BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for November 2006

The future of news?

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry

A private matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:14 UK time, Thursday, 30 November 2006

The Mirror: Columnist Brian Reade asks, "why the fear over Michael Grade defecting to ITV?" (link)

The Guardian: "The BBC will have to lop at least £1.6bn off spending plans if - as looks likely - the government gives it a licence fee deal in line with inflation or below." (link)

What is a civil war?

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:26 UK time, Wednesday, 29 November 2006

When does sectarian violence in Iraq turn into a civil war? It’s an issue we – and others – have been wrestling with for some time. This week, the US TV network NBC became the latest news organisation to describe the fighting there in such terms.

No-one who’s watched, listened to or read the accounts of BBC correspondents Andrew North, Hugh Sykes, David Loyn and others in recent weeks, could be in any doubt about the level of violence seen in Baghdad and beyond.

NBC is hardly alone in characterising what’s going on in Iraq in such terms – as early as April, Iraq’s former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi described it as a civil war; six weeks ago, one of the most respected US commentators, Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, said he too was in no doubt that Iraq was in a civil war. The murder of more than 200 people when Sunni Muslim insurgents blew up five car bombs and fired mortars into Baghdad's largest Shiite district last Thursday, suggests they might be right.

Harvard professor Monica Toft suggests there are six objective criteria all modern civil wars share:

  • the struggle for power over which group governs the country;
  • at least two organised, armed, groups of combatants;
  • that the “state” is formally involved in the fighting;
  • the intensity of the conflict;
  • that the two groups are each taking significant numbers of casualties;
  • and that the fighting is within the boundaries of a single country.

She believes Iraq meets all six. But I wonder if describing it as such, really aids our understanding of what’s going on?

The fighting in Iraq defies simple categorisation. There are at least two other dimensions to the situation there. In Anbar province, the violence in places like Fallujah and Ramadi is driven by the original insurgency against the US-led occupation. Anbar is a Sunni stronghold – the targets, by and large, are not Shia Muslims, but American servicemen and women.

Further south, a third battle emerges – fighting between rival Shia militias. The two most powerful are the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army, linked respectively to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and Moqtada al-Sadr, the leaders of the two largest blocs in Iraq's coalition government. These militia vie with each other for power, in tit-for-tat assassinations and drive-by shootings that have become a regular feature of life in places like Basra. It’s this battle that British troops in the south of Iraq often find themselves caught up in

There is no single picture in Iraq – no single term can do justice to the complexity of what’s going on there. For now, we’ve decided not to use the term civil war – not because the situation isn’t bad, nor life for those involved increasingly difficult. Others will continue to describe it as a “civil war” – we’ll continue to report their comments with attribution. But it’s precisely because things are critical, that we need to explain and provide the context – something, one simple phrase can never do.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 07:54 UK time, Wednesday, 29 November 2006

All papers: Further reports on the departure of BBC Chairman Michael Grade for ITV. (link and link)

The Sun: Reports that "cheeky hackers" have "sabotaged Jonathan Ross’s MySpace account". (link)

Grade expectations

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 09:40 UK time, Tuesday, 28 November 2006

9:46pm - Everything's going well, we've got some good stories and we're confident we're going to tell them well. The phone rings - it's the BBC's former business editor, Jeff Randall, and he's got a rather big scoop: Michael Grade is leaving the BBC to become executive chairman of ITV.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoIt's a favour - and he's timed it perfectly, giving us just enough space to make sure we can get it on the TV (giving his Daily Telegraph front page a big plug while we're at it), but not enough to tip off his Fleet Street rivals. The place descends into organised chaos - can we get a second source? Can we get our media analyst, Nick Higham, on set in time? The headlines are swiftly re-written. We stand the story up - there is some colourful language from senior BBC figures. Nick Higham is racing in.

10:03pm Nick tells me he is on the Westway - 10 minutes away. We talk through the implications.

