BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for July 2006

Nationwide interest

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Amanda Farnsworth | 15:47 UK time, Monday, 31 July 2006

Tommy Sheridan - who is he? Well, if you live outside Scotland you might not really know. But if you live in Scotland or are Scottish, you may well have been glued to your sets/PCs/newspapers/phone to home!

BBC Six O'Clock News logoMr Sheridan is, for the unitiated, a Scottish politician who is currently involved in a defamation trial which includes allegations of sex and swingers' parties. It makes for a heady mix; but at what point does a story of interest to one part of the UK move into the wider national arena?

It's a hard question and I'm afraid there's not a one-size-fits-all answer.

In this case, we knew we would do the biggest story in Scotland at the end of the trial.

But then today we thought it might be good to introduce those non-Scotland viewers to it before then, and as Mr Sheridan is actually questioning his own wife in the witness box today (he has fired his top QC) it was a great opportunity.

Here's a flavour of the proceedings:

The politician, who has described himself as teetotal, later questioned her about claims he had drunk alcohol. Mrs Sheridan replied: "You would not know one end of a wine bottle from the next.

"If I had read tea but wine... ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous."

Mr Sheridan asked his wife if she believed the women who had given evidence had been telling lies. She replied: "Total, utter rot."

But more generally, we look for a national resonance to a story. That can be the characters involved; or the story can illustrate an issue that's equally relevant outside Scotland, England, Lancashire or wherever. And sometimes its simply a cracking good story with no national resonance but one that will interest all viewers.

There have been times when we've of course not reported a local story nationally quickly enough. And I'm sure there will be more. And there will always be Scots who say news about the English and Welsh NHS is irrelevant to them and vice versa. Tricky business this.

Amanda Farnsworth is editor, Daytime News

How to say: Qana

Host Host | 11:46 UK time, Monday, 31 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

Lena Olausson"Today's name is the Lebanese village Qana, pronounced KAA-nuh. The letter Q is a uvular consonant, a sound which does not exist in English. We always anglicise the Q in names like al-Qaeda, al-Aqsa, Umm Qasr etc. to a K sound."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 11:07 UK time, Monday, 31 July 2006

Among the audience research to the BBC in the past 24 hours were many calls about Sunday night's Panorama, about the charity Interpal (for more details and to watch the programme online, click here). Some callers thought it was inappropriate to be broadcast amid the current situation in the Middle East, others thought it was particularly timely. Some claimed it was unbalanced; others said it was well researched. Several objected to the style of the camerawork.

We also received these e-mails:

The Panorama programme tonight was courageous and much needed in the present climate.
I've just turned off tonight's Panorama in disgust because it was fundamentally anti-religious. All religions have a political sub-strata - vide Desmond Tutu's "Anyone who says the Bible isn't a political document isn't reading the same Bible I'm reading" - and to attack one religion because you don't happen to find the political sub-strata supportive to your own prejudices is to sanction an attack on any religion by anyone who doesn't like the implications of what that religion is saying. This morning a church I know sang "Soldiers of Christ, arise!" with great gusto. OK, it isn't as detailed as the songs the Palestinian kiddies were singing - but the basic call to believers is the same.

Begging questions

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 10:55 UK time, Monday, 31 July 2006

Since the Israeli assault on Lebanon began there have been accusations and counter-accusations about breaking international humanitarian law. On The World Tonight last week the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator, Jan Egeland, accused the Israelis of breaking international law in its assault on Gaza and Lebanon and accused Hezbollah and Palestinian militants of breaking the same laws for firing missiles at civilian targets in Israel.

The World TonightIn response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Mark Regev, who has become a familiar voice on BBC radio over the past few weeks, quoted the Geneva Conventions and the International Red Cross in Israel's defence. For good measure, he argued that Israel is doing no worse than Nato did in Serbia during the Kosovo conflct seven years ago.

So who's right? If you look at lawyers arguments about international law at sites such as http://www.crimesofwar.org you'll see there are differing views on what actually does breach these laws. Some might say that this is not unusual where law and lawyers are concerned, but it certainly begs a lot of questions.

What exactly does international humanitarian law say about the legality of military action in areas populated by civilians which - let's face it - is pretty much anywhere people think is worth fighting over? How can international law be enforced? When we asked Jan Egeland what the UN could do about these alleged crimes, he said they could draw the world's attention to it and hope the parties themselves come to their senses, which highlights that unless there is consensus in the international community about enforcing these laws, nothing much happens.

Serbia is a recent example where the international community decided to enforce these laws and there is an interesting debate going in that country about why the parties to the present Middle East violence are not being held to account in the way the Serbs have - and that's before they go on to ask why Nato has never been called to account for its bombardment of their country.

All of which keeps our airwaves busy trying to explain why there is so much confusion over international humanitarian law.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 08:53 UK time, Monday, 31 July 2006

The Guardian: "A war is raging over perceived bias in the media's coverage of the crisis in the Middle East." (link)

The Independent: "Any self-respecting TV journalist evidently wants to head to the Middle East... BBC stars have been jostling one another as they vie for attention." (link)

On with the music

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Peter Barron | 15:57 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

I feel like one of those DJs who comes back from a break. "...And thanks to Simon who's been keeping my seat warm during the hols," they used to say through gritted teeth with an anxious eye on the ratings to see if they'd gone up. So thanks to Newsnight's Deputy Editor Daniel Pearl, whose entry on the editors' blog last week broke all box office records in terms of comments posted. Yeah, thanks a lot mate.

Newsnight logoActually, I could claim there's been a steadily upward trend of which Daniel has been the beneficiary. The fact is these days we get so many comments, suggestions and complaints that our webmasters Ian and Stuart are struggling to cope. They wade through the heaving inbox each morning - there were 300 odd for example after last night's Animal Testing debate
and thousands on our coverage of the Middle East crisis - but is it really the best use of their creative minds to spend hours everyday cutting and pasting your comments on to the site? It doesn't feel very modern.

So we reckon it's time - overdue you might say - for your comments to take on a life of their own. Taking a leaf from the success of The Editors blog across BBC News, Newsnight will shortly allow you to send your comments direct to the correspondent, editor, possibly even the presenter responsible for the piece in question.

Many of you of course, like Eric, do that already - it doesn't take a genius to work out the BBC e-mail addresses go joe.bloggs@bbc.co.uk - but now you'll be able to direct your ire or appreciation to a particular piece or individual, share that with everyone else, and get into further protracted dispute with other viewers who may disagree. All guaranteed not to languish unread in an overflowing inbox.

This has caused a little DJ-like holiday disquiet to Paul Mason, Newsnight's cream cracker among bloggers - the original and still best. Paul's cult offering has been going for months and in his latest posting - not untypically titled Giotto, Giolitti, graft, Gramsci... - he muses about what might happen in Newsnight's blogosphere in his absence in Italy.

I don't think he should be too worried. As business correspondent and technology dilettante he'd be the first to question the utility these days of protectionism - though Gramsci might disagree - and I'd be amazed if there's anyone else on the programme who'll be as prolific.

The point is you'll be able to choose whether you want to read and discuss all the comments made about Newsnight pieces, or just about particular items, or the blogs of Paul or another correspondent, even - who knows - the thoughts of Daniel Pearl.

All that coming soon. In the meantime, this week's new arrival is the long-awaited Newsnight vodcast, a video podcast featuring the best bits of the programme. This week's includes Monday's debate asking if there in an institutionalised bias in our reporting of the Middle East, David Grossman on political memoirs and excerpts from Thursday's Animal Rights debate from Oxford.

Tell us what you think of it, or indeed Martha's pink and white dress code.

PS I need at least 152 comments please.

Peter Barron is editor of Newsnight

In the buffer

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Paul Brannan | 14:58 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

The language of conflict has always given birth to euphemisms – collateral damage, kinetic targeting and ethnic cleansing are among the more recent entries to the argot of the times.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteGeorge Orwell covered this ground in Politics and the English Language back in 1945. He wrote: "“Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.

“Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers."

Orwell saw this retreat into euphemism as a consequence of political expediency by those seeking to defend the indefensible. Such phraseology was needed by those who wanted to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

A more recent commentator, Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute, cautioned against adopting the language of the military in reporting on war. “Language has always had a power that tilts towards those who define the terms,” he observed.

And my colleague Jon Williams has also written of the sensitivities of language, specifically the words used to describe the recent taking of the two Israeli soldiers.

The weight of history and its years of tit-for-tat reprisals in the region would lead many people to take issue with Orwell’s conclusion about language. Some would insist that Israel’s actions in southern Lebanon were entirely defensible. But when, in a recent report, we mentioned the proposal for a “buffer zone” between Israel and Lebanon as part of a wider ceasefire plan it prompted one viewer to write and complain.

"'Buffer zone' is a propaganda term used by the Israeli government. It should not be simply repeated by a news organisation.”

Such a description would be mendacious to many Lebanese. For them it’s a straightforward invasion and occupation of their territory.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflict, using the Israeli terminology - “buffer zone” - without ascribing it to them would make it appear that we accept the view of it as a purely defensive measure designed to protect Israel from aggression. Not using the term could also make us appear partial, or that we believed the argument that it is nothing to do with self-defence.

So, for future instances, I’ve asked the web team simply to make clear that the expression is one Israel has given to it.

Paul Brannan is deputy editor of the BBC News website

How to say: Pardubice

Host Host | 11:14 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is Pardubice, the Czech town where a British woman has died during a chess tournament. Czech is invariably stressed on the first syllable, and the pronunciation is PAR-doo-bits-uh."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Fire safety

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Peter Rippon | 10:42 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

As an editor, I do worry about being too politically correct in our coverage. However, I also worry about being offensive.

The PM programme logoIt was with those thoughts in mind that we approached the story about the firefighters threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to hand out leaflets at a Gay Pride event.

The story was complicated because the firemen (or do I mean firefighters?) were not willing to talk, so we had no idea why they took the action they did. It could be blatant homophobia, or there could have been other reasons. The men could argue they are not homophobic, they just felt uncomfortable. It was suggested that there is tradition of firemen being seen as sex objects by some in the gay community... just Google "gay" and "fireman". In sexual harassment cases, "harassment" is defined by the impact on the recipient and not by the intention of the person accused of the behaviour.

We discussed following this line with the Stonewall campaigner we were interviewing on the programme (hear it here). In the end Carolyn Quinn settled for suggesting that the men might have felt awkward or embarrassed. We did not develop the argument, partly because there were other interesting angles to explore, but also because we felt the guest could reasonably be expected to find such gross stereotyping offensive.

Peter Rippon is editor of PM and Broadcasting House

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:43 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

The Guardian: Detectives investigate more than 60 phone calls to police hotline following BBC documentary about Stephen Lawrence. (Link)

The Daily Mail: Why do the BBC's war reporters refuse to wear ties? Michael Cole writes. (Link)

The Daily Telegraph: Obituary for former BBC reporter Bob Simpson. (Link)

Personal news

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Paul Brannan | 15:13 UK time, Thursday, 27 July 2006

Users of the BBC News website in the UK might have noticed something different about the front page today.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe have introduced some customisation, enabling people to have news and weather relevant to their chosen postcode, along with sports news about a particular team, all displayed right there on the front page.

There's long been a debate about how much personalisation people want (see this instalment of Pete Clifton's column from more than a year ago where he discussed the issue). We think our new service is the right balance - the main stories appear at the top of the page just as they always have, but we hope these new links will make the site just a bit more convenient for users.

We know there are a couple of issues about the accuracy of postcode mapping, but we're keen to hear what you've got to say about this new feature. It's a "beta" version, meaning we want as much feedback as possible - let us know using the form on this page.

Paul Brannan is deputy editor of the BBC News website

How to say: Ehud Olmert

Host Host | 14:31 UK time, Thursday, 27 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, pronounced ay-HOOD OL-mairt.

"We generally research names using written sources and native speakers within the BBC, but we also consult outside agencies. In this case, the pronunciation came from a Hebrew speaker in the press office of the Israeli embassy."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 13:24 UK time, Thursday, 27 July 2006

The Daily Mail: Stephen Lawrence documentary "a laudable piece of journalism".(link)
The Independent: Documentary has "concentrated our minds wonderfully". (Link (£))
The Guardian: In praise of Election Night (link)

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 10:51 UK time, Thursday, 27 July 2006

Among the audience response received by the BBC in the past 24 hours were many calls praising the documentary The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence, though some callers thought too long had passed since the original events. There continue to be calls about Middle East coverage, alleging bias on our part in both directions, and also some calls complaining about the amount of reporting on the subject.

Whole lotta leave

Katy Searle | 17:15 UK time, Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Who didn't bop the night away with Pan's People and Legs & Co?

So secret was the recording of the last Top of the Pops that even BBC News was stopped from filming the rehearsal.

Determined to mark the end of an era and remember our youth, we were not to be diverted. Despite our reporter being promptly shown the door as he tried to sneak a preview, we persisted. True - it was only being filmed 100 yards from our office, but whatever pop rock sensation they had hidden in there, the nation would have to wait...

Luckily Sir Jimmy Savile wasn't so shy. With medallion and hairy chest, he reminded the nation that he was there for the first show, and he was going to make it for the last.

The red headscarf

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 14:51 UK time, Wednesday, 26 July 2006

I began life working for the supermarket chain Sainsbury's. Chapter 1, paragraph 1 of "How to do retail" is the idea that the customer is always right!

As maxims go, it's not a bad one - never forget the consumer has a choice. It's something that's stuck with me ever since - it's as applicable to broadcasting as it is to selling groceries. But sometimes, that belief is tested.

One of the things that's distinguished the BBC's coverage of the fighting in Lebanon has been our ability to travel the region - hearing different perspectives from our correspondents across the Middle East, whether it's from Gaza, Damascus or Tehran. Yesterday Margaret Beckett called on Syria and Iran to stop encouraging "extremism" in Lebanon and end support for Hezbollah. The BBC is the only English-language broadcaster to have a bureau in Iran - recently we built a TV studio in Tehran to allow News 24 and BBC World to report live from the city.

