBC News is about - clear, unfussy, direct, straightforward and fresh. It's not intended to be a massive visual change, but an evolution and clarification of what we are about, to enable audiences to recognise BBC News whenever and wherever they receive it.

bbcnews_203.jpgAlongside the look we're also changing some names, also to emphasise the identity of BBC News. BBC News 24 becomes simply "BBC News". The channel is now, by a considerable margin, the most popular and high quality news channel in the UK. The channel is not just at the heart of BBC News. Now it is BBC News.

The BBC1 bulletins at 1, 6 and 10 become "BBC News at One", "BBC News at Six" and "BBC News at Ten". Here's the new studio that we have modelled for our BBC1 bulletins and the BBC News channel.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

bbcworldnews_203.jpgOur international news channel, BBC World, becomes BBC World News.

On the web, we recently introduced an element of the new look in the globe on our red masthead. These changes were described previously by my colleague Steve Herrmann, editor of this site. Your feedback on that has led to a number of tweaks being made and we are working on further alterations as a result of your comments. We'd really like to know what you think about our changes and I'll respond to your comments.

UPDATE, 09:05 AM, 22 Apr 08: Thank you for your comments. I have tried to answer some of your questions here.

Reporting crime

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:16 UK time, Monday, 28 January 2008

Last week, the director general Mark Thompson gave a speech, which was also published on this blog, in which he had some thoughts about the BBC's responsibilities towards reporting crime.

"A child murder under any circumstances is a unique and terrible tragedy," he said. "But we shouldn’t allow our coverage of one or even an unconnected series of individual events to give the public impression that these things are an everyday occurrence or that the trend is up when in fact it is down."

He did say that he thought the BBC was "less guilty of this kind of exaggeration than almost any other part of the British media" but added that being less guilty didn't mean we were always entirely innocent.

handgunsWe've been giving his words some thought this week. On Thursday the quarterly crime statistics showed there had been a 9% drop in overall crime in England and Wales, though there had been a 4% rise in gun crime. What should our response to that have been? The story was reported online, and early in the day on other parts of BBC News, but as the Peter Hain resignation and the SocGen story came along it fell down the running orders. Had the crime figures revealed a 9% rise in crime, would we have allowed it to drop down the agenda so much?

It's clear to me that commercial media has an interest in reporting increasing crime because it knows that it sells. There's no particular obligation on them - or commercial interest - in reporting falling crime. It's not the BBC's job to play down crime, but it is our duty to report it accurately and where appropriate to act as a corrective to the rest of the media. Often that will mean giving context, as well as reporting specific incidents.

I've written on this blog before about why I think the BBC coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was responsible.

Crime that is unusual and extreme will always have news value for audiences. The BBC is correct to report such crime as part of its broad news service. But we should always make efforts to explain how typical, or otherwise, such crime is. And we should report it in calm terms. We should not be scaring our audiences unnecessarily nor should we ignore and underplay crime that harms many members of our audience.

Head to head

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:50 UK time, Monday, 14 January 2008

Good luck to ITN on the revival of News at Ten. The return of the famous bongs is a stimulating, if scary one, for the BBC. But it's scary in a good way. Since ITN gave up the News at Ten slot the BBC has consistently outperformed the late evening news on ITN. I don't think it's good for us, or the viewer, to be that dominant - strong competition is good for everyone. Putting the two bulletins head to head will keep all of us on our toes, which is good for both the BBC and ITN, and for audiences.

Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie EtchinghamOne of the things that we'll be watching out for is the extent to which this new choice changes viewers' behaviour. We know that some viewers have a preference for one brand over another, and will choose their preferred broadcaster no matter what the schedule. But equally, we know that the schedule determines the choice for a large number of people. Since News at Ten finished, we have seen that quite a significant number of ITV viewers switch over at 2200 to get their news from the BBC. We'll be keen to see if they continue to do that following the return of News at Ten.

It's interesting that ITV have made the decision to bring back News at Ten for commercial reasons - not because they've been ordered to by the regulator Ofcom. It proves that, despite what some have argued in the past, it's not necessarily the case that news will wither and die in a commercial broadcasting environment.

Of course, News at Ten is coming back into a broadcasting climate that's much changed from the one it left behind. I've talked before on this blog about our efforts to make BBC News a truly multi-platform operation, and we see the benefit of that on a daily basis - including on our coverage of recent big stories, such as the death of Benazir Bhutto, the violence in Kenya, and a range of domestic items. It's a balancing act, but we're committed to making sure that the key qualities of BBC News - for example, specialist understanding and analysis - are particularly focused on the Ten O'Clock News. People are now getting news from a range of sources throughout the day, so it's more important than ever that our key news service, at the end of each day, provides them with depth, and a range of understanding, that complements the information that they've picked up elsewhere.

Will there be a difference between the two bulletins? I'm sure we'll compete head to head on the main stories of the day. And there there will be a tussle over exclusive stories. But an inkling of potential differences might be found in a remark by an ITN senior executive, Deborah Turness. She said News at Ten's "And finally…" item should have this effect, "'We want people go to bed with a smile on their face or a tear in their eye". I'd prefer to say that the BBC's News is all made to make you think.