10:13pm Cool as a cucumber, Nick Higham walks on set. He gives a brilliantly judged, totally unflustered, analysis of the story. This wasn't one we wanted to get wrong.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:35 UK time, Tuesday, 28 November 2006

All papers: Report the news of BBC Chairman Michael Grade's departure for ITV. (link, link, link and link)

The Independent, among others: Reports the death of former Radio 1 DJ Alan 'Fluff' Freeman. (link)

Your News

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 15:48 UK time, Monday, 27 November 2006

At the weekend, BBC News 24 launched the first news programme entirely driven by our audience. It is a short pilot run at first to see how it goes, but the first edition was watched by more than 300,000 people (you can watch it by clicking here).

BBC News 24 logoThe programme's name has been used by the BBC News website for around a year along with 'Have Your Say', 'Your Pics' and so on and this underlines the close relationship with the website - it shows which stories have been most popular online that week; it shows pictures and video clips sent in by our audience; and it asks for ideas for stories we should be covering.

This week we followed up a moving story of one viewer who tried to honour his late wife's request to donate her tissue to research and the obstacles he found at the local hospital.

It's work in progress - and it is Your News - so we would really welcome views, ideas, story ideas and pictures...

Mirza Tahir Hussain

Husain Husaini | 14:56 UK time, Monday, 27 November 2006

Many Asian Network listeners regularly visit India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka to see family. So the story of Mirza Tahir Hussain really strikes home.

BBC Asian Network logoHe says he was doing just that, heading to see his relatives in a taxi when the driver Jamshaid Khan robbed him at gunpoint and seemed to be about to sexually assault him. There was a struggle and the gun went off, fatally wounding the driver. Mirza Tahir Hussain says he then drove away before finding the police to report the incident. The police saw things very differently, accusing him of murdering Jamshaid Khan and stealing his car in an effort to raise money for drug dealing.

Mirza Tahir Hussain ended up in prison for 18 years, most of them in grim conditions on death row. The legal path he followed during that time seems convoluted and confusing. He was convicted before being acquitted by a higher court. He was then re-tried in a Sharia court, found guilty and the death sentence re-imposed.

This story was almost invisible until earlier this year when the campaign to free him led by his brother Amjad really took off. Amjad recruited MPs and MEPs. Prince Charles made representations on a visit to Pakistan and the High Commission in Islamabad embraced the case. As the story of a British Pakistani, we felt at the Asian Network that this was something our audience would want us to cover in depth.

Mirza Tahir HussainWe sent our reporter Sanjiv Buttoo to Pakistan to cover events as Mirza Tahir Hussain's execution date was set and then postponed again and again. We looked at the risks British Asians run when abroad and asked if they were all vulnerable to rough justice. We managed to interview Mirza Tahir Hussain from his prison cell on a smuggled-in mobile phone; a lonely voice pleading for his life. We also spoke to the family of the dead man - their anger over their own son's loss of life every bit as real as Amjad's desperation for his brother's release.

Once the news came that Mirza Tahir Hussain had been freed we really wanted to do the first broadcast interview with him. This was eventually secured by Sanjiv and done by our breakfast presenter Sonia Deol. You can listen to it here.

It's a deeply thought provoking interview. Mirza Tahir Hussain says the killing was an act of self-defence. The Pakistani justice system eventually concluded that it was murder. We have always tried to put both sides of the story. That's why Sonia questions him at length about the sequence of events.

Listening to Mirza Tahir Hussain now, it's clear how much he has suffered during his time in prison, watching his youth slip away, never knowing whether he had only days to go before the gallows. Whether that was justice done or a terrible wrong against him only he knows for sure.

Newswatch/Feedback

Host Host | 10:56 UK time, Monday, 27 November 2006

Newswatch, the programme which features viewers' responses to BBC TV News, this week discussed the coverage of the return to the UK of Mirza Tahir Hussain after his release from prison in Pakistan. It also looked at the labelling of 4x4s as 'gas guzzlers', and how charities are treated in TV News. You can watch it here.