Frances Harrison, the BBC's correspondent in TehranSo it seemed rather uncontroversial for our correspondent in the city, Frances Harrison, to appear on BBC News 24 to report how the crisis in Lebanon was being reported in Iran, wearing a rather fetching red headscarf (you can watch the piece by clicking here). Uncontroversial until a viewer rang the BBC duty log rang to complain that wearing the scarf called into question "the objectivity of this reporter".

Really?

If you've seen those adverts for HSBC, you'll know that different countries have different customs. A bit like HSBC, the BBC operates in more than 20 different countries - and in each our staff respect those traditions. In Iran, women are required to cover their heads. It's not unusual. In Saudi Arabia women are expected to wear a larger abaya, and can be arrested by the religious police if they don't.

But it's not just about the letter of the law - it is about us respecting local sensitivities. We can only operate in other countries with the consent of the people who live there - we don't inhabit an ivory tower. It's important for the integrity of our journalism that we get out and talk to the people of Tehran - as we do in Moscow, Beijing or Washington. That means we need to respect their customs and traditions.

I'm not sure why that makes Frances or any of her colleagues elsewhere in the world any less objective - on the contrary, I suspect it gives them rather greater insight into the people and countries they report on.

And I thought she rather suited that red headscarf.

Jon Williams is world news editor

Thundering attack

Barney Jones | 12:39 UK time, Wednesday, 26 July 2006

So, I was pilloried by The Thunderer on Monday - that's Stephen Pollard's column in the Times - for having such enthusiasm for Hezbollah that I must in fact be the leader of this organisation.

Sunday AM logoQuite a damning attack on a long-standing and relatively anonymous staffer steeped in the ethos of objectivity and fair play. An ethos perhaps not applicable to columnists who earn a living from being provocative; making waves.

But what to do? The news of this full-frontal attack reached me rather late in the day. After working in Television Centre most of the weekend, I headed off for the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons on Sunday evening, with my teenage son. Come Monday lunchtime, arriving at a hilltop that picked up a faint mobile phone signal, I learned of the damaging denunciation.

Andrew Marr and I agreed that since the piece was wrong in detail, as well as broad implication, a response was essential. He prepared a brief eloquent letter and I offered a more detailed lumbering explanation. An amalgam was eventually submitted to the Times letters page and appeared on Wednesday morning.

marr1_203bbc.jpgThe programme on Sunday 23rd (which you can currently watch here) was not, as stated by Pollard, "mostly... given over to events in the Middle East". It was centred on a long interview with the deputy prime minister, the first live TV interview since his personal and political life imploded three months ago.

Attacks for being too tough or too soft on Prezza I anticipated. Masterminding Hezbollah was a surprise.

The sole interview with any player with a direct tie-in to the Middle East was with a minister in the Lebanese government. A brief interview with a woman who is not aligned with Hezbollah, whose husband was assassinated in a bombing she believes was associated with Syrian factions, and who was questioned by Marr about the culpability of Hezbollah for the mayhem now engulfing her country.

With Israeli troops massing on the border, the interview seemed entirely appropriate and was followed by a live link with the BBC's man in Jerusalem for an overview of the diplomatic manoeuvres and the Israeli government’s stated response to the British minister – just arrived – and the American minister – arriving shortly.

peres1_203bbc.jpgThe previous weeks’s programme was rather more Middle East orientated. It featured a substantial interview with the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres (watch it here), followed by a briefer interview with the former Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi (watch that here). And earlier in the month, the acting Israeli ambassador to London was interviewed on his own.

Zionist plots on these occasions? Don’t be absurd!

Pollard also lambasted us for the paper review. It started with the Middle East, as many papers did, but covered a host of other topics including domestic politics. The two reviewers were chosen to reflect different facets of UK politics, as they usually are. A former Tory MP and a current Labour MEP. In the minority of the review that was devoted to the Middle East, both indicated that they thought the Israeli response disproportionate. In an ideal world we would have two reviewers with differing views on this contentious subject. However the fact that these two distinguished figures both happen to share a perspective does not, surely, disbar them from comment.

The Beeb doesn’t always get it right and this blog is one forum for those of us charged with producing programmes to put our hands up and say “sorry”. Indeed it’s essential that we all consider carefully what we do, strive to follow the BBC guidelines and admit when we’ve got it wrong. I’m convinced, however, that the Pollard attack was unwarranted.

And I think that a visit to the Sunday AM website, which hosts transcripts of all the interviews - and a record of who appeared each week - will reassure most viewers that our record for fair play remains intact.

How to say: Kofi Annan

Host Host | 12:29 UK time, Wednesday, 26 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's news-related pronunciation is an apparently simple name, often mispronounced: UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The pronunciation is KOH-fi AN-an, with the stress on the first syllable of the surname. We have the best possible source for this pronunciation; it is how he said his name himself during his swearing-in ceremony in 1996."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:40 UK time, Wednesday, 26 July 2006

The Times: The editor of the BBC's Sunday AM reponds to criticism of his programme in the paper. (link)

The Telegraph: "The drama of general election night could soon come to an end because of new voting laws, a Government minister has said." (link)

Sex and Radio 1

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Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:16 UK time, Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Andy is a bathroom fitter. He's young - a keen Radio 1 listener with a wife and two small children. I spent some time with him recently - not because he's doing my bathroom - but because I went to talk to him while he was doing a job near Basingstoke and I wanted to get his thoughts on what we do journalistically.

Radio One logoYou see, we editors do occasionally come down from our ivory towers.

Broadly, he's a fan, but one thing does make him very angry.

Your editorial line - he said, accusingly - is promoting sex. "You are always going on about STI's, condoms and safe sex... and giving the impression everyone's doing it with multiple partners. But you don't talk about monogamy or abstinence!"

This got me thinking: sex is one of the Radio 1's audience key concerns; with the western world's highest rates of teen pregnancies, huge rises in STI's and spiralling depression - often caused by relationship or self image issues - it's hardly surprising we get more listener interaction on these issues than any other. The appetite for these stories is huge.

So am I some sort of latter-day Paul Raymond - presiding over a sleazy world of promiscuity and porn, surrounded by page 3 wannabes whilst signing up kiss-and-tell stories to shame the News of the World? No, clearly not. That never has been or will be, part of the brief (no pun intended).

But what we are providing is public service information in any area where many young people feel they are seriously uninformed. The reality is that for many of our audience, sex - often risky, sometimes disastrous - is a regular part of their lives.

It's not our job, I believe, to preach, to stand in judgement or to make moral judgements. It's not a role I seek or am qualified to do - nor would my staff want to. It is our job to make the best information available to our young listeners aged in their late teens and early twenties so they can make informed choices if they wish to. We even have a specialist youth health reporter, Helen Neill, to help us to address this editorial area with real focus.

I said this to Andy - he thought for a bit and said, smiling, "but you could tell them about abstinence and being faithful to one person couldn't you? There are some young people like that, you know".

Maybe he's got a point.

(PS: Click here to find out more about Radio 1's 'Bare All' campaign.)

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra TX

How to say: Nouri al-Maliki

Host Host | 13:01 UK time, Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Catherine SangsterA guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is for the name of Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who held a joint news conference with Tony Blair in London on Monday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair greets his Iraqi counterpart"The Pronunciation Unit recommends the pronunciation...

NOO-ri uhl-MAL-ick-i."

(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 11:34 UK time, Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Among the audience reaction received by the BBC in the past 24 hours were a number of messages praising Panorama's report on Sunday into the provision of health care for the elderly, as well as numerous objections to the coverage of the Middle East conflict.

We also received this email.

I would like weather reporting to take account of the fact that a fine sunny day is not always what we all want. There is a drought in the south east of the UK and rain is very welcome. You would think that weather reporters had not heard about it.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:42 UK time, Tuesday, 25 July 2006

The Times: "The BBC is working on a musical to be based on the rise and fall of Gerald Ratner." (link)

The Independent: "For some reason it is now the habit of every commentator - especially on the BBC - to add four meaningless syllables to the truth." (link)

The statistics of war

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Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 15:00 UK time, Monday, 24 July 2006

Here are some stark statistics:

BBC Ten O'Clock News logo• Around 30 to 40 people are killed every day in the current Israel/Lebanon conflict.

• About 100 people are killed every day in the violence in Iraq.

• And 1,200 people are killed every day in the war in the Congo.

All three of these stories are due to appear on tonight's Ten O'Clock News. They will probably run in that order - with the Middle East getting by far the most attention.

Does this say something about how we value human life? It's a fair question and one I worry about.

Here is our reasoning for not reversing the order. The war in the Congo has been going on for decades - it is desperately important (as we will reflect tonight), and a story we will keep returning to. Similarly the Ten has led the way in attempting to show the scale of the violence in Iraq in recent months - we have regularly led the programme with stories from there, and the BBC is the only British broadcaster with a full time commitment to being there.

The Middle East needs more time and space for a variety of reasons:

• The sheer complexity of the situation requires space to help provide context and analysis.

• The current conflict plugs into so many other stories around the world, from what Tony Blair and George W. Bush call the "War on Terror", through to the price of oil, even the situation in Afghanistan.

• Many people fear the consequences of conflict in the Middle East more than anywhere else, and it is our job to help people understand a "scary world".

In short, our judgement is that Middle East is currently the biggest story in the world - by a wide margin - and it has the greatest implications for us all.

Craig Oliver is editor of the Ten O'Clock News

Graphic images

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Adam Curtis | 14:00 UK time, Monday, 24 July 2006

News developments in the Middle East routinely attract the attention of vigorous lobby groups on both sides. The conflict that has erupted so suddenly in Lebanon is no exception.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe are accused of all sorts of twists and spins, such as: "Why do we say that Lebanese have 'died', but that Israelis have 'been killed'?" Or: "Why do you focus on the suffering of Israelis when the Lebanese are suffering in greater numbers?" Or: "Why do you paint the Lebanese as victims when it's their failure to disarm Hezbollah that lies at the root of the trouble?" Or: "Why don't you state openly that the Israeli bombing/Hezbollah rocket attacks are war crimes?"

Readers with strong views about the rights and wrongs of the conflict sometimes read into our coverage a bias or prejudice that is not there. The accusations come from both sides.

The truth is that, in maintaining 24-hour a day coverage of a complex, fast-moving story such as this - constantly updating and reshaping our reports - it is a huge challenge to ensure that we are maintaining absolute balance and impartiality. Undoubtedly, there are times when we don't get it quite right. But we do pay attention to feedback, and we do make adjustments when it seems right to do so.

One of the most difficult issues surrounds the pictures that we use to illustrate our news stories. We come under pressure from some quarters to publish photographs that reflect the full horror of the casualties being inflicted. Such images certainly exist and are freely available on a number of websites.

Our job, as we see it, is to make a judgement about what our audience is likely to feel is appropriate. On the one hand, we do not believe in sanitising the news. On the other, we believe we have the ability, through our reporting, to convey the horror of events without shocking and possibly outraging our readers by showing gruesome images of mutilated corpses.

On occasions we are aware that we come close to crossing the line as to what is acceptable. In such circumstances, we may, like our colleagues in television, adopt the policy of warning our readers that the images they are about to see are likely to be distressing.

But what if the available images of casualties on one side are more harrowing than those on the other? And should we publish more pictures of Lebanese casualties because there are more of them?

In practice, we look at the agency pictures available at any one time and publish a selection that we feel reflects reality. We have no agenda other than to give our readers as accurate a sense as we can of what is happening on the ground.

In doing so, we take note of the BBC guideline on impartiality, which says in part: "It requires us to be fair and open minded when examining the evidence and weighing all the material facts, as well as being objective and even handed in our approach to a subject. It does not require the representation of every argument or facet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view."

Adam Curtis is world editor of the BBC News website

How to say: Chester-le-Street

Host Host | 11:32 UK time, Monday, 24 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.
Catherine Sangster
"Today's pronunciation is for the English town Chester-le-Street.

"Our recommendation, based on the advice of people who live there as well as published sources, is CHEST-uhr-li-street - the first part rhymes with 'westerly'. Most English placenames with 'le' in them are pronounced in this way, rhyming with 'me' rather than the French-sounding 'luh'."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 10:21 UK time, Monday, 24 July 2006

Among the audience reaction received by the BBC in the past 24 hours were comments that "there are not enough interviews from the Lebanese" and "Israel is not getting equal coverage". We also received these e-mails:

I wish the BBC would stop banging on about blogs. I want quality journalism from intelligent people. Blogs are 99.999999% self-indulgent ramblings from people whose opinion I have no interest in.
Can the BBC news teams, when quoting statistics in news broadcasts, not make a mockery of our language? It is ludicrous to state, for example, that "In the UK, 30,000 people die of lung disease every year". No, they don't! Once they've died, those people can't die again the following year ! Do you not see that the better way to quote that (fictional)statistic would be: "Every year, lung disease is responsible for 30,000 deaths in the UK"? If BBC London were to tell me that "Somebody is mugged on the tube every 38 minutes", my immediate reaction would be "and he's getting really fed up with it now".

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:26 UK time, Monday, 24 July 2006

The Independent: Reporter Ian Burrell spends a day in the BBC News 24 newsroom. (link)

The Times: Columnist Stephen Pollard attacks the BBC's coverage of the Middle East crisis. (link)

The Guardian: "Panorama's return to a primetime weeknight slot could make or break the current affairs programme." (link)

We're watching you...

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Daniel Pearl | 13:38 UK time, Friday, 21 July 2006

It's become a cliché that new technology has changed TV, for ever.

Newsnight logoIn some ways the biggest change is how much closer we, as programme makers, are to our audience. If you email us during the programme the chances are that, if I'm editing, I'll read your message almost instantly. So on Wednesday night Ian emailed me during the programme to say: "Why is your interviewer standing while Menzies Campbell is sitting?"