Value of citizen journalism

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 13:31 UK time, Monday, 7 January 2008

Text messages and e-mails from our audiences have brought a valuable additional aspect to our journalism. But how much attention should we pay to people who care strongly enough about an issue to send a message? They might either be typical of a wide part of the audience or perhaps just a tiny vocal minority.

In a speech I gave earlier today at the University of Leeds' Institute of Communications Studies, I discussed some of the issues about what is termed "user-generated content". The text of my speech is below, and I'd be interested in your thoughts about the issues.

Read the rest of this entry

Central question

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:37 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

I should have known that in asking BBC News users about their views on editorial diversity (see my last blog), I would inevitably get a highly diverse range of views in response. Many commenters raised general editorial concerns, which I will deal with later. On the main question I posed – whether BBC News should move in the direction of greater diversity or greater coherence - there was a split with a small majority in favour of greater editorial range.

Many of you who supported stronger editorial coherence expressed surprise that the BBC had previously been organised in separate platform-based teams (ie different newsrooms for TV, radio and the internet). These users were concerned that the BBC deploys too many reporters to stories and they want us to be more efficient - but they also saw the advantage in having a similar agenda on our different services. And that seems largely about having a less tabloid agenda, especially on TV.

The other camp was keen to ensure that BBC News on the web does not reduce its range, in the words of one contributor that “however efficient a centralised news gathering service is, it’s the very diversity of styles and editorial decisions that gives richness to what the BBC does”. And some respondents replied, not unreasonably, that they would like both depth and range.

However, providing quality in both dimensions is a costly exercise. Under the BBC’s new financial settlement the Newsroom department that is responsible for the core news TV, radio and web services is due to make efficiencies of 5% a year for the next five years. So we need to find ways of being more cost effective while meeting the demands of users.

And you, our users, are very demanding. We wouldn’t have it any other way. But in the responses of a group of news enthusiasts, such as the respondents to the Editors’ blog are likely to be, there is a strong desire to have all BBC News on these users’ terms. We certainly will ensure that the largest part of BBC News meets your requirements for depth, complexity and sophistication. However the BBC benefits from a compulsory levy and, in return, should provide news that touches a large proportion of the population. Our aim is to ensure that 80% of the population watches, listens to or reads something from BBC News at least once a week.

Our most popular services are on mass audience channels such as Radio 1, Radio 2 and BBC One. Our aim for the news on those services is high quality, but accessible to a wide audience. Some news aficionados may occasionally find some of the news items on those popular services insufficiently in depth. I would ask such users to consider the good public reasons why the BBC seeks to keep its news accessible.

By reorganising, we can be more explicit in using these popular services as shop windows to the richness of BBC analysis and context, especially that which is available on the web and in longer TV and radio programmes. We will make it easier for our audiences to find their way between our different services, so that they can all get the news and information they need. And in doing so, we hope we will provide a common reference point of high quality information - for our audiences both in the UK and around the world.

Multimedia news

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:49 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

As a consumer of BBC News on the web, do you expect it to cover the same stories as BBC News on TV and radio? I ask, because today is a very big day for BBC News which has now been re-organised in a fully multimedia fashion. As the head of the new multimedia newsroom that is responsible for our core output on web, TV and radio, I want to know about our audiences’ preferences in the world of multi-platform news.

I hope you agree, if you use our services on a number of platforms, that the BBC has a generally strong reputation in all media. But up until today the editorial decisions have been taken separately in three different departments – Radio News, News Interactive and TV News. Now those proud departments are no more. Instead we have a new system that allows the great strengths of each of our editorial areas to create an even stronger editorial proposition. We have re-organised into two main departments responsible for our audience-facing services:

• The multimedia newsroom comprises the BBC News website, the radio summaries and bulletins (except for Radio 1), BBC World Service news, BBC News 24, BBC World, BBC Breakfast and the bulletins on BBC One at 1, 6 and 10, among others.

• The multimedia programmes departments contains Five Live, the Today programme, World at One, Newsbeat, Newshour, Newsnight, Panorama, the Andrew Marr Show, Hardtalk and a wide range of other diverse programmes.

This new structure will help us to be more efficient and so save money to invest in improvements to BBC News. We will be putting more into on-demand news – for instance developing content for new platforms such as mobile and IPTV; increasing personalisation and providing purpose-made audio/video for the web.

The new organisation also allows for our journalism to be used more dynamically across our three main existing platforms – web, radio and TV. But I'd like to know how far we should go with this. So for web users such as you I’d like to know if you mainly look to BBC News for an in-depth approach on the day's most significant stories, or do you value more diversity in the range of subjects we cover?

If we drive our stories more across platforms you will see greater consistency within BBC News – with similar editorial judgments being made across different services. We could concentrate resources on developing the most significant and original stories in greater depth. However the downside could be a narrowing of the range of stories we cover, with less coverage that is distinctive and tailored for each medium.

Of course, I’m painting a somewhat polarised view of the strategic choices available to us. In reality we will choose a balance between these two extremes. But it would be helpful to know your broad preference– should we move in a more coherent or a more diversified direction in our core news?

For thousands of journalists in BBC News, today is the start of one of the biggest changes we have ever been through. Many of the people who bring you the news are uncertain of their own futures, but I know that all of us are determined to improve further the service we bring to you. BBC News wants to be the most successful multimedia news operation in the world – competing with and excelling against the best newspapers, broadcasters and news aggregators on the globe. Your comments will give us some indications to help us do that.