Radio 4's Feedback this week discussed why news programmes report the deaths of UK troops before the names have been released, and the worry this can cause for families who fear they might have been affected. You can listen to it here.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:37 UK time, Monday, 27 November 2006

The Independent: The BBC's Bridget Kendall writes about her 'mentor', Sir John Tusa. (link)

The Times: "The BBC boasts that it is the only UK media corporation with a global brand. But it is hardly a global business..." (link)

The Guardian: A piece discusses the possibility of advertising on the international version of the BBC News website. (link)

Sorry for not swearing

David Kermode | 16:58 UK time, Friday, 24 November 2006

How times change. There now follows a sort of apology. An apology for NOT using a swear word.

Breakfast logoThis morning the leader of the Conservative Party joined us on the Breakfast sofa, ostensibly to talk about poverty. After about four minutes talking about how to define, and how potentially to help, those "less fortunate" the conversation turned to other matters (you can see for yourself by clicking here).

When we're joined by a political leader, we often move the conversation on to talk about other pertinent issues and this morning was no exception. But this morning felt a bit different. This morning we wanted to talk about tossers.

David Cameron had been invited on to talk about poverty, so were we being fair asking him about the Tories' latest stab at "viral marketing". Of course we were. Mr Cameron made no complaint about it and my boss - the head of TV news, Peter Horrocks, was positively delighted.

However, there was some soul searching afterwards about whether we'd tackled it the right way. You see we didn't actually use the word "tosser". We skirted around it, fearing that it was too rude for a breakfast audience. We're a family programme and we're closer to the end of the watershed than to the start of it. We had a swearing episode a year ago; admittedly involving a word that begins with F and is much worse than tosser. That caused a huge stink, led to one of my more embarrassing Newswatch performances and went all the way to Ofcom, who fortunately didn't uphold the complaint.

So we're probably a bit nervy about bad words. But should we be? The boss's point is that if the naughty word is Mr Cameron's then it is he, not us, who are open to the charge of coarsening the debate. Who are we to censor that debate?

This approach surprised some of the production team, who feel that talking about tossers at ten to eight might be a step too far for the Breakfast audience, regardless of who is choosing to use the word. I suspect the very fact that the Conservative Party thinks it's acceptable to engage in a debate about whether someone is being a tosser means the opposition party may have moved on a little faster than we have.

Next time, we won't be so careful...

Too much coverage?

Helen Boaden | 15:11 UK time, Friday, 24 November 2006

Some of our radio listeners yesterday contacted us to say they thought we had given the death of Nick Clarke too much prominence. Of course it’s easy to lose perspective when a close colleague and friend dies but I really don’t think we misjudged our response to Nick’s death yesterday.

Nick was an outstanding journalist and broadcaster who touched the lives of the Radio Four audience through a range of programmes including The World At One. This was already very clear from the evidence of vast audience interest in and sympathy for Nick’s condition when he was diagnosed with cancer.

We knew therefore that there would be very, very many people who would want to know the news of his death and who would be saddened by it. In this context it was appropriate to lead the programme which he had presented since the late 1980s with the first news of his death and to carry a special, extended edition so that we could carry other news in full within the hour as well as a proper tribute. Later programmes on the network did not lead with the news about Nick.

We understand that for a minority of the audience the coverage was excessive - but not for the majority, as is clear from the massive feedback we have received via e-mails and phone calls. For example, more than 2,500 comments were posted on the Have Your Say site. Moreover, the story was one of the most read pages on the BBC News website yesterday in the UK - in the top four.

This wasn't a case of grieving colleagues having their news judgements distorted by a sense of their own loss; we took a considered view about the most appropriate way to handle the news of his death.

Appear on Newsnight, or not

Peter Barron | 10:32 UK time, Friday, 24 November 2006

A few weeks back we launched Oh My Newsnight, an invitation to make a short film for the programme to run early next year. Of course we're not alone in asking viewers to provide User Generated Content - these days everybody seems to be at it.

Newsnight logoAt least, lots of programmes, but I'm not so sure lots of users are.

We asked you to send us a film of around two minutes duration on any subject of your choice. And yes, we've had a few offerings so far, but very much of the YouTube "me and my cat" variety.

What's surprising is that while many viewers are prepared to sit down and create lengthy and thoughtful blogs about what we're doing on Newsnight - or what we should be doing - which will be read by about 50,000 hardened blog watchers, almost noone seems to want to commit those thoughts to video, with a potential audience of a million viewers.