Now unfortunately for Ian, the item (watch it here) was prerecorded, so even if I had agreed with him that Martha should sit, which I didn't, there wouldn't have been much I could have done. None the less, it's much easier for you all to tell us what you like and dislike, and the truth is we do read it. I recently found Jeremy slumped in front of his computer. He looked despondent and when I asked why, he briefly showed me his email inbox.

Let's face it, it's not that difficult to guess BBC email addresses - and a hell of a lot of people take a punt on his. I didn't read any of his messages but I can reassure you all that, from the look on his face, he had.

Anyway, communication from you to us is not new. What I think is new is that we can now know what you are talking about and interested in without you ever telling us. Sounds sinister but it's not really. It takes seconds on a site like Technorati to discover what people are talking about and searching for. This has begun to make an impact on the programme.

Newt GingrichSo, for example, late on Monday night the most talked about subject in the blog world was Newt Gingrich's appearance on America's Meet the Press, in which he said that we are in the midst of a Third World War.

The next day we contacted Gingrich and that night he repeated his claims on Newsnight (watch it here). So in that sense blogging had an immediate impact on Newsnight's running order.

Also, we know what you are saying about us (really, we do).

If you write anything about Newsnight, or about me, on a blog, I'll probably find it via Technorati. So for example, I know that there's a whole debate going on about Ming Campbell's performance on Newsnight - the question being asked is whether Ming is the Lib Dems' Iain Duncan Smith... see here or here.

The Technorati websiteThe thing I find strange about all this is that often people who write blogs, or contribute to them, somehow think that they are involved in a private forum.

I recently came across a comment claiming Jeremy disliked recording his weekly podcast. I posted a response and the blogger seemed appalled - "the BBC's watching us - spooky" was his reply. But if you write something about us on the internet surely I have every right to read it and respond - that's not spooky.

I had to confront this the other day. We often have students with us on work experience. Twice in the last 6 months I've come across blogs in which people trailing the programme have written things about the team. When I approached one of these people, her reponse was that the blog was supposed to be just for her and her friends!

It wasn't the confidentiality issue that bugged me, but that anyone would think that we as programme makers don't have as much right as everyone else to read what you're all writing, especially if you are writing about us. So, what do you think? Stick it on your blog and I'll respond.

Daniel Pearl is deputy editor of Newsnight

How to say: HMS Bulwark

Host Host | 12:19 UK time, Friday, 21 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"The Pronunciation Unit recommends the pronunciation BUUL-wuhrk.

"Pronunciation dictionaries give the above pronunciation as the preferred British English pronunciation of 'bulwark' (the word), although other acceptable pronunciations of this word include BUL- (as in 'cup') initially or -WURK (as in 'her') finally. For the name of the ship, we checked the pronunciation with the Royal Navy Press Office."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Different views

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Richard Porter | 11:05 UK time, Friday, 21 July 2006

Consider these two items:

BBC World logo

    • "The sight of a huge flotilla of ships carrying thousands of foreigners out of harm's way has only served to highlight the plight of those left behind. Civilians - mostly, but not exclusively, Lebanese - are the main casualties. There is now a rising chorus of experts who have raised the question of international humanitarian law."
    • "British navy warships and helicopters are in Beirut this lunchtime - to rescue more British nationals - trapped by the fighting in Lebanon. They're being loaded on to two Royal Navy vessels - which will take them to Cyprus later this afternoon."

Clearly two news organisations with vastly different views on the main story at midday (UK time) Thursday.

Actually, they're both the BBC. One was BBC World, broadcasting to audiences outside the UK. The other was BBC News 24, the domestic news channel. And at lunchtime today we had very different ideas about what we wanted to concentrate on. It's a great thing about the BBC that we have sufficient editorial independence to be able to make these decisions. Both, in their own way, are very focused on the audiences served by the programmes. Neither (in my view) is more correct than the other.

At BBC World we have devoted a lot of time to the international operation taking people out of Lebanon. And it's true that we have looked at it more through British eyes - partly because for safety reasons we're sharing a lot of resources with domestic BBC outlets in Beirut.

But we've also reported on what nations like India, Sri Lanka and Canada have been doing. And we keep coming back to issues facing the people who can't leave the country. One of our longest-serving Middle East correspondents, Jim Muir, is in Tyre in southern Lebanon, which has been very badly hit by the bombardment. Gavin Hewitt has reported on Lebanese people trying to escape to Syria. And of course this is a story with two sides - so our correspondents in northern Israel have been reporting on the consequences of the missile attacks there. News 24 has covered the same issues - and at times we've been "simulcasting" - ie both channels carrying the same coverage, presented from both Beirut and Haifa.

The challenge for us - whether we be serving domestic or international audiences - is not to lose sight of all the issues. It's complicated; it's changing rapidly; opinions are strongly-held on all sides and need to be properly reflected. So even if we spend a few hours of one day focusing on one aspect - such as the British evacuees - we must make sure that over time we keep coming back to the core questions. What's happening now? What caused this? What's going to resolve it? And many others...

Richard Porter is editor of BBC World

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 10:48 UK time, Friday, 21 July 2006

Among the audience response given to the BBC in the past 24 hours were, again, many calls about our coverage of the Middle East. Other points raised were objections that Condoleezza Rice was referred to as 'Condy' on Newsnight, and that an item on the Today programme might encourage children to use water pistols during a water shortage. We also received this e-mail, our favourite of the week:

I am sorry to be a nitpicking pedant however I have had frequent arguements with friends on this topic and I am very surprised that the BBC of all people would get this fact wrong... Bananaman did not live at 29 Acacia Avenue as you mentioned in your article, he lived at 29 Acacia ROAD.
(Story is now corrected.)

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:56 UK time, Friday, 21 July 2006

The Times: A columnist on the BBC's coverage of the Middle East crisis: "Both the BBC and ITV have staged feelgood family reunions by satellite during news bulletins." (link)

The Independent: "Lebanon's PM has enough problems but, even so, he might have been distracted by one trivial, nagging question when he met the BBC's Middle East editor this week..." (link)

Restructuring the BBC

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 16:29 UK time, Thursday, 20 July 2006

So we at the BBC have had one of those “organisational moments”, making substantial changes to how we run ourselves.

BBCMark Thompson’s announcement included an emphasis on BBC Journalism as one of the main planks of what the BBC does – alongside Audio & Music and BBC Vision. The idea at the heart of BBC Journalism builds on what we’ve been doing over the last few years. We’ve worked hard to create stronger links between the BBC’s journalistic output, locally, nationally and internationally. Sport now joins the mix as well.

Our aim is to ensure we fully achieve our mission of delivering the world’s best journalism and that what we do is available to as many people as possible across all appropriate platforms.

Of course this only really matters if it makes a difference to audiences. I think it will. It should help us be more ambitious in what we do across the big themes of our time – climate change, energy supply, China, global security and many more.

When all of the BBC’s journalists work together we can give audiences an unrivalled insight into major issues. The expertise of the World Service, the innovation of our interactive teams, the grass roots understanding from our teams across the UK can all combine to strengthen our coverage of subjects ranging from immigration to the environment.

Of course it’s happened in the past but we know we can and should do more.

Secondly it’s vital that all areas of the BBC’s journalism work together as we adapt to the changing technological world. Finding the right ways of offering content and the best technology to support that content needs to be thought about across the BBC – not just in individual areas.

What we provide in terms of news services to mobiles for example is likely to cuts across boundaries of local, national and international.

In a world where greater personalisation will be one of the key themes, audiences will be in control rather than our traditional boundaries and demarcations. There will be people who regularly want a diet of news which ranges from the local to the global and we need to make sure our way of doing things supports, rather than gets in the way of, providing this.

Journalism is at the heart of why the BBC exists. The changes to the organisation reflect this and I think can only encourage anyone who wants the BBC to continue to offer the best in on-the-spot reporting, analysis and explanation, robust interviewing and original story finding.

Adrian Van-Klaveren is deputy director of BBC News

Blogs on the BBC

Host Host | 15:23 UK time, Thursday, 20 July 2006

A round-up of what's being said about the BBC in other blogs. Today, the announcement of a major restructuring of the BBC.

Buzzmachine:
"This is a big cultural change for the BBC... different tribes are being thrown in together and told they’d better get along." (link)

I'm Simon Dickson:
"It's further evidence that online production really isn’t that specialised any more... everything is ‘just content’." (link)

Plasticbag.org:
"Are you impressed by the BBC's progress? I'm not." (link)

Ninthspace:
"The BBC has given new media an expanded role... Great. Now go sort out your interactive TV service!" (link)

Nearly One BBC

Mark Wray | 14:56 UK time, Thursday, 20 July 2006

It's always great to get a scoop - and even nicer to get two for the price of one.

Radio Five Live logoSo, last week, when Anita Anand managed to convince Sir Gulam Noon to respond to the BBC's business editor's exclusive (about the curry tycoon having been told by Lord Levy not to reveal his £250k loan to the Labour Party), I was pretty chuffed.

Using her own contacts and some good old-fashioned persuasion Anita encouraged a pretty reluctant Noon to put his side of the story (hear the interview here). He refused to implicate his Lordship directly but did go as far as is decent for a Knight of the Realm in venting his not inconsiderable displeasure with the whole farrago.

Sir Gulam NoonWe're not great at blowing our own trumpets on these occasions. But I did alert the Press Association newsdesk, other BBC programmes and the BBC press office.

The world and his dog started chasing Sir Gulam to see if he would throw them a bone too but he'd said his piece. So Anita's was the only interview they had to go on and there was great pick up in the papers the next day. Some mentioning Anita and her programme, others mentioning Five Live, some just the BBC and others, well, giving no credit at all (it's annoying when that happens but which of us can hold our hands up and say we haven't used others' storylines without a proper plug?).

Anita AnandThe icing on the top of the Levy/Noon cake was hearing Sarah Montague introduce Anita's interview, in full, on the following morning's Today programme. At the end of the interview she gave Anita another name-check.

There was a time, not too long ago, when internal rivalries meant that if a BBC programme used material from other BBC outlets, an interview like this would have been filleted for the best clips, cutting out the 'rival' talent. And on those rare occasions when a credit was given it would have been barely audible as it was spat out through the presenter's gritted teeth.

We're not quite One BBC yet, but we are getting there.

How to say: Jan Egeland

Host Host | 12:17 UK time, Thursday, 20 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

Jan Egeland, UN emergency relief co-ordinatorToday, Jan Egeland, UN emergency relief co-ordinator.

"The Pronunciation Unit recommends the pronunciation YAAN AY-guh-lan.

"This is a Norwegian name, so the final 'd' in Egeland is silent in this position."

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:49 UK time, Thursday, 20 July 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC's director general yesterday unveiled a restructuring package... designed to make the BBC 'the most creative organisation in the world'." (link)

The Mirror: "Computer giant Microsoft has beaten the BBC to be crowned the UK's top consumer brand." (link)

Approaching Dunkirk?

Amanda Farnsworth | 12:52 UK time, Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Exodus - it's not a word we've really been using on the evacuation of foreign nationals from Beirut... but what we were saying was that it was akin to the evacuation from Dunkirk.

This, of course, isn't really true.

BBC One/Six O'Clock NewsWhy did we say it ? Because government minister Kim Howells made the comparison... but as our Middle East editor told us this morning, in Dunkirk around 340,000 soldiers were taken off the docks and the beaches over nine days under heavy fire - and big though the Beirut evacuation is, it's not Dunkirk.

There are so many strands to this crisis that it's hard to get the balance right between covering it comprehensively and reporting other news. There's what's going on in Beirut, what's happening in the south of Lebanon where most of the bombing is, the North of Israel where Hezbollah rockets are landing, the international efforts for a diplomatic solution and the role of the US in the region.

Some have asked if we are doing too much on the British evacuation and not enough on other aspects. We are constantly asking ourselves this question and at the moment I think we're getting it about right - but we need to keep asking.

Amanda Farnsworth is editor, Daytime News

How to say: Javier Solana

Host Host | 12:00 UK time, Wednesday, 19 July 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

Today, Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief.

"The Pronunciation Unit recommends the pronunciation khav-YAIR sol-AA-nuh (-kh as in Scottish loch)

"People sometimes confuse the pronunciation of Spanish 'Javier' with the pronunciation of French words or names ending in -ier (such as Xavier, Olivier). The resulting pronunciation is a cross between the Spanish khav-YAIR and the French gzav-YAY. Since this individual is Spanish, the initial sound in 'Javier' is like the sound in Scottish 'loch' (not English 'lock') and the final syllable rhymes with 'hair' in an anglicised pronunciation."

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Reporting from Norwich

Host Host | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Blogger John Gibbard has written a report from the BBC governors' meeting in Norwich (which took place last Thursday - BBC News report here).

He's pretty sure he was the only blogger there... but if you know otherwise, leave a link in the comments.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:19 UK time, Wednesday, 19 July 2006

The Guardian: "BBC director general Mark Thompson will today unveil major changes to the structure of the corporation." (link)

The Telegraph: "The BBC is rescuing Panorama from its "graveyard" Sunday night slot." (link)

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 09:56 UK time, Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Among the audience reaction given to the BBC in the past 24 hours were several people who objected to the evacuation of Lebanon being compared to Dunkirk. And as on previous days, some people alleged bias in favour of Israel, others alleged bias against. We also received this e-mail:

I can't believe the UK comes to a stand still and we're told what we can and can't do due to the weather/heat. I'm in the British Army out in Iraq for the third time in three years working in 45+ degrees daily wearing combat body armour. The Army is forgotten about by the British public until something bad happens.

Open Mic

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Jamie Donald | 16:46 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

‘Sweets for my sweet, sugar for my honey...’

The Daily Politics logoEveryone at The Daily Politics is humming the old Searchers hit after hearing the ‘open mic’ tape of George Bush and Tony Blair chatting informally at the G8 summit.

‘Yeah, he is sweet’ says Bush at one point. ‘He’s honey’, Blair replies.