UPDATE, MON 19th NOV: Thanks for all your comments. I've responded to them in a new post, which you can find here.

Flying solo

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 17:05 UK time, Monday, 15 October 2007

We've announced today that George Alagiah will, from November, be the sole presenter of the Six O'Clock News bulletin. We've decided to make the change following Natasha Kaplinsky's departure from the BBC last week.

George AlagiahGeorge is, obviously, a hugely well-known and well-respected journalist, who brings vast amounts of experience and tremendous versatility to the programme - he's as comfortable with reporting from scenes of flood devastation as he is reporting from Downing Street. The six o'clock bulletin has a special remit to report fully stories from around the UK, and we'll be working closely with George to fulfil this objective.

Additionally, it's fair to say that the move allows us to make better use of our resources - but not at the cost of detracting from the core values of the bulletin.

Preventing panic

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 10:33 UK time, Friday, 14 September 2007

The BBC News exclusive on Northern Rock receiving emergency funding from the Bank of England threw up some interesting broadcasting dilemmas.

A Northern Rock branchOur business editor Robert Peston had the information well ahead of newspapers (although you'd never know that by reading the papers today, all of whom followed up on his scoop but didn't say so).

Announcing to an unsuspecting public that a major high street name appeared to be in trouble obviously ran the risk of causing depositors to panic and withdraw their funds. So we needed to ensure we broke this dramatic news in a responsible fashion. And, as part of that responsibility, we needed to explain the causes of the crisis in a way that audiences unfamiliar with financial markets would understand. (I won't try to do that myself. Far better to read Robert's account (or watch this piece from the Ten o’clock News)).

But is it the BBC's job to tell people to be calm and advise them what to do? We are not financial advisers and there are legal limits on what our correspondents can do in terms of offering individual financial advice. We judge it is right for us to report the reassurance being offered by the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority and our correspondents have offered the judgement that those reassurances are legitimate.

But it's not the BBC's job to tell the audience what to do with its money. Whenever we have commentary from financial experts on the BBC News website we always include this disclaimer: "The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice." Quite right.

Unprecedented interest

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:49 UK time, Monday, 10 September 2007

There’s been a lot of criticism about the level of TV coverage that was given to the McCann’s return home. However there’s also been a large number of people who’ve been turning to BBC television, online and radio, because they’re keen to get new information about the story. So we have to balance that audience interest with a part of the audience who express their view very forcefully that we shouldn’t be spending time, or significant amounts of time, on that story. We try to make that very difficult balance through the editorial judgments we make every day.

Media surrounding McCann's carOften we’re not able to give viewers any new information and that’s one of the things I spend a lot of time talking to my journalists about, to focus on facts rather than speculation. So, for instance, over the past month an enormous amount of material such as hints or leaks from the investigation has appeared in the Portuguese press and has then been reported in British newspapers. A lot of this BBC TV News did not report at all.

Clearly on Friday we had the development where Mr and Mrs McCann were both declared suspects and where their spokesmen and family talked about what happened in the police interviews. That was genuine new information.

On Sunday we had their return to England and the first time that either of the McCanns had said anything on the record about the investigation or what the police had put to them in those interviews. That was fact. That was news. This morning we decided that this it was not the most important story of the day, and very deliberately decided to lead on the prime minister's speech to the TUC.

McCann family emerging from aeroplaneQuestions have been raised over why we used a helicopter to cover the McCanns' journey home from East Midlands airport. When you’re covering an extended event like that, having pictures which mean that you can get a continuous picture from one source, a helicopter is much easier and more cost-effective than having a number of cameras on the ground. And there is an element of covering the media interest as well - and we are of course a part of that, which we explain regularly on air. The McCanns' return was an important emotional moment in this story, and something which we felt we needed to cover for continuous news. We used very little of that material in the bulletin reports that we ran yesterday evening because the bulletin at the end of the day has the responsibility to compress the story of the day and only show those things which are most relevant.

It’s clearly a dramatic story and one in which people are interested: the number of people watching our TV news bulletins is one or two million up in the past three days. The number of people reading the McCann story on the BBC News website is four or five times greater than any other story. There is unprecedented audience interest, and people do turn to continuous news networks - BBC News 24 overwhelmingly ahead of competitor networks - and they expect to have that information brought to them.

Another claim which has been made is that we have been biased in favour of the McCanns. We’ve interviewed them a number of times and clearly when they give their point of view, some people ask why we are providing them with a platform. But we’ve also reported as best we can, given the secrecy around the Portuguese investigation, news from the investigation which hasn't come from the McCanns.

McCann parents being interviewedDebates about whether they’ve been treated in particular way because they’re of a certain class, for instance, is just speculation - individuals’ own views. People are entitled to their own views, but I don’t think that should form part of our news coverage.

I don’t think we have been biased in favour of them. In particular we’ve stressed all along, but especially in the past few days, how important it is not to refer to them by their Christian names. There’s a danger in over-familiarity. I know that many other TV and radio networks have been absolutely extraordinary, always talking about it in terms of sympathy and their feelings. Of course one has to be aware of that and there are large parts of the audience who are massively sympathetic to them. It’s a highly charged story, but we have to be as even-handed as we can and stick to the facts.