So, this is last orders ladies and gentlemen. If you want to get your message across there is a short time left to get cracking with camera, webcam or mobile phone. If your message is you'd rather leave it to us, that's also fine.

Or maybe your view coincides with that of the Daily Show's Jon Stewart in this fabulous savaging of CNN's efforts in the field of User Generated Content.

Blogs on the BBC

Host Host | 09:55 UK time, Friday, 24 November 2006

A round-up of what's being said about the BBC in other blogs. Today, the death of Nick Clarke.

Trevor Dann's blog: "To those of us who didn't know how far Nick's health had deteriorated since his surgery it was a big shock." (link)

Clive Davis: "He was a fantastic broadcaster and the antithesis of the "look-at-me-I’m-famous" breed of interviewer." (link)

Iain Dale's Diary: "He treated his interviewees as people who should be listened to and given an opportunity to speak." (link)

Paul Linford: "I rated him alongside PM's Eddie Mair as the best BBC radio journalist of his generation and there is no doubt he will be sorely missed." (link)

Channel 4 News blog: "To his colleagues and friends he was loyal, supportive and a very, very good journalist." (link)

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:32 UK time, Friday, 24 November 2006

The Telegraph, amongst others: Reports on the death of Radio 4's Nick Clarke. (link)

The Guardian: "The BBC's decision to screen a new drama based around the events of the 2004 Asian tsunami has provoked a mixed reaction from survivors and relatives of its victims." (link)

The death of Nick Clarke

Colin Hancock | 13:00 UK time, Thursday, 23 November 2006

As I write this we're within 30 minutes of going on air with an extended programme in which we'll announce the death and remember the life of our presenter, Nick Clarke. This entry will be very brief.

nickclarke.jpgEveryone here is working as hard as they can to bring together the best programme possible, and trying not to stop to think too long.

Nick was a brilliant presenter. He was the best interviewer a programme could dream of. He had the best voice on Radio Four. He approached everything we did with his sharp, rigorous intellect. He made us all better journalists. Listeners respected and adored him.

We're in shock. I can't imagine how awful today is for his wife Barbara, his young sons and the rest of his family. Your thoughts about Nick will be much appreciated.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 08:48 UK time, Thursday, 23 November 2006

The Guardian: "BBC global news director Richard Sambrook has said that ads on the international news website can't be avoided." (link)

The Guardian: Columnist Mark Lawson takes a look at the coverage provided by 24-hour news channels overnight. (link)

Press Gazette: Former editor of the Today programme Rod Liddle comments on the row over the BBC's handling of the 'cash for honours' story. (link)

Bonus controversy

Helen Boaden | 14:10 UK time, Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Not for the first time in human history, an internal e-mail has come to light which seems to put BBC News in a bad light. It’s grabbed headlines and stirred up modest controversy in the blogosphere.

bbc.jpgThe facts are simple: the e-mail was sent by a manager to the newsgatherers in our Westminster office exhorting them to focus hard on a major issue of public interest – the so-called Cash for Peerages Inquiry. After encouraging them to work their contacts and dig deeply into the story to ensure BBC News – and our audiences – got wind of any new development first, the e-mail went on to offer £100 to anyone who could get us a genuine scoop.

It was a wry one liner and a complete “one off” at the end of the e-mail, mischievously playing on the idea of cash incentives – the issue at the heart of the current controversy on party political funding.

Was it a good idea to encourage our reporters to go the extra mile to be first with a story? Absolutely yes. Was it a good idea to offer a cash bonus? No. As soon as senior managers like myself became aware of the e-mail yesterday we made it clear that it was wholly inappropriate. No bonus has been paid in relation to this story and no bonus will be paid in future.

We are fully committed to providing impartial, fair and balanced reporting at all times. We know the public trusts us to deliver impartial and accurate coverage and we take that trust very seriously.

The context of the one liner offer was the normal journalistic desire to obtain and broadcast news first. That’s what our audiences expect of us, particularly on News 24, Radio 5 Live and the BBC News website, and that is what we will always strive to provide.