We don’t know who they’re talking about – is it President Assad of Syria – and we’ve had a big argument in the office over whether Blair says ‘he’s honey’ or in fact says ‘he’s had it’. Our reporter Giles Dilnot, no mean hand with a mike, is convinced only the later interpretation makes sense of the whole exchange. Click here to listen and make up your own mind.

Is 'Yo! Blair' a friendly greeting from Bush to an equal, or patronising and disrespectful? Our linguist – Dr. Colleen Cotter from the University of London and an American to boot – thought it was just what you’d expect of two old mates kicking back at a summit. Some of the British papers this morning are more sceptical.

George Bush and Tony BlairAnd is ‘shit’ a good way to sum up what’s happening in Lebanon? Bush uses it (though on air we bleeped it out) and our linguist thought it was exactly the kind of language you’d expect in private conversation between friends. Again the papers disagree, some believing it say more about the American president’s grasp of diplomacy than the Middle East.

And then there’s the sweater. Or should that be jumper. Nick Clegg, the great Liberal Democrat hope, thought Tony had made a classic fashion mistake by picking out knitwear for George when the weather is so hot here and in Texas. But in the office we reasoned that if an American billionaire give John Prescott cowboy boots and a Stetson then Burberry is the only riposte.

Open mike cock-ups are legendary, and make fantastic talking points. Remember John Major calling half his cabinet ‘bastards’ when he thought the tape wasn’t rolling – or Prince Charles thinking he was too far away for reporters to hear him describing the BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell as an awful man.

The Blair-Bush exchange tops them both in my view, because it will be picked over for weeks for meaning, and for clues about one of the most important relationships in the world.

Jamie Donald is editor of live political programmes

Taste and decency

Pat Stevenson | 15:15 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Nipple clamps, group sex and swingers' clubs. Grist to the tabloids' mill perhaps, but the BBC?

BBC Radio Scotland logoCovering Tommy Sheridan's defamation action against the News of the World was always going to be a challenge in terms of taste and decency.

The Scottish Socialist MSP is fighting a series of claims made in the newspaper about his sex life. Allegations that he denies but the paper contends are "substantially true".

The first question, given the likely content of the evidence - should we be covering the court proceedings at all? Tommy Sheridan is arguably one of only a few Members of the Scottish Parliament who people in the street would recognise. His high profile stems from his career in challenging the establishment. He was jailed for his actions in fighting the poll tax and taking part in blockades at Faslane nuclear submarine base. He was the founder member of the Scottish Socialist Party, and as leader, raised its profile to such an extent in the first term of the Scottish Parliament that the party picked up five additional seats in the 2003 elections.

Tommy SheridanEighteen months ago his resignation from the leadership topped the news. So, a major character in Scottish politics, and as an editor a case I think we should be covering. Having made that decision, how much detail should we broadcast? Radio literally has a captive audience of children. Strapped in the backseat of a car, kids are tuned into whatever their parents are listening to.

As a parent I'm aware of the kind of questions that are asked. And a ten year old probably isn't going to buy the line "Mr Sheridan was just having a sleepover". But as a broadcaster it is the BBC's legal and editorial duty to report a case both fairly and accurately, both from a defamation and contempt point of view. "Enough" pled one text to the programme, but leaving out large chunks of evidence could leave us in legal difficulties.

That's not to say every detail is picked over. In practical terms, radio just hasn't got the time to go into the minutiae in the same way as newspapers. I did make the decision not to broadcast the word "b****rd" when a witness swore at an advocate during the case. Why? It wasn't part of the evidence and so I thought it could be left out. The word has however been used in the programme before (John Major's outburst of frustration over eurosceptics, for example). But every story throws up different challenges and every decision can be challenged. That's what being an editor is about.

And we did decide not to use the nipple clamps.

How to say: Hezbollah

Host Host | 14:16 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

MarthaA guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Our recommendation for Hezbollah is hez-buul-AA (stress on final syllable). We've arrived at this recommendation by considering the original Farsi pronunciation, the Arabic pronunciation and anglicised pronunciations in published sources.

In yesterday's post, some of you asked how to pronounce the word orthoepist (a professional pronouncer).

It's not a word we use in everyday conversations but we find it ironic that a word that refers to correct pronunciations can be said in so many ways! These possibilities include: OR-thoh-ep-ist, or-thoh-EE-pist and or-THOH-uh-pist. All these are acceptable but our personal preference is perhaps the last one."

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

On evacuation...

Tim Bailey | 13:59 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Amid the coverage of efforts to get British people out of Lebanon, I'm hoping all my colleagues remember that people can "be evacuated" but they do not "evacuate", unless they are doing something quite different. (I've clarified this entry from earlier - there used to be a debate about whether evacuation could apply to people at all, ie that only buildings or places could be evacuated, but it's now of course quite acceptable usage to say that people are evacuated, and our style reflects that.) [Updated Friday 21 July 0930 BST]

Tim Bailey is editor of the Radio 4 Six O'Clock News

Working in a war zone

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:44 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

It's one of the iron laws of journalism: if everyone else is trying to get out of somewhere, you can bet there's a journalist trying to get in.

So while the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence work up a plan to evacuate the 10,000 British passport holders from Beirut, BBC staff are going the other way. With impeccable timing we opened a new bureau in Beirut on May 30th - renewing an association with the Lebanese capital after a 15 year absence. It was designed as a home for Beirut correspondent Kim Ghattas and her BBC Arabic Service colleague Nada Abdel Samad.

It's given us a head start in covering the story. One of our most experienced Middle East hands, Jim Muir, also lives in the city - in the days since the conflict escalated, he's been joined by more than two dozen colleagues who are now providing output for radio and television around the clock.

The closure of the airport in Beirut has made life difficult for those getting in, as well as those getting out. While the British are preparing for what they say will be the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk, our teams are making the hazardous journey to Beirut from the Syrian capital Damascus by road.

Things are no easier on the other side of the border; a team in Northern Israel is recording the impact of Hezbollah's rockets on the port city of Haifa. In both countries, the safety of our teams is our biggest concern. This afternoon the team in Haifa had to move to a more secure location after a sleepless night - tonight they'll have a bomb shelter to repair to if the sirens go off.

Sadly we've had all too recent experience of the dangers facing those reporting this conflict. It was in Southern Lebanon that our colleague Abed Takkoush was killed when he was struck by an artillery shell while driving with a BBC team during the pullout of the Israeli army in May 2000.

In Lebanon, in Israel - as in Iraq and Afghanistan - the teams that report the story all volunteer to do so. They travel to these dangerous places because they believe the story needs telling. I'm grateful they do so.

Jon Williams is world news editor

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 10:57 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

As with previous days, much of the audience response received by BBC News in the past 24 hours relates to coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. Amongst other issues, some people objected to the comparison of the evacuation of Britons from Lebanon to the evacuation from Dunkirk during World War II.

Some people also objected to the broadcast of a recording of a private conversation between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

We also received this e-mail:

What had set BBC apart from other news organizations was its traditional and professional objective reporting and presentation. Hope BBC gets back to tradition soon.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:46 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

The Guardian: More on the BBC's response to complaints over a spoof report of an incident at the Queen's party at the palace. (link)

The Telegraph: Comments on Foreign Office minister Kim Howells advising Britons in Lebanon to listen to the BBC. (link)

You say tomato

Host Host | 13:46 UK time, Monday, 17 July 2006

Introducing a new feature to this blog.

Pronunciation Unit staffOne of the beauties of an organisation such as the BBC is having a resource like the Pronunciation Research Unit. It is staffed by three full-time pronunciation linguists (from left, Martha Figueroa-Clark, Catherine Sangster and Lena Olausson), whose job is to provide advice on the pronunciation of any words in any language required by anybody in the BBC. They research and maintain a database of pronunciations which have been researched and indexed over the course of the past 80 years. It now consists of around 200,000 entries.

In his book on language, Mother Tongue (1990), Bill Bryson says: "The problem [of pronouncing names correctly] is so extensive, and the possibility of gaffes so omnipresent, that the BBC employs an entire pronunciation unit, a small group of dedicated orthoepists (professional pronouncers) who spend their working lives getting to grips with these illogical pronunciations so that broadcasters don't have to do it on the air."

In fact the BBC has had a pronunciation advice service since its earliest days. Lord Reith set up an Advisory Committee on Spoken English in 1926, chaired by Robert Bridges, poet laureate of the day. Other board members included playwright George Bernard Shaw and phonetics professor Daniel Jones. The committee's original task was to advise announcers on words of doubtful pronunciation. The modern Pronunciation Research Unit provides an advisory service to the entire BBC. One of its services for BBC News is to prepare a daily list of pronunciations of names, places and phrases which relate to the day's news.

The Unit's advice is based on the following policies:

• For placenames in English-speaking countries, a standardised version of the local pronunciation is recommended. The same is true for placenames in non-English-speaking countries, but if there is an established English form of a placename (e.g. Florence, Munich), then this is recommended rather than the local form (Firenze, Muenchen). For placenames which have sounds which would cause difficulties of production (for the speaker) or comprehension (for the listener), an anglicised form as close as possible to the native pronunciation is devised.

• For people's names, the pronunciation that the individual prefers is recommended. Family members, colleagues and agents are consulted.

• For words and phrases, recommendations are made based on the Unit staff's own language fluencies, a wide range of reference works, and consultation with native speakers. In the case of English words which can be pronounced in more than one way, the Unit can advise on which pronunciation is more traditional or usual.

From tomorrow, The Editors will be featuring a news-related pronunciation of the day, taken from the unit's daily list. Your queries and thoughts are, as ever, welcome.

Covering the Middle East

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 10:11 UK time, Monday, 17 July 2006

The World TonightThe World Tonight has been covering the crisis in the Middle East, along with the rest of the media, in recent days. And as usual when we cover this story, we get a lot of audience comment on our coverage - a lot of it critical. Here are two examples from the past week:

    • "Does the fact that the missiles fired by Palestinians into Israel are "primitive" (as you allege) make those acts more or less grave? Does the fact that Sderot is the home town of the Israeli defence minister make it more or less appropriate that Israel defend herself. Or are these bits of spin just part of the BBC's stance against Israel?"
    • "I felt your report in the World Tonight this evening on events in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon was completely unbalanced. Yes you had an Oxford based academic criticise Israeli policy but your interviewer did not challenge any representatives of the Israeli government in their interviews about violation of Geneva conventions and international law. Why do you not hold them to any account? If you can’t do a serious interview don’t give them airtime."

The curious thing is that they were both written to us in response to the same item (hear it here). There is an old adage in journalism that if you're getting complaints from both sides in a polarised debate such as that over the Middle East conflict, you must be doing something right. But in case you think we take a flippant attitude, we take complaints more seriously than this adage may suggest.

The BBC Governors recently commissioned an independent report into the BBC's coverage of the Middle East which concluded there was no intentional bias, although we could give more context to events - which is why we are now telling listeners and viewers about the BBC News website in-depth background site, as well as taking other measures to improve our coverage, such as appointing a West Bank correspondent.

But even before this report we have always spent a lot of time carefully considering how we cover this story and the language we use. Central to our journalistic ethos is our duty to report and analyse all sides to a story, so our audience can make sense of what is going on the world.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 10:01 UK time, Monday, 17 July 2006

Among the audience response to the BBC in the past 24 hours were many people debating our reporting of the Middle East crisis (one person objected to the increased use of the headline-friendly phrase "Mid East"). Some people claimed we gave too much emphasis to the situation in Lebanon - there was an objection to an interview with a 12-year-old British schoolboy in Lebanon because his views "weren't valid". Others claimed we gave Israeli interviewees too easy a ride. We also received this e-mail:

"Hi! Well, I've been reading your Country Profiles and I think you give a very prejudice perception of ALL of them..."

Last word to this e-mailer:

Please can we have some cheerful news, the world can’t be all gloom. I read the BBC internet News most days, however I am getting to the stage of not bothering as all it does is make me unhappy. Surely you have a reporter somewhere in the world who can find something other than war, death and despondency.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:11 UK time, Monday, 17 July 2006

The Independent: A columnist writes, "there was something discomforting to me - and, I suspect, to other journalists of my generation - about John Humphrys's persistent questioning of John Prescott". (link)

The Guardian: BBC staff - including the director general and head of news - appear in the paper's annual list of the 100 most powerful people in UK media. (link)

Unfixed language

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 15:01 UK time, Friday, 14 July 2006

Pity the pedant and the pedagogue.

There are two things that fuel the BBC licence payer’s wrath more than any thing else; language and impartiality.

Look what happened when my colleague Jon Williams tried to set out the BBC’s thoughts around one small aspect of usage – the terminology we apply to events in Israel/the Palestinian territories.

His posting attracted more than 150 comments – all of them deeply felt, most claiming to find unconscious bias, inconsistency or injustice in our usages. Right to have that level of debate. Everyone has to pay, everyone has a say. Simple really.

But the comments taken together sum up the problem; with impartiality and with language everyone believes they’re right. With the first, that’s true by definition; with the second, it’s true by virtue of dimly remembered days spent parsing in fusty schoolrooms.

The pedant is condemned to an unhappy life watching infinitives split, singular nouns of multitude pluralised and "militate" confused with "mitigate" by what he/she sees as the language’s slouching hoodies.

The pedagogue – i.e. me/us/the new BBC College of Journalism – is no happier. I challenge anyone to take those 150 comments attached to Jon Williams' posting and synthesise a single paragraph that could be given to every BBC journalist which, if it were followed, would make everyone happy.

Which is a pity… because The College has to attempt to do something very like that.

Only yesterday, I was commissioning two big pieces of work for the College website; a language course and an online, interactive style guide.

Both have to confront the problems of language and impartiality; neither can be pre- or proscriptive. That’s partly because of the nature of both beasts – as discussed – but it’s also because of the nature of the organisation.

There are 8,500 journalists in the BBC producing thousands of hours of output each month – most of it for English speaking audiences here in the UK, some not. Some output is very formal, most is not. Some is scripted for BBC staff or stars to present, most is live and involves outside guests.