I do think that people who express a clear view about the level of coverage tend to be people who are saying they don’t want to hear any more about it. But all I would say is that the audience figures, the response that one actually gets to the story, and newspapers who are making their own commercial judgements, show that there’s a very large number of people who are interested. I suspect that those people are voting with their remotes and they’re choosing to watch it. So you have to weigh a very strongly held view that coverage should be reduced against the fact that the consumption of coverage is extraordinarily high.

There’s a position in the middle that says people do want to know, they want to know if the story changes and that’s what’s happened in the past few days. They want that update and that information but they don’t want us to dwell on it all the time. They don’t want us to use highly emotive language. They want us to be responsible and even-handed but to cover it fully and properly when there is new information. That’s the position we’re trying to take.

No line

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:26 UK time, Thursday, 30 August 2007

A number of newspapers have picked up on a debate at the Edinburgh TV festival in a session entitled "How Green is TV?". Broadcasters debated whether TV should make an assumption in their programmes that man-made climate change is happening or not.

Channel Four's "The Great Global Warming Swindle" came in for sustained criticism from delegates for its alleged loose use of facts. In return, Channel Four representatives criticised the BBC for having a "line" on climate change.

A smoke stack emitting fumesBBC News certainly does not have a line on climate change, however the weight of our coverage reflects the fact that there is an increasingly strong (although not overwhelming) weight of scientific opinion in favour of the proposition that climate change is happening and is being largely caused by man.

BBC news programmes and our website of course reflect alternative views but we do not balance these views mathematically as that is not our judgement about where the argument has now reached.

That is definitely not the same as us propagating a view ourselves about climate change. It's not our job to do that.

In the Edinburgh session the possibility of the BBC doing a "consciousness-raising" event about the subject, possibly called Planet Relief, was raised.

There has been no decision yet about whether there might be such an event, nor what its editorial purpose might be. However it is clear that all BBC programming about climate change - whether about the science itself or the potential policy response by governments - needs to meet the BBC's standards of impartiality.

It is not the BBC's job to lead opinion or proselytise on this or any other subject. However we can make informed judgements and that is what we will continue to do.

Reporting Madeleine rumours

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:49 UK time, Friday, 10 August 2007

The tragic Madeleine McCann story and the enormous public interest in it have created quite a few dilemmas for BBC News (see previous blog entries here, here and here). Many of these have revolved around the lack of hard information in the case.

Gerry and Kate McCannHowever the situation that many facts are not reliably established has not stopped many of our press and broadcast colleagues from treating rumour as being newsworthy.

For instance, ITN led last week on a claim that a child like Madeleine had been sighted in Belgium. ITN headlined this with a lurid photo-fit of a suspect abductor with the words "Does this man have Madeleine McCann?"

The BBC gave little prominence to the possible Belgian sighting, on the basis that there have been many previous false sightings.

Yesterday it turned out that DNA tests had shown that the Belgian sighting is very likely to have been false.

However the endless reporting of Madeleine rumours is something BBC News sometimes needs to take account of. Millions of our viewers and users remain strongly interested in any information about her.

This week we have a team in Portugal to report the marking of 100 days since her disappearance.

At this time, some in the Portuguese press have been reporting unsubstantiated claims about the McCanns and their holiday friends.

We did not report those claims until the McCanns themselves responded in interview, when it was hard to understand what their responses were without some idea of the accusations.

It's an uncomfortable position. The BBC absolutely needs to distinguish between fact and rumour. But the enormous febrile and emotional atmosphere, enflamed by a media for whom this story is a potential commercial opportunity, have made that hard.

I can't help reflecting that all this mass of hysterical rumour stands in very stark contrast to the one incontestable sad fact - a little girl has disappeared in unexplained circumstances.

Scottish broadcasting

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:28 UK time, Thursday, 9 August 2007

The remarks by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond are intriguing for BBC News - in their possible implications for our journalistic offering across the UK and as a story for us to cover.

Alex SalmondThe first minister characterised the debate he wanted to start as a broader one than previous arguments about the so-called "Scottish Six" - the notion that there should be a combined news hour created for Scotland that would mix international, Scottish and UK news according to overall news values as seen from Scotland.

Instead, he focused on the need for broadcasting policy to enhance the overall creative vitality of Scotland and complained about what he says has been a reduction in network production spend in Scotland by both ITV and BBC.

BBC production spend in any location can fluctuate, particularly as major drama series productions begin or end. But BBC investment in Scotland is significant. I recently visited the impressive new BBC Scotland HQ at Pacific Quay which cost £188m. To get a good return on that investment a substantial amount of UK production will need to come from there - for instance from its superb High Definition studio.

The BBC's formal audience accountability processes will be fully assessing the BBC's provision of programming in and for Scotland and through that process, dealing with the questions raised by Mr Salmond. (See BBC statements about this here and here)

For BBC News the focus will be less on cultural creativity or cash spend, important as those are, but on editorial representation. That, for audiences, is what matters most. How well, whether in drama, documentaries or news, do we represent the lives and concerns of licence payers across the UK?

At BBC News we will listen hard to what audiences tell us and respond to that. And we will work closely with our colleagues in BBC Scotland to develop editorial and technological options that allow us to meet new audience needs as the debate develops.

And as for covering the story on network news, BBC News 24 carried Mr Salmond's speech live and interviewed him subsequently and both the Six O'clock and Ten O'Clock bulletins carried the speech. Scotland Editor Brian Taylor also gave his comments on the Six, the programme that has often been in the eye of this particular storm.