Talking about sex

Husain Husaini | 12:06 UK time, Wednesday, 22 November 2006

At the Asian Network we often hear of the dilemmas that come from growing up in a country where sex outside marriage is widely accepted while living in a culture where it isn't. Young British Asians are often in sexual relationships but their parents disapprove.

BBC Asian Network logoAt its worst we see it in what are often called 'honour killings' - young women murdered because of disapproval of their sex lives. These of course are very very rare. But this week in the Asian Network Report (which you can listen to by clicking here) we had an insight into some more common problems faced by our audience. We were told by the Brook Advisory Clinic in Birmingham that proportionately more young Asians than non Asians are coming to them after having unprotected sex, and that proportionately more young Asian women are referred for abortions.

Why? Well at least in some cases it seems that young British Asians want the sex but don't want to have contraceptives at home in case their parents find them. We looked at this problem through the eyes of people in Birmingham and Glasgow. Some of it sounds almost romantic. A young woman told us about leaving pillows under her duvet to fool her parents as she shinned down a drainpipe to go out with her mates. Some of it was tragic. We heard the painful tale of a woman who had contracted genital herpes after unprotected sex. She now feels she can never have the arranged marriage she wanted. How would she explain her illness to any potential husband?

But what are we to learn from this. Does it show that conservative parents are right? No sex is the only safe sex? Or does it show that Asian mums and dads need to teach their children about condoms and STIs? Well, we asked in our phone in programme with Anita Rani if we needed to talk more with our parents about sex. NO came the resounding response. The last thing either side of this generational divide wanted to do was to discuss the issue...

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:08 UK time, Wednesday, 22 November 2006

FT, Sun, Telegraph, Guardian: Labour criticises the BBC for internal e-mail which offered journalists a £100 bonus for breaking stories on the "cash for peerages" investigation. [The BBC said the offer, which had been a one-off, had been inappropriate and had been withdrawn, and that staff would continue to cover the story impartially.] (Link (subscription), link, link, link.)

International Herald Tribune:
BBC Urdu service journalist who had been kidnapped in Pakistan released safely. (Link)

Ana Asif (I'm sorry)

Peter Rippon | 13:29 UK time, Tuesday, 21 November 2006

We've upset the listeners again.

Broadcasting House logoOn Broadcasting House this week we wanted to pay homage to al-Jazeera's new English-language network.

As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery we thought it would be nice to test an Arabic version of Radio Four. So we got Charlotte Green to present one of Radio Four's more iconic fixtures in Arabic (you can listen here).

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the listener who found it 'frightening'. I also apologise to the listener who found it too politically correct. That really was not the intention. Finally, I would like to apologise to the listener who thought they had gone mad when listening to it. You have not.

I have.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:16 UK time, Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Evening Standard: "Veteran news presenter Nicholas Owen is to quit ITV after two decades to join the BBC." (link)

International Herald Tribune: "A BBC journalist (a reporter for the Urdu-language service) went missing on Monday after visiting the Pakistani capital, the broadcaster has said." (link)

Viewing the religious

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 19:49 UK time, Monday, 20 November 2006

Religious freedom in this country is under threat - that's the view of a coalition of organisations - including Muslims and Christians as well as trade unions and other groups all backed by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. They are planning a rally in central London tonight calling for "an end to Islamaphobia" and "to defend freedoms of religion, thought and conscience".

worldtonight_logo.jpgThis comes on the same day that a BA check-in worker lost her appeal against the company's ban on her wearing a cross outside her uniform - BA says wearing the cross contravened its uniform policy; she argued the cross was a symbol of her faith and it was discriminatory to stop her wearing it.

On The World Tonight, we have covered the debate over religion and social integration - especially as it relates to Britain's Muslim population - in depth over the past few years and one of the themes that has come through in many discussions is that many people who have religious faith feel they don't get a fair hearing with government and the media, including the BBC. Indeed when we were deciding whether and how to do this story in our editorial meeting, some of the team who are religious said they sometimes feel they are considered a bit odd because of their faith.

The UK - and Europe in general arguably - are different from other parts of the world in this respect. In the US, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia for example, religion and the outward expression of religious faith are normal and not as controversial as they seem to be closer to home.