The idea that you could have a single stone tablet – like the Economist or FT has, setting out in detail the “house style”, words to be used and words not to be used – and that every BBC journalist and contributor be forced to follow it is nonsense.

Would anyone really expect every interviewee on every BBC programme to ingest the “house style” before appearing... or that BBC presenters should correct and reprimand them on every departure?

You might get the 85 or so journalists on a small paper to agree on the use of the apostrophe or on the difference between “insurgency” and “resistance”. It’s impossible to achieve that uniformity in an organisation with a hundred times the staff and more than a hundred times the output.

Apart from anything else, there exist in the BBC the very experts – some of them dissenting on a particular point – on whose judgments other organisations base their preferred usages.

All that we pedagogues can do – with both language teaching and style guides – is to describe the consensus, the implications of departing from that consensus and the major variants. We can indicate preferences and usages that, for the time being, are judged to be better than others.

We can draw attention to words and phrases that are contentious and we can suggest usages that avoid the pitfalls of bias, unconscious or otherwise. From time to time, the organisation will take a view that a particular word or phrase, while not perfect, is the best anyone can do... and it’s our job to make sure everyone knows about that judgment and makes every effort to apply it.

And we can describe the changes happening around us. Has the battle to save the first meaning of “anticipate” been lost? Does it now confuse more than it clarifies to draw any distinction between it and “expect”?

But the idea that we can or should instruct the BBC’s 8,500 journalists to use a single version of the English language fixed at some arbitrary point in time and culture, or dictate precise terms that everyone agrees are neutral or impartial – if we could ever find them – is fanciful and, probably, wrong.

Kevin Marsh is editor of the BBC College of Journalism

Eye on YouTube

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Daniel Pearl | 12:10 UK time, Friday, 14 July 2006

Peter's on holiday this week. We sent him to an isolated cottage in south-west France with his family. He has no internet access and we confiscated his mobile phone.

Newsnight logoSo in his absence I thought I'd write a few thoughts this week. I'm probably way behind the internet curve, but I only recently discovered the joys of YouTube...

Here at the BBC we're obliged to take copyright issues extremely seriously. Producers are constantly in fear of broadcasting uncleared pictures, or discovering, as we did the other day, that five seconds of archive was to cost us over £1000 (you can imagine how that went down with Peter when he found out). Well, on Wednesday morning I came in to find an email from the agent of rock photographer Mick Rock - he'd spotted an uncleared picture we'd used in Robin Denselow's obituary of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett.

An image of the YouTube websiteMick was extremely gracious and only charged us a small fee. However it got me thinking - how does YouTube get away with it? Newsnight's Syd Barrett film is on YouTube for anyone to find - and for anyone to judge whether Mick's photo was worth paying for (I'd argue it was). So, who put our film up there? Has Mick seen it and if so, who has paid him his small fee for the use of his picture? So far 1,125 people have viewed the film via YouTube, admittedly a small number, but none the less, surely copyright is copyright?

On Tuesday the producer of the item, Rebecca, had great difficulty in finding clearable pictures of Syd that she could use. In fact the film came close to not being broadcast - at 11pm they were still looking for shots of the rock recluse. But had Rebecca looked on YouTube and searched for Syd she would have founds reams of footage - everything from homemade tributes to a stalker movie someone made discreetly following Syd around Cambridge.

Now how much of this material is infringing copyright? And what would have happened if we'd just taken it and reused it on Newsnight? I guess I would have received a load of emails asking for money. So why is there one rule for us and another for YouTube? Perhaps someone could explain.

In fact if you search for Newsnight on YouTube you'll find a whole range of our films and discussions. Currently, over 20,000 people have watched Kirsty's interview with Pete Doherty - a smaller number (71) have watched Peter Marshall's expose of British corruption in Saudi contracts - or as described on YouTube: "An exclusive and gutsy report from the beebs flagship news programme." As more and more people get their TV over the web, these questions are bound to become more important.

Mick's agent is about to get very busy.

Daniel Pearl is deputy editor of Newsnight

Graphic words

Tim Bailey | 11:36 UK time, Friday, 14 July 2006

Many listeners are concerned about the graphic content of some our radio reports. This is an example of editing on the grounds of taste. The original report came from our correspondent in Baghdad, and dealt with a video that showed the mutilated bodies of American servicemen. The soldiers had apparently been killed in retaliation for the death of an Iraqi girl.

The first paragraph of the original report included this phrase: "The camera lingers over the bodies of two American soldiers. Their torsos are terribly mutilated, one is headless, the head is swung in front of the camera. Now and then a foot appears to prod a lifeless corpse."

This was cut as I thought it was too strong for a teatime audience (although it is only fair to say not everyone here agreed). And this is what was broadcast: "The camera lingers over the bodies of two American soldiers. Their torsos are terribly mutilated; one is headless."

My own view was that conveyed a sufficiently powerful image.

Tim Bailey is editor of the Radio 4 Six O'Clock News

Voices from Mumbai

Husain Husaini | 10:01 UK time, Friday, 14 July 2006

As head of news at the Asian Network, I work out of three offices, in Leicester, London and Birmingham. Of course I wasn't in any of them when news came through about the bombs in Mumbai. The first I heard of it was when I idly looked at my mobile phone - which was on silent during the meeting I was in. "Four missed calls". There was also a text from a colleague at BBC World Service asking if I was "sending" to Mumbai. "Sending" is the journalist jargon for getting a reporter to a location.

BBC Asian Network logoSo I phone the office, find out what we know so far and start telling people to do things. But it becomes clear that the team writing our news bulletins in Leicester and the one making the Adil Ray Drive programme in Birmingham are way ahead of me. They are doing a textbook job in breaking news. Adil himself is relatively new to this kind of story but I think anyone listening would agree he performed superbly: always calm, always trying to find out more and always clear about what we really know and what only think has happened.

That leaves me with the problem of whether to "send". My instinct is of course "yes". But the Asian Network is not a huge station and doesn't have that much money for big trips. We have already spent a fair amount this month sending a reporter to Pakistan to cover the case of Mirza Tahir Hussain - a Leeds man on death row in Islamabad. A "send" to Mumbai will also mean that I have less to spend on what I think is our core business: covering the lives and concerns of British Asians. The Asian Network can also use all the other BBC reporters who are rushing to the scene too. Even so, I take the view that for the Asian network to cover this story as well as our listeners will expect, we need to be there.

It was a bit of a scramble. We decide to send Dil Neiyyar (our London reporter) and Rifat Jawaid (our languages editor). Dil spends the afternoon getting a visa from the Indian High Commission and his equipment together. Rifat rushes to Heathrow from Birmingham. We start compiling the appropriate hazard assessment forms. Safety is crucial. As well as the possibility of more bombs, there is the fear of communal violence and more mundanely the intense heat. Both Rifat and Dil have done the BBC's "hostile environment" course. Mumbai isn't a war zone, but this intense training really helps reporters assess the risks on the ground.

Eight thirty in the evening and a nightmare call comes. Visa delays mean they've missed the flight. More money needed for another one. Got to do it now, just hope we get a refund for the first flight.

They arrive early the next day and are on air almost immediately. Between them they work for our morning programmes, our lunchtime news programme "The Wrap" and for Adil's show again. Rifat appears on our languages shows through the evening. They head off around Mumbai and get some terrific material: voices of real Mumbai citizens responding to this terrifying attack. I'm left with a strong impression of a defiant city refusing to stop living their lives and refusing to blame the many Muslims in their city. And the good news is we did get our first flights refunded. So more money in the pot for next time.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:48 UK time, Friday, 14 July 2006

The Times: People column reports that the BBC's Politics Show has secured an interview with Tony Blair this week. (link)

The Times: "The BBC Proms season that opens tonight features not a single piece of music composed or conducted by a woman." (link)

Interviewing the chairman

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David Kermode | 16:27 UK time, Thursday, 13 July 2006

The BBC Chairman Michael Grade joined us on the Breakfast set this morning. Thankfully his visit wasn't unannounced.

Breakfast logoHugo Rifkind, in his Times diary, smells a rat. "It helps to own the airwaves when you have a case to make," says Hugo.

It's certainly true that stories about the BBC are tricky, when we are the BBC. But I don't think anyone who watched this morning's interview with Michael (watch it here) will have thought that he'd popped in for a cup of tea and a tickle.

Michael Grade, on the Breakfast setDermot launched straight into the licence fee negotiations, then Sian put him a question about Jonathan Ross's salary - "why so much?". This had nothing to do with her personal predjudices and everything to do with the volume of email and texts this morning on the issue.

Michael told Dermot and Sian they could be earning a lot more in the commercial sector. Then came executive pay - why, when jobs are going, are pay packets getting stuffed at the top? "We need top people" was the Chairman's response.

There were further questions on the kind of programmes the BBC chooses to make. Are we celebrity obsessed? Are there too many repeats? After around six minutes of grilling, we let him go. To suggest that Michael got an easy ride would be nonsense. He was treated just like any other public servant being held to account.

Hugo will know that journalists tend to respond very badly to being told to stick to a particular line, or giving someone an easy ride. The BBC's newsroom is robustly resistant to corporate interference, to the extent that no-one really bothers to try as far I can tell. Ordering BBC journalists around is like trying to herd cats. And anyway, I'm sure Michael Grade would have been horrified if we'd suggested he might like to tell us what to ask him.

That said, I did have a twitchy moment, watching this morning's interview. I was convinced he'd been knighted a while back - and thought we'd neglected a 'Sir' (it turns out he got a CBE). Had I got my hands on the introductory script, I might have knighted him. I fear that might have undermined all of the above.

David Kermode is editor of BBC Breakfast

When is 'news' news?

Ric Bailey | 13:05 UK time, Thursday, 13 July 2006

We received this e-mail earlier in the week:

I am getting fed up with the BBC and others presenting stories as news when they are not news at all. OK you may have reporters that get briefed by spin doctors in advance - but until the minister actually makes his statement it isn't news. If say, the minister changes his mind, you would then have to print a story to cover the fact that your earlier news story was incorrect. This is ridiculous. Why not present news as it happens and not guess what might happen - anyone can do that.

So what exactly is "news"? A proper full answer probably needs a spot of analysis somewhere on the scale of a PhD, so excuse me if I limit myself to a few thoughts on what this means in the world of political coverage.

Here, most stories don't just pop up out of the blue (or even red). If it's the government (or opposition come to that) making an announcement of a new policy, then that will have a context. There are two separate elements here: one is the idea of an "embargo", the other is what people often refer to as "speculation".

An embargo is usually a device of practical convenience, for instance, about when exactly an announcement is being made:
• by having an agreed time when everyone across the media can start running the story, it ensures the news-maker (eg a government department) can field their ministers in an orderly way and it's their way of trying to get the story on the appropriate outlet (ie, Sunday papers, early morning radio, etc);
• it helps the media prepare the background so they can tell their viewers and readers the story properly (in our case, for example, assemble relevant pictures, give our correspondents time to absorb and analyse the information, perhaps find effective ways of translating technical terms into more understandable language).
• from the government's point of view, an embargo is often timed because ministers are expected to announce new policies first to Parliament and there is sometimes an agreed etiquette allowing opposition parties time to prepare their response.

Sometimes, if these embargoes apply to a particularly big story, such as this week's energy review, then it is quite right that in advance of the announcement, we should prepare the ground and the context by previewing what we expect ministers to say. So, we are seldom, if ever, "guessing". We know what the gist of the announcement contains in advance, if not always the detail and we are informing viewers and listeners what they can expect and when. I think we'd be criticised if we held that back on an important issue which has an impact on people's lives.

If the minister then does say something very different to what was expected, the likelihood is that there is a genuinely different and interesting story going on behind the scenes - eg, there's been a last minute argument between government departments over the announcement which has resulted in a rethink. In those circumstances, it would absolutely be the responsibility of our correspondents not to "correct" our earlier story, but to explain what's happening behind the scenes and why.

By "speculation", it's often implied that our correspondents are talking off the top of their heads about things which might or might not happen. While I wouldn't claim that never happens, most of the time, it means something rather different.

We employ our political correspondents - and other specialists - for their expertise and experience in the field. What some people believe is speculation is what I would term "interpretation" - the correspondents are attempting to shed light on political activity which may not be all that it seems. Behind every "public" announcement there has often been months of private discussion, conflict, lobbying, mind-changing, etc. Governments - or political parties generally - seldom make sudden changes of policy and certainly don't like to be perceived as having made "U-turns". It's often a gradual process, during which they prepare the ground, subtly change the language, soften denials, inch forward.

For them, that might be a necessary part of the political process of "testing the water", or ensuring they maintain the backing of their own supporters. An understanding of that process is part and parcel of how the story develops and it is quite right that we should try to give our audience a flavour of it to help them appreciate the context when the "news" finally pops into the public domain by official announcement.

None of this is to say that the "fed up" e-mailer above doesn't have a point. There is, for instance, a phenomenon known as "kite-flying", which politicians of all sides have been known to practice. Drop a hint in the ear of a friendly journalist; see what the reaction is to the splash story; if it's universally thought a turkey - deny it was ever considered. The rules of the political Lobby - that such information is quotable, so long as the source isn't named - are controversial, but, in practice, are part of the lubricant of politics. You have to take a judgement on whether your viewers and listeners are better served by having access to this information, or whether they'd be better off blissfully unaware.

Again, I would plead confidence in the expertise of our correspondents. Their job is to be able to spot when (to mix metaphors) a kite-flyer is a runner and when it's mischief-making. If the hint came from an out-of the-loop back bencher, treat it accordingly. If it came from a close confidant of the prime minister, likewise.

Real news in politics is not purely about events - a photo-opportunity, a speech, a particular meeting, an announcement. It is often about opinion, perception, context, prejudice. The timing of when it actually becomes "news" may hang on a particular event, usually something organised by the politician. But that is seldom the whole story - and we'd be short-changing our audience if we only told them about things when the politicians get round to deciding they think it's time for the public to know.