Facing prosecution?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2007

This weekend the Mail on Sunday published an article under the headline, "BBC may be prosecuted for offering £40,000 to 'child smugglers'".

It followed a report on Thursday's BBC Ten O'Clock News (which the programme's editor blogged about here) exposing a Bulgarian man willing to sell children.

The Mail on Sunday quoted extensively from a press conference given by the chief of police in Varna, Bulgaria, where the investigation was carried out. He said the BBC offered money for the children and that, according to their information, "the BBC's investigation was flawed." He added, "we have found nothing to back up claims of an organised group selling children for €60,000."

The article also included the paragraph, "neighbours who know the man added that they would not be surprised if he had taken money from the BBC's journalists to fabricate the story, but doubted he was involved in baby-trafficking". It also made a point of the fact that the story comes in the wake of BBC staff being suspended after faked phone-in competitions.

However the police chief made a number of demonstrably inaccurate comments in his press conference and clearly has a vested interest in down-playing the significance of the BBC's investigation, as it reveals potential criminal activity in his jurisdiction. For instance, the police chief claimed that the BBC had sacked the journalist responsible for the report and had written a letter of apology - both of which are untrue.

The BBC did not offer money for the children. In fact "Harry" - who boasted to us that he was a people trafficker, and has a criminal conviction for it in Germany - brought a succession of children to us, and set a price of up to €60,000. The evidence is on tape for all to see - you can watch the report here.

The police chief claims we deliberately attempted to delay the arrest of "Harry" by providing false information. Again, this is incorrect. He also claims Varna doesn't have a problem with people trafficking. Both the United Nations and the European Union say it does - with reports warning of many gangs .

The investigation was carried out under strict editorial guidelines, with the BBC's Editorial Policy department consulted at every point - it exposed a trade in children going on within the European Union, something of great public interest. BBC News is proud of the report and the journalists who worked on it - at significant personal risk - and we stand by the report, and how it was made, fully.

Not glorifying the gunman

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 17:07 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Several of you have posted responses to my initial blog stating that you believe the broadcast images gave the gunman the celebrity status he'd sought, and - more specifically - that showing them might trigger copycat killings.

It is important to remember the primary issue that Cho carried out an appalling act. Would the showing of his video encourage others with a similarly insane mind to copy him? Are people suggesting that the likelihood of a "suicide note" video getting shown by media outlets might motivate someone deeply disturbed to carry out violent and criminal acts?

I would not have thought that someone that deranged [and one gets a better understanding of how deranged he really was, having seen the video] would have carefully considered in a rational way what sort of extra effect the publication of the video might have on those associated with his victims or the public. The crime was the killing; the crime was not the video.

Of course this is a judgment, a delicate balancing act and not conclusive, and in our decision-making we had to weigh up those risks. We were careful to avoid speculation, and did not broadcast any coverage that could be interpreted as glorifying Cho's act. For instance, the Ten O'Clock News on BBC One looked at issues about depression, and the relationship between movie images and the images that he shot as a means of increasing the broader audience understanding.

So, the overall judgment made was that it was the carrying out of the killings - as opposed to the broadcasting of the video - that was central here.

Why we showed gunman

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 22:53 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2007

Many people have been asking whether broadcasters should have transmitted the video that Cho Seung-hui created before he went on his murderous rampage. And I have been asked whether the BBC would have transmitted a similar video if it had emerged after, say, a similar mass killing at a British university.

I think there are different questions, depending on whether one might be the first disseminator of sensitive material. If the BBC had received such a video we would have spoken to the police first to get their assessment of any investigatory, legal or public safety issues that they might want to draw to our attention. We would not be handing editorial control to the police. Its use would be our decision but we would want to take their view into account.

Secondly, we would consider the possible reaction of family and friends of the victim. There are a number of occasions where we have sensitive material which we hold back until families of victims have been informed. In this case we would have wanted to alert the relevant police family liaison officers to tell relatives of some potentially highly upsetting content

Having made those initial calls I believe the BBC, in receipt of such a video, would probably have transmitted some, although not all, of it.

As to what of the NBC video should be transmitted, we decided what was editorially relevant for our audiences. For our TV audiences, where people are not choosing to watch a specific item in the way the online audience can, we bear in mind the time of day, who may be watching and the editorial purpose. Today we have tried to give context round the short clips we have used. We have interviewed experts who have been able to relate the clips to the emerging picture of the killer's state of mind and what we can learn about why such killings happen.

We have not replayed large chunks of the video endlessly on News 24 or BBC World. We are well aware of the concern that the video may lead others to copy or emulate him. Indeed we have interviewed people discussing that dilemma. However, given that the video is already widely available, we had to judge whether withholding the video from BBC audiences was the appropriate thing to do. We decided that playing short clips, responsibly contextualised, could aid understanding of the story.

However, from 24 hours after our original transmission we will not use moving images or actuality from the video. Stills from the video may be used but we will exercise restraint over excessive use of the more alarming images.

Trusting the BBC

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:40 UK time, Friday, 23 February 2007

Former BBC correspondent Robin Aitken has written a stimulating book on his experiences of working in the BBC - "Can we trust the BBC?" Last night I appeared in debate with him at the ICA in London.

aitken203.jpgRobin's case, to simplify massively, is that the BBC is full of left-leaning journalists who produce left-leaning news that is anti-European, anti-monarchist, anti-prison, pro-immigrant, anti-market, pro-public spending etc etc.