If today's rally on religious freedom; the recent high profile debate over the veil; and now the row over the wearing of the cross at work are anything to go by, Britain's religious population are beginning to reassert themselves. So far on The World Tonight this has been generally been reflected obliquely in discussions we have had on such things as integration and multiculturalism; or the teaching of evolution in school. So we decided we should consider the issue head on. I'm not sure we'll be able to reach a consensus though, as both sides of the debate - the religious and secular - tend to take absolutist positions when they go head-to-head on air.

A day in the life

Richard Jackson | 14:40 UK time, Monday, 20 November 2006

Please beg my indulgence, but Breakfast on Five Live has never received a text message like this before: "To the Breakfast Editor: Good programme idea."

Radio Five Live logoSteve, wherever you are, thank you.

Of course, it wasn't really my idea, but heh, you've got to take the plaudits wherever you can find them. It's also very gratifying when a plan - developed by the programme team - makes a big impression on air.

Our broadcast from the home of Khalid Anis and his wife Sara certainly generated a big response. Nicky Campbell spent the whole of the programme with them, and various other guests. The idea came about when Khalid e-mailed us to complain about the fact he only seemed to hear "radical" Muslim voices on air. "Where are the moderates like me?" he moaned.

We took him up on his challenge to spend a day in his company. In fact we went further. Jags from our interactive team took a camera and filmed a day in his life. (You can watch a day in Khalid's life here, hear the programme here, and see pictures here.)

Of course not all the feedback was positive. There were several texts and e-mails along the lines of "Oh no, not Muslims again" . In fact, Khalid and Sara told Nicky they too are fed up of hearing about Muslims in the news. Some people who work here were sceptical too. Was it patronising? Would we get the tone right?

But there's been a lot of positive reaction too. Some other bits of BBC News told us they wish they'd had the idea. A couple of sceptics told us they were won over, not least by Sara's passionate arguments.

And we also had a lot of questions from people. Some were challenging what the Koran had to say about certain issues, others wanted to know practical details (why do you have to pray five times a day? Why not six - or four?) Others were just grateful to hear some calmer voices in a debate which so often gets taken over by the more strident opinions.

Predictably, others wanted to know when we might spend a day with a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu. It's something we would certainly consider. What do you reckon, Steve?

Newswatch/Feedback

Host Host | 12:42 UK time, Monday, 20 November 2006

Newswatch, the programme which discusses viewers complaints about BBC TV News, this week debated a docu-drama about bird flu, and also the media's coverage of mental health issues. You can watch the programme here.

Feedback, Radio 4's programme for audience response, asked Today programme editor Gavin Allen about the changes to its messageboards. You can hear the whole of Feedback here.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 11:37 UK time, Monday, 20 November 2006

Sun: Children in Need likely to raise more than £33m.
Guardian: Column on the popularity of radio among young people. (Link)
Guardian: TV News is up for grabs, says Peter Preston (Link)

For a good cause...

David Kermode | 14:58 UK time, Friday, 17 November 2006

It's that time of the year again. The BBC's newsreaders jettison their double-breasted suits and power jackets and don something sparkling instead to show us a side of them we rarely (well, annually) get to see.

Breakfast logoAnd if you don't like it, it's all in the name of charity, so you can shut up.

Well, that might be the traditional view. But of course, there are plenty of people who do feel uncomfortable, or worse and who find their toes curling at the sight of such frivolity.

And this is a forum to air such issues.

Surely, the news is the news? And the newsreader should be the newsreader? Ends. That's certainly a view expressed to me on many occasions and it's a view that's almost certainly shared by some in this building too (including, I suspect a number of our presenters).

So are we right to do it? Of course, I have an opinion. But before we get to that, let's look at the defence.

Children in Need has raised more than £400m for good causes since its creation. It seems to break its own record every year, raising ever greater sums. It brings people together in the name of fundraising, helping, in turn (and this bit will irritate some readers) the BBC to fulfil its role as a force for good in society.