Ric Bailey is deputy head of political programmes

No offence

Vicky Taylor | 12:49 UK time, Thursday, 13 July 2006

Words, as any journalist knows, can be loaded. One which has cropped up and led to lots of conversations in some blogs is "dhimmi". It's not a very well-known word (it's not in the Oxford English Dictionary, for instance), but it is one which raises passions.

A graphic of the BBC News website"Dhimmi" refers historically to non-Muslims living in Islamic states whose religion was tolerated as long as they accepted the supremacy of the Islamic state. It is now used, sometimes in the word "dhimmitude", to mean "situations where non-Muslims in the West are allegedly championing Islamic causes above others" (Wikipedia's definition).

Recently in our Have Your Say discussions, "dhimmi" has been used in a context which breaches our house rules, specifically that posts should not be abusive, offensive or provocative. Some users have tried to register with names using variations of "dhimmi", again sometimes in an offensive way. When we spotted this trend, we put the word "dhimmi" on our automated list of blocked words, mostly swearing and racially offensive terms. That meant that any reference to "dhimmi" would mean the posting was automatically deleted. (Having a blocked list means it's possible to filter out abuse and ensure comments do not break any laws - especially useful since our debates get several thousand messages each day.)

On reflection, though, it's clear that the word "dhimmi" can be used in the modern sense in a non-abusive way, so we've decided that it should not now be blocked. The list of blocked words is a moving object - words and meanings do change from time to time - so we'll monitor how the debate goes.

Getting the balance right between freedom of speech and removing offensive content can be difficult at times. We do have our rules, which we enforce, because we want the debates on our site to reflect intelligent, informed and legally expressed opinions. But we're not interested in stopping discussion - that, after all, is the point.

Vicky Taylor is editor of Interactivity.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 12:14 UK time, Thursday, 13 July 2006

The Telegraph: Two BBC executives resign saying they are disillusioned with having to fire staff. (link)
The Telegraph: Columnist Tom Leonard on prospects of a strike at the BBC (link)
The Independent: Letter claiming media salary increases fuel inflation (link)

Asking questions

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 15:11 UK time, Wednesday, 12 July 2006

At least seven years - that's how long British and other foreign troops will need to stay in Afghanistan according to Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai, who we spoke to last night.

The World TonightIn contrast over the past few days, the BBC along with other news organisations has also been quoting John Reid, when he was Defence Secretary, saying he would be happy if the troops left the country in three years without firing a shot.

Since the time the deployment was announced back in January, The World Tonight, like other BBC News programmes, has been tracking the British military involvement in southern Afghanistan. One of the first interviews we did on this was with the inestimable military analyst Michael Clarke of Kings College, London, who predicted then that the British army would inevitably get involved in combat with a resurgent Taleban, drug lords and other assorted armed groups, if they went into the region.

As a result of analysis from defence experts like Professor Clarke, there have been constant questions to the Ministry of Defence about various aspects of this intervention. Were enough troops being sent? Did they have the right equipment? Should they have been better prepared for the resistance they've encountered? All valid questions and not necessarily as straightforward as they appear, because when it comes to military decisions there is inevitably a role for politicians to make judgements on the basis of professional military advice and what they think is politically do-able.

But another question has arisen which the government and supportive politicians bristle at, but is being asked by our listeners. Should the government have been more open about the risks being faced by British troops, and should the government have engaged in more of a public debate about the wisdom of this deployment before the final decision was made, partly to gauge public support, but also to prepare public opinion and the media for potentially bad news?

Journalists are often accused of oversimplifying issues like this, but if the troops do end up staying for 7 years, and casualties sadly rise, we will continue to report what's going on - the BBC is one of the few media organisations which permanently bases correspondents in Afghanistan - and these questions will continue to be asked.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight

Mumbai/Bombay?

Tim Bailey | 13:04 UK time, Wednesday, 12 July 2006

One caller to the BBC complained that in the coverage of the bombs in India, the name Mumbai was used without an explanation that it was formerly known as Bombay.

There is no BBC rule about using Mumbai, just guidelines. It is up to each individual programme to decide what to say. Most use 'Mumbai' and nothing else; a few use 'Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay'. The thinking is the city has changed its name (some time ago) and Mumbai is now well known to most, if not all, the audience.

Tim Bailey is editor of the Radio 4 Six O'Clock News

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.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:27 UK time, Wednesday, 12 July 2006

The Telegraph: "The BBC's top brass yesterday defended the decision to hand its executives record pay rises." (link)

The Guardian: "Des Browne, the defence secretary, yesterday accused the BBC of endangering the lives of British troops." (link)

The Telegraph: "A Labour MP turned the air blue in the Commons as he berated the BBC for helping to create Britain's increasingly vulgar culture." (link)

Reporting Mumbai

Richard Porter | 17:02 UK time, Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Terrible news emerging from India of a series of explosions on trains in Mumbai. The latest reports suggest 135 people have been killed - although experience tells us that these figures are likely to change over the course of the evening.

BBC World logoBBC World has a large audience in India and the BBC has traditionally held a special position there as a trusted and valued broadcaster. So it's important we get this right.

For a news channel, an event of this kind sets off a tried and tested set of processes. This is what we call a rolling news story - we're staying on this to the exclusion of all other events. We're calling upon all our resources in India to help us keep viewers up to date. We have two correspondents based in Mumbai, who are at the scene of the explosions.

A blast site in MumbaiWe have pictures coming in from local news organisations, and our producers in London are checking these before making them ready to go to air. The wire services are providing us with new information - such as the prime minister of India's reaction to what's happened. And our own producers are calling upon their contacts to get as much fresh information as possible.

It's also important for us to provide some context. Our security correspondent Gordon Correra has been on air a number of times in the past three hours explaining the background to the security situation in India. Gordon has a deep understanding of issues related to terrorism around the world, as well as a good knowledge of previous events in India.

It's not our job to speculate, or to guess - but we do use our experience and knowledge to give as much context as we can to the events. As I write, our Pakistan correspondent has just gone on air to report on reaction from Islamabad - President Musharraf has condemned the attacks.

One production team is keeping the channel on air. Another team of people is looking further ahead. Reinforcements are being sent from Delhi to Mumbai, and we are also sending teams on the overnight flights from London to Mumbai. We hope to have one of our presenters anchoring our coverage from Mumbai in the morning, but there's a lot of work to be done first.

Most of all, however, we have to remember this is a terrible human tragedy for many people. We must adopt the right tone, take great care with our use of pictures, and remember that there are people watching who may well be directly affected by the attacks.

Language barrier

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Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 11:25 UK time, Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Sometimes there is one question everyone wants to know the answer to.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoYesterday it was: what did Materazzi say to Zidane to make him attack him in such spectacular style?

Neither player was speaking about it, so a more cunning approach was required. We needed a lip reader who could speak Italian - Zidane has played in the country and understands the language.

Our translators at work watching the footageWe asked our team in Rome to come up with the goods. It was a long shot - but it paid off. We found a deaf man who translated what Materazzi said into sign language, and someone who could translate the sign language into English.

I will leave to your imagination what the sign language for "go **** yourself" was... The signs for "I hope your family all die ugly deaths" were a little easier to show.

The result was a genuine scoop - and a lot more accurate than some of the claims in today's papers.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:25 UK time, Tuesday, 11 July 2006

The Times: A columnist writes of last week's John Prescott Today programme interview, "I was at the BBC throughout the David Mellor affair. It is inconceivable that such a question would have been asked ten years ago." (link)

The Scotsman: "The BBC is facing a series of strikes next month by broadcasting workers and journalists in a bitter pay and pensions dispute." (link)

No butts

Tim Bailey | 14:25 UK time, Monday, 10 July 2006

Forget all the furore about Zinedine Zidane's public shame, and the inglorious end to a glorious career. What is really getting some listeners irritated is the phrase "head butt". Is it tautological? And does the butt refer to the part of the victim's body assaulted, or the part of the part of the body used by the assailant? Should it be "chest butted", for instance? Or, slightly more long-winded, "butted in the chest by ZZ's head"? After much discussion (that bemused some of the people who heard it) we have agreed that Zinedine Zidane butted Marco Materazzi in the chest. Clear?

Schools QT - a success?

Ric Bailey | 12:51 UK time, Monday, 10 July 2006

I'll be honest - Schools Question Time can be a bit of a pain.

Question Time logoIt's a huge amount of extra work for everyone involved, way beyond the call of duty, full of hassle, etc etc. And it's risky for programme makers to give away a bit of their control.

And when I said in the last blog that I was worried about whether we'd find a suitable Joe Public panelist, aged between 18 and 25 - well, I really meant it.

So if I say there's a feeling of relief, it's not just because it's all over (arggh - we've just launched next year's competition) - but because all the worries turned out to be totally unjustified and the response from all those involved, as well as the viewing audience, was truly inspirational.

Four young people, shortlisted for the job, appeared on a mini Question Time (viewable on our website) to decide which one should do the real thing. All four were terrific and could have done the job.

Matt PollardBut the winner, Matt Pollard, was amazing. Cool and confident, but not cocky; knowledgeable without sounding nerdy; politely combative. We could not have asked for more - he carried off the surrounding media interviews with the seasoned assurance of a pro (at least, once he realised he didn't have to answer the Telegraph's question about girlfriends...). A star is born. Even if he has to return to his summer job of being a waiter, it can only stand him in great stead for the future.

Matt, Gareth, Sarah and LouiseSo thanks, Matt - and Gareth, Sarah and Louise - and of course the eight teenagers who helped produced the programme, as well as the thousands of others earlier in the challenge, who used the Question Time format in their lessons and in local events - for turning one of those high-ideal-sounding BBC objectives ("engaging young people in citizenship and politics") into an excellent programme which exuded their enthusiasm and engagement...

O God, here we go again...

Words words words

Tim Bailey | 09:41 UK time, Monday, 10 July 2006

I approach this subject with a fair degree of trepidation. But a number of people have asked about the relationship between correct English grammar and BBC radio news scripts; in other words how important is correct usage of language for a news broadcaster?

The first thing to acknowledge is that for a section of the radio audience (primarily listeners to Radio Three and Radio Four, but not exclusively) the dictionary use of words is of vital importance; these listeners get very annoyed at errors or at sloppiness and they write in making their views know with what is known as great vigour. It is a foolish and arrogant broadcaster who ignores these people and their views. I most certainly don't.

Of course, most broadcasters are not foolish and they make every effort to use words correctly and to acknowledge the basic rules of grammar. And my own experience is that correspondents are keen to be told they have made a mistake - and equally keen not to repeat it. I have not come across a correspondent saying this sort of stuff is not worthy of attention.

This can be taken to extremes. I remember vividly a war correspondent filing on a phone from the battlefront with the sound of bullets and shells exploding all around him. He filed and the only response from the Radio Four desk was a producer shouting back through the sounds of war: "You have misused the word 'ironically'; you mean 'coincidentally'."

All radio broadcasters are aware that the listener usually gets only one chance to hear what they are saying; it must be clear, concise and easily understandable; there is usually not a second chance. And rules of grammar are, for the most part, agreed to ensure clarity, concision and comprehension. So there is no problem. All broadcasters should obey all the rules.

Up to a point. Radio news broadcasts are not compiled like that. They quite often deliberately break the rules. And the reason why they do so is to enhance clarity, concision and comprehension. And I think they are right. Radio news broadcasts are the illegitimate child of demotic speech and formal prose. The end - in this case informing the listeners - justifies the means: bending, if not breaking, the rules.

And of course the language changes all the time. This is a whole issue in itself. When does a word or phrase enter the mainstream; when does it become acceptable? Decisions on individual words are taken all the time. And I know a lot of people do not like the decisions. I know because they write in to tell me. The people who accept the changes, of course, don't.

So the debate goes on. As it should, and we should all take part.

Tim Bailey is editor of the Radio 4 Six O'clock News

You can send us your thoughts or queries about the language used in any of our news programmes by leaving a comment below or using the form on the right hand side of the page.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:32 UK time, Monday, 10 July 2006

The Guardian: "Friday's launch of the BBC governors' final annual report was a sombre affair." (link)

The Observer: An article on how political blogs infiltrated the mainstream media, including the BBC, last week. (link)

Nick Clarke's return

Colin Hancock | 10:02 UK time, Saturday, 8 July 2006

As keen listeners to Radio Four will know, Nick Clarke is easing himself back into work. An audio diary the other week (listen here), standing in for J Dimbleby on Any Questions... and then, all being well, he'll be back with us on The World At One from August 14th for an initial two days a week.

wato.jpgIt's going to be a period of readjustment for all of us. Of course the overwhelming feeling is that we're all delighted Nick has got through such a traumatic period in such good shape and we can't wait to have him back here. But we're also conscious that we don't want to push him too hard too quickly: it's only a few weeks since he finished his long programme of chemotherapy, and within a month he's due to be anchoring three gruelling party conferences around the country.

Also, we're all very much aware how brilliantly Shaun Ley has held the role of presenter of WATO during Nick's absence. Given that I'd only just brought him in to the department as the presenter of The World This Weekend, his transition to WATO within two months says a hell of a lot about his natural skills in front of a microphone, not to mention his in-depth knowledge of politics and policy.

For the time being, Shaun will present Wednesday to Friday after Nick has kicked off the week on Mondays and Tuesdays. Mr Ley will also move back onto The World This Weekend (or TW2 as we know it)... which means Brian Hanrahan's stint on the programme comes to an end in a few weeks. Brian's been a huge asset on the programme - and many of his foreign-based editions, such as those from Jerusalem and Rome, have won a lot of praise from listeners and colleagues alike. Of course Brian has huge experience and his confident hold on TW2 won't have surprised anyone: I'm very grateful for everything he's done here to help develop TW2 over the past year.

Nick ClarkePerhaps the most heartening aspect of the past year has been the audience's feedback. Listeners have at the same time been asking after Nick and looking forward to his return, while recognising and praising Shaun and Brian. I've been lucky to have had such strength in depth (I'm trying to steer clear of a tempting Gelsenkirchen contrast here...), not just in presenters but also with a production team which has maintained the programmes' high standards and moved them on despite the changes.