Robin delivered his polemic with brio. He is clearly enjoying the role as a controversialist, freed from the constraints of BBC impartiality. But I argued that his book wouldn't pass muster as a piece of BBC journalism, as it was strongly anecdotal and not based on firm evidence.

If the question is "Can we trust the BBC?", the evidence shows most people do trust the BBC. Survey after survey indicates the BBC is significantly more trusted than other broadcasters and more trusted than any national newspaper. The public which trusts the BBC includes many readers of right-of-centre newspapers. Those people clearly distinguish between a newspaper that might reinforce their views and the BBC's role in providing an impartial perspective.

However I acknowledged in the debate that there are subjects where the BBC has been too slow in reflecting the full range of public perspectives - in particular over immigration and Europe. I argued that that shortfall derives not from the personal perspectives of BBC journalists, whatever that may be, but from the particular institutional position of the BBC. Its relationship with parliamentary politics, while fully independent, has always been a close one and the BBC has tended historically to operate within the parameters of formal politics.

However the range of opinions in an increasingly fragmented population and the technologies, such as texting and e-mail, which allow these diverse opinions to be more easily expressed have obliged us to shift the balance between formal politics and public politics. This disparity has been one of the factors behind our coverage over the years on Europe and immigration. Opinion surveys show there has been a gap between the range of views within Parliament and the range of public opinion.

The BBC's commitment to interactivity - for instance through this site's Have Your Say section, through texts to Five Live, Radio 1 Newsbeat and News 24 - is providing an important new element that is feeding directly into our journalism. Although that can only ever be one influence on our editorial decision-making and in the end, we are paid to apply our judgment.

But listening to audiences more and being open to public criticism through debates and blogs (such as this) are ways in which we are able to demonstrate openness. We hope that greater openness will mean that the trust we already receive from audiences can be maintained and strengthened.

BBC bias

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:52 UK time, Thursday, 22 February 2007

Last weekend, excerpts from a book by former BBC reporter Robin Aitken were published in a Sunday newspaper (link). He wrote that being a Tory in the BBC was "the loneliest job in Britain", and claimed that the ideal at the heart of the BBC, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan , had "all but disappeared".

Naturally I disagree with Robin on this. But tonight I'm taking the plunge and discussing with him and others whether the BBC is institutionally biased (details here). I'll let you know how I get on.

Children as victims

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:19 UK time, Friday, 16 February 2007

On Tuesday, BBC news programmes all reported Unicef's findings that British children are especially insecure - that they experience significantly lower levels of personal kindness than children in many other countries. On Wednesday, programmes began to report the death of 15-year-old Billy Cox, itself a pretty extreme example of lack of personal kindness.

In TV News it was discussed intensively on Thursday morning as to how these stories might be connected and what the BBC's responsibilities are. In particular, how to report a crime that could potentially make our children feel more vulnerable and in turn create the circumstances where fear and further crime increase?

In raising this question, some journalists were anxious in case we downplayed or suppressed a story that is clearly dramatic and important. So we discussed ways in which the shooting could be reported fairly but minimised the impact on children. We talked about a number of creative treatments, many of which influenced our subsequent coverage:

• Give the context that gun crime has been falling in London.
• Explain that gun crime is concentrated predominantly in small parts of our main cities.
• Hear from adults and children who are taking action against crimes.
• Work closely with colleagues in areas like Newsround and 1Xtra who have better contacts and experience.
• Take advice from ethnic minority colleagues who may have a fresh perspective on the story.
• Explain the language and assumptions in reports. For instance, exactly what is a gang?
• Constantly question whether the writing and reporting creates negative stereotypes of children that go beyond what is justified by the facts.

There is no doubt that the simple headline fact of a 15-year-old shot in his own home may alarm many parents but the BBC surely has a responsibility not to add unnecessarily to the anxieties seen so vividly in Unicef's report on the state of mind of our young.

Checking quotes

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 10:36 UK time, Friday, 9 February 2007

I've been reading the comments that followed the post I made on Monday, and there's one factual issue I'd like to address.

A number of responses make the point that the Sun quoted BBC News as having said "the intelligence services often get it wrong" and asked me to explain why we said that. I checked back on a recording of the relevant bulletin. Correspondent Daniel Sandford simply said "This is an intelligence-led operation. Intelligence can be wrong".

We completely stand by this statement. The Sun can't stand by its quote.

Not taking sides

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 10:05 UK time, Monday, 5 February 2007

The Sun recently criticised BBC News for its reporting of the first day of the recent arrests in Birmingham under the terrorism legislation. The Sun editorial asked whose side the BBC was on because a BBC correspondent explained that the arrests had been intelligence-led and that intelligence can sometimes be wrong. This simple statement of fact (remember the Forest Gate raids) prompted the Sun's broadside.

It is worth making it clear that the BBC does not see it as its job to be on anyone's "side". Our job is to do the best we can to be on the side of truth. Our viewers have a range of views about the recent arrests - some seeing them as clear evidence of support for terror within British society, others are strongly sceptical about the police action.

Newspapers can afford to be highly partisan. Taking sides is second nature to them. That's not the BBC's job.