I defy anyone to watch the piece we broadcast this morning about the little girl with Down's Syndrome who attends a voluntary group funded by Children in Need and not think that it is all worthwhile.

That said, do newsreaders really need to dress up as James Bond characters to make all of this happen?

Well, I would argue that as we're in the business of communication, yes they do. To communicate effectively, we have to look like we're fellow multi-dimensional human beings and this is a great opportunity, in the name of a good cause, to do that.

Have there been 'sketches' in the past that I thought misfired? Yes. Were they embarrassing? Certainly. But is there really any harm done? I don't think so.

In the Telegraph last week, Jan Moir wrote about her irritation at our newsreaders' antics. She said...

    "All we ask of these people is that they form proper sentences, speak in a clear voice and let us know what is going on in the world. It's so simple! Look at autocue, mouth words, then go home, please. Our relationship is over".

Many people will probably agree with her, but I don’t. If we replaced our presenters with the kind of person she describes above, we'd fail to communicate effectively to our audience. News presentation needs to be about so much more than the reading of words. It's about comprehension, tone, empathy, having a hinterland and a whole lot more.

And tonight, we'll see a whole lot more than the usual whole lot more. It may make you laugh, it may make you squirm. It won't land Bill Turnbull a job as the new Bond. But it will help raise lots of money for a good cause. And it is only one night of the year...

No U-turn

Vicky Taylor | 10:55 UK time, Friday, 17 November 2006

Just to set the record right, there has been no change in BBC policy with regard to paying for user generated content.

The "shock" headline on the Media Guardian yesterday suggesting the BBC had done a U-turn on its policy and was now set to pay for all this content coming in from members of the public to our TV, radio and online services is just not right. But I suppose a story saying the BBC had published guidelines for its journalists repeating existing policy in one area is not quite as attractive.

We do not in normal circumstances pay for user generated content. Nearly all the content we receive comes without a request for payment and is sent for entirely different reasons than making a profit. This includes the hundreds of pictures and videos we are sent each week - from pictures of people's travels all over the world to local news events like fires, crashes and demonstrations.

Of course it includes dramatic pictures of events like Buncefield and 7 July too. If we did get a unique piece of news content, as an example, Concorde crashing, we would under our normal newsgathering criteria pay for that. We've always done that and continue to do so.

As a publicly funded organisation we are in a different position from the other media organisations asking for this content - would those who pay for our services be happy for us to give £100 each to each person who takes a picture for Your perspective on the world, when people are happy to send them for free? We showcase hundreds of pictures from the public a week (mainly online but also on News 24 on occasion) and hundreds of thousands of people see them. For those who send and those who view, it's a process which doesn't have to involve money.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:47 UK time, Friday, 17 November 2006

The Sun: BBC presenter Adrian Chiles writes about the time he was asked to become "a real-life James Bond". (link)

The Guardian: Reports that, "in a policy U-turn, the BBC has decided to pay viewers who send in pictures and videos" - the BBC has denied this story, and Vicky Taylor, editor of interactivity, will write on this subject on this blog later today. (link)

Inside al-Qaeda

Peter Barron | 13:23 UK time, Thursday, 16 November 2006

It's rare to speak to someone who's been a member of al-Qaeda, and rare too to interview a spy. On tonight's Newsnight - events permitting - we'll do both in a special programme entitled Inside al-Qaeda: A Spy's Story.

Newsnight logoThe BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera has - over a period of many months - obtained exclusive access to Omar Nasiri - not his real name - who worked for European security agencies during the 1990s and infiltrated al-Qaeda both in the camps of Afghanistan and in terror cells in London.

His story is extraordinary, revealing the extent of al-Qaeda's preparations - years before 9/11 - to target the west, but also the British authorities' lack of awareness of the growing threat of Islamic terrorism. It'll be an unusual edition of Newsnight - more documentary than daily news - but I think it's one not to miss. You can watch a preview clip by clicking here.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:03 UK time, Thursday, 16 November 2006

The Sun: Reports that two MI6 officers "broke cover" yesterday to speak to BBC Radio 1. (link)

The Guardian: "Controversial proposals to put advertising on the BBC's international websites have been approved by the corporation's executive direction group, the most senior level of management before the BBC governors." (link)

Today's messageboards (pt 2)

Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 15:43 UK time, Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Thanks for all the responses to my posting on Monday about the Today programme's messageboards. I am genuinely sorry some listeners seem to be so upset about the changes we're planning.