I'm sure Nick will slot back in effortlessly. Much will be familiar to him. Except perhaps a tradition introduced by Shaun - the presenter buys the first coffee-round of the morning, Nick.

What should Newsnight be?

Peter Barron | 15:14 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

If you read this column regularly you probably subscribe to Newsnight’s daily email. But as of the last couple of weeks it’s also been available in a different corner of the web, to a much larger audience, on the BBC’s new blog called The Editors. If you’ve arrived here via one route you might want to take a look at the other.

Newsnight logoThe reason I mention this is that normally we’d use this column to tackle the subject which has provoked the most feedback, but since The Editors site has been on fire all week about the rights and wrongs of our Scottish car experiment (and I accept there are many - including some at the BBC - who think we got this wrong), I’m going to suggest moving on to a new, if not unrelated, seam.

One of the things that struck me about the torrents of comments we received about the car item was that many viewers questioned if this was the sort of thing a “serious news programme” should be doing.

    Come on Newsnight. This isn’t the sort of attempted sensationalist dumbed down news we expect from you”
    "It's a totally incongruous notion for a so-called serious news programme."

A new logo for Newsnight?One blog (Beau Bo D’Or) even suggested a rebranding as News of the Night.

They’re not alone in questioning what Newsnight should be. Our resident grumpy old man Eric Dickens sees two factions within the programme – 'Old Newsnight' and the 'Modernisers' - and clearly favours the former. I hesitate to mention Emily Bell again, but in our (good natured) discussions about Newsnight she displays a suspicion of items like Justin Rowlatt’s Ethical Man and Michael Crick’s World Cup tour and cries “more news on Newsnight”.

So was there a Newsnight golden age when all items were pure, serious and relentlessly high-minded? I don’t think so.

The first episode of NewsnightIf you look at the very first edition 26 years ago (watch it here) it is pretty heavy duty stuff: industrial relations, tension in the Gulf and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But in those days there was also a sports section, and I’m prepared to bet that at the time many were critical of Peter Snow’s analysis of the Afghan conflict using a sandpit and model tanks. What are toys doing on a serious news programme?

I first started on Newsnight in 1990 as a junior producer and worked under two editors – Tim Gardam and Peter Horrocks (now head of BBC TV News). Both were of course committed to serious journalism, analysis and intelligent debate, but in my experience equally committed to wit, mischief and humour. I suspect if you asked a focus group to think of words to sum up Jeremy Paxman, who joined the programme in that era, they might come up with all those words and a few more besides.

Newsnight's car is attacked in GlasgowProgrammes must, of course, evolve as times change – if they didn’t they would, like Grandstand and Top of the Pops, eventually go out of business. And there is no tablet of stone on which it’s written what Newsnight or any other programme should be. Take Top Gear. Who’d have thought that what was once all William Woollard and driving gloves would one day have a studio audience and be trashing reasonably-priced saloons?

Anyway, let us know what you think Newsnight should and shouldn’t be by leaving a comment below. Or if you want to talk trashing cars, click here, or maybe try Top Gear.

News mystery

Piers Parry-Crooke | 12:50 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

Reader Reg Davison e-mailed this blog on Wednesday saying:

    When Longbridge car plant closed you devoted untold amounts of time to covering that story in the national news bulletins. Whilst I have sympathy for the people who lost their jobs, it was in Britain's second largest city, with numerous opportunites to find other work. [On Tuesday] Imerys, the local china clay producing company in Cornwall, announced 800 job losses. This in a county with a total population of just 500,000, and few other opportunities to find work. It will devastate small communities in a county that is so poor it receives Objective One funding because it is poorer than the eastern European countries who have just joined the enlarged Europe. Did I hear anything on your national news? No, of course I didn't. Does the world exist west of Bristol? In the minds of the people in London, it appears not.

I know that part of Cornwall quite well, and am very conscious of the china clay industry's significance, now and historically. Here in the business unit the job cuts were discussed pretty fully that morning in the early editorial meeting.

I'm afraid it's just not the case that the news went unreported. Radio, in particular, covered it extensively, from the moment the company announcement came out. The first voiced report from Sarah Ransome in Plymouth was on Five Live at 1000, unions and company were in later news summaries, and Sarah did a much longer piece for the six o'clock and midnight news on Radio 4. Looking back at the day's output it looks to me as if the news was broadcast, in one form or another, every hour on the radio between 1000 and about 1900. And the next morning Today had an interview with a representative from the county council.

On television, News 24 carried the story several times during the day, including a report from a correspondent in the region.

It has to be said the papers give it pretty scant coverage as well. It's one of the mysteries of news, how one story fizzles out and another soars.

Moderate meaning

Liliane Landor | 10:40 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

In the run-up to the first anniversary of 7/7 I've been a bit troubled.

World Service logoIt all started on Tuesday when I came across the phrase "moderate" Muslims in one of our stories. Why the need to qualify, I found myself thinking? Are Muslims automatically radical unless we stick "moderate" somewhere visible? And what is a "moderate" Muslim exactly? Do we mean Muslims we can identify with, whatever "we" means? Or perhaps secular not-so-Muslim Muslims? And in any case, aren't most Muslims in this country British? So what are we actually saying when we describe them as Muslims? Why don’t we describe Christians or Jews in the same way? And what about the Muslim community? Surely there is more than one?

Very troubled, as you can see...

Which is why when in the wake of Tony Blair's remarks on the defeat of extremism and the need to "mobilise the moderate majority within the Muslim community", every one of my programmes decided they had to look at Islam, extremism, moderation and identity, I made a point of listening to everything.

Newshour had an outspoken liberal Muslim academic taking a representative of the Muslim Association of Britain to task, claiming the organisation had not tackled the extremists in its midst.

World Have Your Say, interactive, edgy and global, decided to ask four Muslims to occupy the first half hour of their programme. No presenter intrusion there. A passionate discussion ensued which had to continue off air as the participants were too engaged to stop when the news summary came on.

But the idea I liked best came from the the World Today. They chose to speak to a Muslim rapper MC Riz, a young rapper whose latest hip hop track "post 9/11 Blues" is making waves. MC Riz has an interesting turn of phrase; he says beards have taken on a different meaning, and that Muslims have been pushed to the middle of the room. That sentence stayed with me. With Friday upon us, I need to make sure that we're not pushing anyone to the middle of the room.

That morning in the newsroom

Simon Waldman | 10:20 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

I was the editor in charge of the output on News 24 - and then BBC One - on the morning of 7 July last year.

BBC News 24 logoFrom the moment the first wire copy broke - referring to a "power surge" on the Underground, the News 24 team went into overdrive. Inside and outside the newsroom, everyone was focused on getting live pictures and accurate information on air as fast as possible. Several BBC producers, as well as correspondents, provided compelling eye-witness reports from Kings Cross and elsewhere.

n24.gifClearly, we were dealing with a huge story. To begin with, information was sketchy and often conflicting. As soon as we had reports of a second explosion, it was plain that a terrorist attack was a likely cause. The presenters and correspondents talked on air in those terms - but we did not say categorically that London had been targeted by terrorists until the police said so.

At the time our coverage of the breaking news was criticised by some for being too cautious. We were even accused of deliberately withholding information from the public - and of being little more than a government mouthpiece. With the benefit of hindsight, I think it's fair to say we were over-cautious to some extent, particularly when talking about the casualty figures. But we emphatically did not deliberately suppress information.

Those were the ground rules a year ago. News 24 was not a channel that would cheerfully boast of being "never wrong for long" - on such an important news event, we knew we had to be 100% sure of our facts before we transmitted them as facts. And we were broadcasting to a huge audience on BBC One, which added to the sense of needing to deliver sober, responsible coverage.

Since then, much audience feedback has flowed. Many people felt we were slower than we should have been in updating information. That criticism hurt - but the overall effect has been beneficial. We are now less reliant on "official" sources; we won't wait always for copper-bottomed confirmation of every element of a story. The audience has a different expectation of a continuous news channel covering a breaking story than it does of a "built" bulletin which is broadcasting after the event. Viewers expect and want us to share with them the developments as they unfold - without, of course, abandoning our commitment to accuracy. One example: Sir Ian Blair talked late in the morning of "seven" explosions - that's what HE believed at the time and so did we, along with all other news organisations.

One important source of information not properly exploited by us on July 7 was "the public". Much has been made of the fact that citizen journalism came of age a year ago. News 24 made very good use of eye-witness accounts live on air but we were unprepared for the volume of material from viewers and listeners on that day. From blogs to mobile phone photos, we simply couldn't cope quickly enough with the vast amount of information and the number of pictures flooding into the BBC.

That first, iconic, image of the bus in Tavistock Square was on air very fast, but many more viewers' photos and stories went unbroadcast until hours after the event. But since then, new and robust systems have been put in place. So, when the Buncefield oil depot went up in flames, a fantastic flow of audience stills and video was on air before you could say "breaking news".

Webcasting Putin

Vicky Taylor | 10:17 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

It has been quite an experience.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteAt the rehearsal the day before the interactive webcast with President Putin there were about 50 Russian officials in the hastily-made (but state of the art) studio, all giving their view on who should sit where. That was probably what you would expect inside the Kremlin.

What has been different is the apparent keenness to take on questions from around the world. There have been no no-go areas. No asking to see any script or enquiries (gently or not so gently) asking what we were going to pick as our main questions. The main issues of contention was should Bridget Kendall (our presenter) sit next to the President. In the end she did.

Arriving at the Kremlin today though, our initial entry was delayed as we weren’t all in one group as the form suggested we would be, and any bags we were carrying had to be decanted and anything you needed taken in by hand. A bit tricky when you are carrying technical equipment. Still it gave the whole proceeding an edge.

President Putin, during the webcastThe President arrived exactly one minute late and didn’t stop for the next two hours and fifteen minutes (watch it here) - an extra half hour suddenly found in his diary. It was a marathon performance by any standards - every one of our 12 questions on a vast range of topics from North Korea, relations with George Bush to the problems with getting visas to travel to Russia, was asked.

The one topic which has been preoccupying the Russian press - about why he kissed a young boy on the tummy during a visit to Red Square - also got put. He picked a couple of questions himself; poverty, pension and the military were his choices. We even got the impression the President enjoyed answering them all.

Around the world

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Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 09:33 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

I'm relatively new to the BBC - and I'm discovering one of its great joys is the ability to show all sides of a story from around the world:

BBC Ten O'Clock News logo• When North Korea test fired a missile earlier this week - we were able to get the view from South Korea, China, Japan and Washington (watch one of the reports here).

• Our diplomatic correspondent James Robbins had an original, epic and revealing take on how India and China are competing with each other to become the greatest economic power with a series of stories called "The Race to the Top" (watch here, here and here).

• And Fergal Keane showed how violence in one country can have a devastating impact around the world in a moving interview with the mother of a Nigerian killed in the 7/7 bombings (watch here).

The result is fascinating television, and greater understanding of our impact on the world and its impact on us.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 09:29 UK time, Friday, 7 July 2006

The audience response given to the BBC in the past 24 hours included people thinking it was wrong to give emphasis to the video of 7 July bomber Shehzad Tanweer, which was revealed on al-Jazeera. Opinion divided between those who applauded the Today programme interview with John Prescott and those who thought it was too much.

We also received this e-mail: "While I fully realise the importance of the anniversary of the London Bombings, I feel you are just wallowing in it. This is an increasing trend. Anniversaries need to be recognised, but not made into media show-pieces."

Scottish experiments

Peter Barron | 13:14 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

Newsnight logoIt's been drawn to my attention that our archest critic in the debate over our St George's flag bedecked car experiment, the Sunday Mail, isn't averse to a bit of experimentation itself.

Here's their piece from 4 June.

    "St George Makes Us Cross (by David Taylor)
    Five days to go until the greatest show on Earth kicks off. So should we rally round the flag and support England in the World Cup?
    "Don't talk rubbish" was the literal message as we put Scots to a light-hearted test with a giant England flag yesterday. Talk about showing a red (and white) flag to a bull - we took our St George's cross attached to the bonnet of a parked car round four cities - and in two it was stolen and binned within an hour.
    In Edinburgh, our flag was trashed after just 17 minutes -while Glasgow punters put up with it for half an hour longer. And in Dundee, lads even gave it a two-finger salute - silly really, as the flag can't answer back. Our completely unscientific survey involved parking the beflagged car in George Square, Glasgow, Leith Walk, Edinburgh, Perth Road, Dundee and Union Street, Aberdeen.
    Our photographer hid to watch what happened. In Leith, locals were tolerant - for 16 minutes. Then two bare-chested lads ripped it off the bonnet and jogged off to stuff it in one of the city's industrial bins. The flag lasted 50 minutes in Glasgow, although we overheard shouts of "put a brick through the window". Then a young, casually-dressed man detatched the flag, crunched it into a ball and binned it.
    In Dundee's Perth Road, the flag remained intact for more than two hours. But bizarrely, a group of lads heckled it - and even threw it a V-sign. The flag drew little more than suspicious glances from well- behaved Aberdonians. But it did confuse a parking warden - he was so busy looking at the flag, he forgot to check the car's parking ticket. Maybe he was English...

"The BBC was last night accused of staging a stunt to portray Scotland as a nation of English-hating thugs" screamed the Sunday Mail on 2 July.

Just fancy that.

Freedom of Information

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Host Host | 13:09 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

Some bloggers have queried how Newsnight had key documents on John Prescott (watch here), obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, at such an opportune time. The BBC's Open Secrets blog has an intriguing explanation...

Finding this blog

Host Host | 12:49 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

link.jpgAs you may (or may not) have noticed, this blog is now linked on the left hand side of the BBC News website. So that should make it a bit easier for you to find us.

Or you could always subscribe to our RSS feed (instructions here).

You can get to the Newswatch site from the link on the right hand side of this blog, or at http://www.bbc.co.uk/newswatch.

Going live

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Richard Porter | 11:44 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

Day four and things are settling down.