The future of news?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:21 UK time, Thursday, 30 November 2006

As I mentioned earlier, I recently gave a speech - at the new Reuters journalism institute at Oxford University - on some of the themes which are driving our strategy for the future of BBC TV News; including the growing importance of user interaction, how new technology is challenging the traditional concept of BBC impartiality, and how broadcasters will have to adapt to regain lost audiences.

You can read the speech below. I'd be very interested to know what you think of my arguments.

---

If you scratch some broadcast journalists of my generation you'll discover, barely skin deep, that the reason some of them went into broadcasting was to tell the audience what to think. I have to confess that was part of my motivation - the sense of having the opportunity to produce journalism that would really change people's understanding of the world. And I suspect it's a motivation that would be recognised by my former editor and mentor - Tim Gardam - the chair of the steering committee for this prestigious new institute.

Now I'm in a job - as head of the BBC's TV News services - where the power to influence what millions think may seem considerable. But I have to report my disappointment - though it's a disappointment I thoroughly welcome. Because any power there may once have been to tell people what to think has evaporated. Convulsions in technologies and fragmentation in audience attitudes mean that the power to instruct the public is seeping through the broadcasters' fingers...

Read the rest of this entry

A private matter?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:58 UK time, Thursday, 30 November 2006

Our coverage of the sad news of Gordon Brown's young son being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis has caused some comment in the newsroom and from viewers.

There have been a few questions about the prominence of the story (the Ten O'Clock News led on it, for instance). And some viewers have asked why, given many families are affected by the condition, we are concentrating on one family.

BBC News always considers carefully how it handles stories that relate to family and personal matters. However we felt that our audiences would engage with this story and that it would become a part of their understanding of the man who is likely to be Britain's next prime minister. As Nick Robinson commented, David Cameron also has a disabled child and he has explained how that has affected his political perspective.

Newsnight carried an intriguing interview with a Labour political adviser, Ed Owen, who has a daughter with Cystic Fibrosis. He explained the need for parents to provide the intensive physiotherapy for the affected child. It is a legitimate matter of public interest for us to inform the audience how Mr Brown's family could be affected by this. And that is more significant than other families faced with the same circumstances.

But beyond the potential political significance it is legitimate to report on a story about a prominent figure from the human perspective. Mr Brown had issued a statement about the condition and was happy for his colleague Yvette Cooper MP to speak on behalf of the family. Our medical correspondent then added to the basic information by providing some valuable context explaining that the life expectancy of cystic fibrosis sufferers is much greater now than used to be the case.

Connecting with all our audiences by covering stories that they can readily relate to is an important part of keeping BBC News relevant. Coincidentally, I gave a lecture this week which - amongst other things - addressed this issue. I'll write more about it later today...

Into gear

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 24 October 2006

There has been quite a bit of debate in the BBC newsroom about why the first interview with Top Gear's Richard Hammond after his crash was with a newspaper, rather than with one of our reporters.

The BBC, just like other broadcasters, could report what was said in Monday's Daily Mirror interview, but only with attributing it to the paper. Similarly, we could show the picture of Richard the paper had taken, but only if we showed the whole of the front page, including the name. Often when newspapers have big interviews which they know other media will want to report, their lawyers will send round notes to broadcasters setting out these terms, and the Mirror's lawyers did so here.

We were concerned that the BBC audience would be confused about why Richard was being interview by the Mirror. Richard is so well-known as a BBC presenter and had shortly before the crash signed a new TV presenting contract. But he is also a regular columnist on the Mirror.

We also understand that his doctors had advised him not to do any broadcast interviews at this stage. Nevertheless it's important for our viewers to see and hear Richard as soon as possible, and I hope he will agree to come in front of our cameras in the near future when he feels up to it.

Cross words

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 13:16 UK time, Monday, 16 October 2006

Two weeks ago I asked contributors to this blog for your opinion on whether it is appropriate for news presenters to wear religious attire. The debate has narrowed to whether it is right for Fiona Bruce to wear a cross.

To recap and put the record straight, Fiona Bruce has not been banned from wearing a cross. The discussion about Fiona’s cross began at a governors' meeting discussing impartiality, around the hypothetical question of what we would do if a newsreader wanted to wear a headscarf or veil. The discussion broadened to include all forms of religious emblems.

I deliberately asked you, the audience, for your views. Some respondents thought any symbols had the potential to distract and could compromise impartiality. But the majority of people from all religious and non religious backgrounds believed if a presenter is wearing religious clothing as part of their identity then it is absolutely fine for them to continue to do so. I agree with this latter view, although on an individual basis we do need to consider whether symbols distract and get in the way of their primary job of communicating the news. The wearing of a full veil, for instance, would hinder communication with the audience; a large shiny cross would be too distracting.

Crosses banned?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 17:30 UK time, Thursday, 5 October 2006

The Daily Star yesterday had a memorable headline - "PC Prats cross at TV Fiona crucifix". I imagine the Star had a BBC boss like me in mind as a "PC Prat" - although I'm not angry and certainly not angry about any cross Fiona Bruce might wear.

Fiona BruceLet me be clear, the BBC hasn't banned anything - whether veils, crosses, hijabs, scarves, skull caps, turbans or burkhas. What we have been discussing is what it's appropriate for newsreaders to wear, especially at a time of heightened religious tension.

The debate puts in opposition some principles the BBC stands for. The BBC is a supporter of freedom of expression. Equally we want our newsreaders to be seen as entirely impartial. Any religious clothing or insignia they wear could make some viewers question their impartiality. We were asked the hypothetical question of what we would do in the event that a Muslim newsreader wanted to wear a head scarf or veil. I suspect that some of the newspapers that have been poking fun at our consideration of wearing crosses would find a veil-wearing newsreader highly newsworthy, to put it mildly.

Anyway this is just a debate at the moment. It's a new area for us to consider and that means there is an opportunity for viewers to let us know what you think. So what would you prefer: Freedom of expression or complete impartiality in attire?

Hearing both sides

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 11:50 UK time, Wednesday, 12 July 2006

The defence secretary has raised concerns about a BBC interview with a Taleban commander that the Six O'Clock and Ten O'Clock news ran on Monday evening (watch it here).

An image from the controversial interviewDes Browne MP has said that broadcasting the Taleban's claims about the nature of the British deployment could cause confusion and might put British troops at risk. BBC News obviously takes the defence secretary's views seriously and we have had extensive debate within the newsroom about the use of video giving the Taleban's views. However we have come to the conclusion that it is an important part of our role to reflect the claims of the Taleban as well as, of course, reporting the views of British ministers, soldiers and officers.

There is a lively debate within the UK about how clear the British mission is. The fact that the Taleban hold the view that the British are there to fight war rather than to reconstruct the country is hardly surprising. For the BBC to report what the Taleban is saying is not the same as the BBC concurring with the Taleban view.

In any significant conflict involving British forces there are often members of the public and the British government who express concerns about the BBC reporting the views of the "enemy". However the BBC's duty of impartiality is especially strong in such conflicts, particularly when there is domestic controversy.

We need to be careful in explaining how interviews or statements with the Taleban are obtained and provide clear explanation to our audiences for why we are reporting those views, but it is entirely legitimate to broadcast such material and we will continue to do so. The BBC believes its impartial reporting of the facts and the views on both sides does not put British troops at risk.

Spoof newsflash

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:20 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

Who'd have thought my first proper entry on the new BBC News editors' blog would be prompted by the activities of Noddy, Tracey Beaker and the whereabouts of the Queen's handbag.

Yes, the Party at the Palace may have been a grand day out, but for some people the opening sequence left them with their hearts in their mouths, as Huw Edwards broke the news of a "serious incident at Buckingham Palace".

Huw Edwards and Sophie Raworth during Sunday's 'newsflash'Of course within a very short space of time it became clear that this was all part of the show. But enough people were misled by the spoof news bulletin for it to have caused concern.

Viewers contacted the BBC yesterday to say they felt it was inappropriate to begin the Children's Party at the Palace with a made-up news report.

Here's a sample: "I have a daughter and two grand children there, my heart was in my mouth. It was awful to open like that. There was no fun at that, for goodness sake how irresponsible". And there's more in a similar vein: "I cannot believe the crass insensitivity of this fake newsflash. We had a daughter caught up in the London bombings and a granddaughter at the palace. I was terrified when I saw this."

The tone of Huw and Sophie's news report had of course been considered and we assumed people would respond in the context of the fun and fantasy of the party at the palace. But having watched the opening sequence again, I can quite see the combination of Jonathan Ross's hurriedly broken off introduction, then the newsroom with Huw's sombre expression could have led some to have to concern.

All I can do is apologise for anyone who was momentarily misled. The lesson for us all is simply one of clear labelling... even if Ronnie Corbett as the butler Tibbs and Meera Syal as maid Mary are the main eyewitnesses to the crime.

Big screen TV

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 12:39 UK time, Friday, 19 May 2006

The House of Commons leader Jack Straw has criticised newsreaders for “prancing” around the studio. We think he means us, as BBC News recently launched dramatic new studios in which our presenters spend a brief part of the bulletin standing (although not walking, prancing or dancing).

screen.jpgChanges to TV News often occasion protests. When the BBC first introduced illustration of its TV bulletins with film and graphics, the Daily Mirror attacked the BBC’s “crass stupidity” for “presenting us with the creaky, stiff-jointed pages of a particularly silly scrapbook.”

Then, when newsreaders eventually appeared on camera, one critic insisted it was vital that no attempts were made by newsreaders to look friendly, as that might end unintentionally in a smirk. Audiences now seem to take newsreaders and graphics on screen in their stride.

Maybe the few viewers who have expressed concern about newsreaders standing up now might eventually come round, as previous generations did.

So why are newsreaders standing up? In the new BBC studios we have the ability to demonstrate a much wider range of graphical and visual illustration. Those marvellous big screens are best seen in “wide shot” and a presenter standing up simply fills the frame more effectively and allows us to see the spectacular images properly. Those images give viewers a window on the world and allow us to display graphics vividly that aid audience understanding.

We know some viewers are concerned about movement by presenters, so we have asked them to stand still and not move their arms too much. We will continue to listen to the concerns of those of the audience who are worried and we’ll experiment with the way we present to make it as comfortable and accessible as possible. But we do have a duty to present the visual side of TV news as effectively as possible, to attract as wide an audience as possible to the news. We are not changing to annoy people or to drive them away, so we’ll continue to weigh up how we are doing.

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