BBC World logoWorld News Today launched on BBC World on Monday, presented by George Alagiah from TV Centre in London. It's been the culmination of months of hard work.

Here are some things we hope the viewers have noticed (and some we hope they haven't...):

Read the rest of this entry

St George's Cross

Matt Morris | 09:49 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

Couldn't you tell it was going to happen...?

Radio Five Live logoThe lack of penetration in spite of Wayne Rooney's bustling. The way the ball bounced off Peter Crouch, no matter how gently it was played up to him. Frank Lampard's unconvincing air of assurance as he walked up to take the first penalty. A nation was deeply upset by the success of the Portuguese; though in the Farmers' Arms in Llangennech on Saturday night, there was little sympathy for England fans among the assembled Welshmen (and they were all men, except for the woman behind the bar).

So now St George's cross is disappearing from cars, white vans and people carriers. But we on Five Live are having to give some thought to what the cross represents - or, more accurately, to whether it can be taken to represent any political party. It came about because of the contribution of a guest on Victoria Derbyshire's programme on 5 May...

Read the rest of this entry

Bye bye birds

Peter Rippon | 09:29 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

PM's experiment with playing birdsong at the end of the programme rather than the chimes of Big Ben ('the Bongs' we call them) has ended.

The PM programme logoWe played a montage of our greatest hits at the end of the programme (listen here) in an effort to placate the hundreds of listeners now arguing we should ditch the Bongs and keep the birds. I'm not sure the fabric of the universe could survive such a move but there has been some well argued comment.

• Andrew Davy - "Keep the birdsong. Big Ben now seems stuffy, grey and the sound of an Ealing-comedy kind of England. Your final contributor, the Herring gull (complete with waves rolling in behind), made me go all misty-eyed as I sat in the heatwave rush hour."

• Tim Horton - "Stuff the bongs, please keep the bird song - I've loved this educational spot. On digital, the bongs are well off time anyway. Can we have the Radio 4 UK theme back too? I'll pass on the PM theme."

• Paddy Finnegan - "I think we should find a place for the birdsong somewhere in the show. It is impossible for me to believe that the songs could not be relocated in the show without upsetting the balance. Indeed, it could be used as editorial comment. I can easily imagine a time when a senior politician has failed at the third time of asking to answer the clear question, his voice is faded gently out while a much-loved voice gently intones... 'and here, with no less to contribute to the subject than the right hon... is the song of the golden oriel...' cue birdsong."

• Rowan Woods - "I grieved when I heard your listener's comment that he had now heard all he needed to hear of birdsong. I cannot imagine ever hearing enough of birds singing, and to sacrifice that little breath of heaven for the hammering of ponderous old bells is, I feel, a tragic metaphor for humanity's rejection of the natural world."

• Richard Evans - "Keep the birdsong. The wood pigeon made more sense than some of the members of the cabinet."

• John Pringle - "How disappointing that you're abandoning the birdsong to revert to the dreary metrocentric quarter bells. Why not adopt that wonderful recording of eider duck as your signature tune, to be played at the start and the end of each programme?"

If you've not heard the Eider... it's the one doing a Frankie Howard impression towards the end of the montage. I guess we will have to find ad hoc reasons for including Birdsong in PM in future. You'll just have to keep listening for it.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:13 UK time, Thursday, 6 July 2006

Telegraph: "A student who works as a scuba diving instructor in his spare time and supports the Tories is due to appear as a panellist on Question Time on BBC One tonight." (link)

The Guardian: A feature on proposed new European rules for TV transmitted over the internet, and how they could affect broadcasters including the BBC. (link)

Questions for Putin

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Preparations are under way for a webcast we are doing in the Kremlin with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, tomorrow, eight days before the opening of the G8 summit in St Petersburg.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFormer Moscow correspondent Bridget Kendall will be selecting questions from the hundreds sent in so far by readers - in English and in Russian.

Last time we did a webcast with the Russian leader, in 2001, the hot topics were the US missile defence shield and the conflict in Chechnya. This time readers are more worried about nuclear proliferation, Iran and North Korea. Chechnya has slipped down their list of priorities, while questions about xenophobia in Russia, and how Mr Putin plans to tackle it, are now near the top.

Some readers have gone for less serious matters. Which country does Mr Putin tip to win the World Cup? Is there a chance his dog will have puppies, and will they be up for adoption? The Russian leader is going to choose a handful of questions himself. It will be interesting to see which ones he selects.

Car watch

Peter Barron | 13:13 UK time, Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Newsnight logoScottish Nationalist MP Pete Wishart left a comment on my previous entry, saying he had tabled an Early Day Motion in protest at our experiment which sent a car covered in St George's flags to Scotland. We invited the SNP on the programme last night, which you can watch here.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:35 UK time, Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Daily Mail: "But despite the furore over John Prescott, the BBC appeared to be playing down the controversy." (link)

The Guardian: "A fantasy BBC radio station personalised for each listener is to become a reality, according to director general Mark Thompson." (link)

Grandstand, ToTP, and then...

Peter Rippon | 16:03 UK time, Tuesday, 4 July 2006

First it was Grandstand, then Top of the Pops: the seemingly unstoppable demise of some of the BBC's oldest and most established brands got us wondering in the PM programme office what, or who, is likely to be next?

The PM programme logoNaked self-interest soon focused the discussion on the question "will it be us?"

Like the other brands, we've been around a long time - 36 years.

We are also very Old School in how we broadcast. We go on air when we want, not when the listener wants.

We have a healthy share of the UK radio audience at the moment, but on broadband your choice of station is global. And, as Mark Thompson pointed out to the Radio Academy, listeners will soon be creating their own schedules on MyBBCRadio.

It's all food for thought and part of the intense Creative Future debate we are having. Having said all that, we do still have some things going for us. We still manage to produce what my boss would call "great content". We have a healthy weekly reach of three and half million listeners and, after the Today Programme, we remain comfortably the most listened to news show on radio.

So I reckon there is life left in us yet. Which brings us back to the original question... if not us, who? Any suggestions?

Off the list

Gary Smith | 13:26 UK time, Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Hands up if you think we sit around at the BBC having meetings about what stories we are NOT going to cover? Well here’s a surprise: if you’ve got your hand up, yes you’re right!

Not because there’s a conspiracy to protect the government – but because there are loads of stories every day across the UK and the world, and we can’t get them all on air, even if we want to. We have to make difficult choices.

Today the Independent’s Pandora column accuses the BBC of burying a new story about John Prescott – that he stayed at the home of an American billionaire keen to turn the Millennium Dome into a super-casino.

This was first reported in a newspaper on Saturday. We covered it on various programmes on Monday - on the Daily Politics, and on News 24 (rather earlier than Pandora suggests). There are now various further allegations on political blogs.

So have we got our judgement right in not doing it prominently so far – for example, as one of the 10 or so stories on BBC One’s Six O’Clock News?

I’d say yes, it’s not quite crossed that threshold yet – at the time I’m writing this - to become a major story. But we have a couple of correspondents looking at it, so if it takes off, we’ll have it on air.

And unless I’m missing something, the Independent’s own editors don’t rate it big enough to mention as a news story anywhere in today’s paper...

[Footnote: Our news website and Radio 4's World at One have covered a call by the Conservatives for the standards watchdog to investigate the allegations.]

Leading the bulletins

Ben Rich | 09:41 UK time, Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Sunday brought one of those editorial dilemmas that we often face.

In the early morning, news came through that two British soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan. It led the bulletins on radio and television. At around 10.30am, David Beckham resigned as England football captain.

So which of these events should be at the top at lunchtime and later?

We know some of our viewers hate sports stories, and we were also aware that these tragic deaths in Afghanistan were very important too. Equally, around a third of the entire UK population watched England's World Cup quarter final, and it was a huge national as well as sporting event.

Also, when two British soldiers died last week in Afghanistan we not only led with it, but had a second report from one of our defence correspondents analysing the controversy over the mission itself, and the equipment our troops had been given to accomplish it, and another live interview. That previous coverage was also part of our thinking.

For people who don't like sports stories, the choice would be clear. But if you accept that the World Cup should be big news, the question is how big? In the end we put David Beckham at the top, although I suspect even some of our team thought it should have been the other way round. But then on the same day eight people were killed in two separate road accidents, and two women were found murdered at a massage parlour - where did those stories belong?

These sorts of choices confront us most days, and all you can do is weigh the factors as best you can, and accept that there is more than one valid view on what course was right.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:11 UK time, Tuesday, 4 July 2006

The Independent: "What are we to make of the BBC's coverage of the latest scandal to engulf John Prescott?" (link)

Financial Times: A media commentator describes how new technology will change the relationship between the public and the BBC (and other broadcasters) (link)

Stunt attack

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Peter Barron | 13:39 UK time, Monday, 3 July 2006

We've had a bit of heat from the Scottish papers for Friday night's piece by Tim Samuels in which he drove a car around Scotland bedecked in St George's flags ahead of England's big game with Portugal (watch it here).

Newsnight logoTim's experiment met with a gamut of reaction, ranging from good-natured banter, well-meaning foul language, even expressions of support for England, but when he left it unattended in the Gallowgate area of Glasgow it was attacked by a group of youths with bricks.

"The BBC was last night accused of staging a stunt to portray Scotland as a nation of English-hating thugs" raged Billy Paterson in the Sunday Mail. "There were concerns the youths involved in the attack may have even been encouraged by the Newsnight team."

Newsnight's car is attacked in GlasgowLet me allay those concerns. Newsnight categorically did not encourage anyone to attack the car. This was a legitimate experiment to test anti-English sentiment in Scotland during the World Cup, following reports of a number of violent incidents. Of course we thought the car might come under attack, that's why we bought - at very little expense - an elderly banger, but there was no pre-meditated intention to portray Scots as one thing or another.

Tony Parsons in the Mirror saw a very different picture: "[M]ostly the Newsnight experiment revealed a Scotland that was proud, confident and enlightened enough to be well above crass Sassenach-bashing."

Lost in translation

Richard Porter | 10:52 UK time, Monday, 3 July 2006

A message board called Vinyl Vulture had this posting a few days ago (edited slightly for length)...

BBC World logo

A few days ago there was a bomb drama in Sweden (no-one died). BBC World ran a story about it with TV footage from the Swedish news. As an eyewitness made a statement BBC voiced over a translation and I thought it didn't sound right... something to effect of him being terrified, thinking about moving to another part of town and it was scary with terrorists so close to home.
In the Swedish news, the exact same footage was shown without voice over and what he really said was something like it was a little bit unsettling because he visited a friend and they could see the drama from the window - end.

And this set off a huge debate about standards on the BBC.

I think I got to the bottom of it. In short, we made a mistake (for which we should apologise), but it's not as bad as it was made out to be. The interview with the eyewitness was sent to us in Swedish, with text of the English translation. It said...

Reporter - Are you worried?
Eyewitness - Yes, I have friends who live just above and I was there and saw the guy. I pity the man, he seems mentally ill, its nothing else.
Reporter - What will you do now?
Eyewitness - I am thinking of moving away, the terrorists have come here too it seems. I don't know, I don't think it's a terrorist, something is wrong with this society.

What we did then was to confuse the two answers - the part of the interview we used was the first answer, but the English translation we added was the second answer. So the eyewitness did talk about terrorists - we just didn't use the right bit.

The lesson for us is to find someone to listen back to these things before we put them on air.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 09:11 UK time, Monday, 3 July 2006

Among the audience reponse received by the BBC in the past 24 hours include this e-mail from Father Paul Nicholas:

Two soldiers are killed in Afghanistan and the top news on BBC One is Beckham's resignation?? The BBC seems to becoming more like a tabloid newspaper rather than a serious news giver.

The level of sport coverage, both on the TV schedules and in news programmes, is often a cause for some complaint. Though some viewers yesterday said Andy Murray's victory over Andy Roddick had not been given enough coverage.

A radio listener complained that warnings about the dangers of the hot weather for old people were given only in Celsius, when most of them would relate more to temperatures in Fahrenheit. Others contacted us to welcome Nick Clarke back to the radio, after he presented Radio 4's Any Questions.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:09 UK time, Monday, 3 July 2006

The Guardian: A reviewer defends a new BBC Two drama series attacked for its negative stereotyping of black people. (link)

Sunday Telegraph: "Revealed: how the BBC used MI5 to vet thousands of staff." (link)

The Guardian: The paper's readers' editor on communication between a news organisation and its readers. (link)

Children or animals

Ian Prince | 09:34 UK time, Saturday, 1 July 2006

A suggestion for the next 'This is What We Do' campaign...

Newsround logo"Don't work with children or animals." A well worn quote. On Newsround, it's a qualification for the job.

Newsround staff are have been dispatched to places such as the Tsunami region and Iraq. Of course, such deployments are never taken lightly.

However one recent sequence of events turned an idyllic English allotment into a hostile wildlife environment.

The shoot should have been simple. A Press Pack (young reporter) film about beekeeping. The type of film which helps keep our news agenda as wide as possible. The type of film which sweetens the pill for young children digesting stories about Iraq, or Gaza, or violence in and around schools.

There had been lots of assurances from the family that the shoot would be straightforward. The bees would be subdued after a good smoking.

The hive was open, but dramatically the heavens opened too. Two things director Zoë and cameraman Carl learned very quickly was that bees don't like storms, and when wet, bee suits offer little protection as they cling to the skin.

Cue some thunder claps - and cue the bees' instinct to swarm. With safety training in mind, Zoë ordered a retreat.

It was a bit like scene from a cartoon. One swarm, six bee suited individuals (two children, parents, cameraman, and director) running for cover. The cover turned out to be one of the smallest sheds money can buy.

Squeezed sardine-like inside were six people, a camera, and a small number of bees. Just enough angry insects to keep the tension inside running high.

Outside was the swarm. Also in the air mixing with the drone of the bees was a series of 'yelps!' coming from the shed as another bee gave its life to prove that sodden bee suits are not so thick after all.

They were there quite a while.

This is what we do.

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