The Today programme logoMany people posting have already made up their minds that they will not contribute to the new boards on a point of principle. I think that is a shame. Many note, quite rightly, that Today programme staff have not maintained a presence on the old boards, and that this is not a satisfactory state of affairs. What we are trying to do is host messageboards that relate to the programme; this will mean our production staff will take more from them and put more back in return.

We can only fully support as many boards as programme resources will allow, and as many of you have pointed out, we appreciate that spending licence fee money on moderating these boards means that their use has to be clearly defined, well focused, and relevant to the programme itself.

Board users will still be able to suggest topics for discussion, and there is no sense in which an unreasonable veto will be exercised to screen out "inconvenient" topics, whatever they might be. I urge people who are unhappy with what is being suggested to give the new system a chance - we are making the changes because we want a closer relationship between users and programme producers within the constraints of spending licence fee money.

Radio 4's Feedback programme is also interested in the changes. Our deputy editor Gavin Allen will be appearing on Feeback on Friday at 1330 GMT on Radio 4 to answer questions from listeners.

Investigating Hizb ut-Tahrir

Peter Barron | 15:28 UK time, Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Many viewers have written to complain about Newsnight's film on radical Islam (which we broadcast yesterday, and you can watch here), and particularly the accusations made in the course of the film concerning the grouping Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Newsnight logoSome believed that the film was politically motivated and that we had set out with an agenda to discredit Hizb ut-Tahrir. That was not the case.

This joint File on Four/Newsnight project set out to look into the radicalisation of British Muslim youth across a broad range - in mosques, universities and on the internet. In the course of that investigation we came across a range of evidence, including first-hand accounts from four key contributors about the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir and some of its adherents.

These contributors were Sheikh Musa Admani, Imam at the London Metropolitan University, Shuaib Yusaf, a trustee at Croydon mosque, a former Hizb ut-Tahrir supporter called Jawad and an anonymous undercover researcher who we called J, who has attended Hizb ut-Tahrir meetings. I believe their allegations - which directly contradict the organisation's publicly stated position - are serious and worthy of examination.

As well as many emails of complaint, Newsnight has been contacted since the broadcast with further expressions of concern based on first-hand knowledge of Hizb ut-Tahrir's aims and methods.

Some viewers complained that the Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Dr Abdul Wahid, who appeared live on the programme to discuss the film, was unfairly interrupted by Jeremy Paxman (you can watch the interview here). I agree that following a lengthy segment detailing several accusations about the organisation Dr Wahid needed time to respond properly. Jeremy Paxman's interview was typically robust, but during the course of the four-minute interview Dr Wahid was given an ample opportunity to put across his position and address the key issues raised by the film.

A new channel arrives

Richard Porter | 10:16 UK time, Wednesday, 15 November 2006

At midday today (GMT), the international television news market is joined by a new name - al-Jazeera English. A few days ago it was going to be called al-Jazeera International but for some unexplained reason it's changed at the last minute.

BBC World logoEither way, AJI - or AJE as we now know it - looks like it's going to be a serious competitor for the two established global channels, BBC World and CNN. They have put together an extensive network of correspondents and bureau, and have invested heavily in four broadcast centres in different parts of the world. And they are making some grand claims about how they intend to bring a new perspective to the market. They're going to be reporting the south to the north, they say. They won't follow the traditional agenda.

I welcome their arrival. Competition is good in any market, and certainly since we've known the date of their launch, we've been looking at our own programme plans for this period to make sure we'll be looking our best.

We've also been asking ourselves some tough questions about our own agenda. For example, although we're proud of our British heritage, we don't aim to cover British news - unless it has some international significance or resonance. So today, 20 minutes before the new channel goes on air, Queen Elizabeth will be delivering her annual speech to Parliament, in which she sets out the Government's proposed legislation for the coming year. Do we carry live coverage, in the knowledge that nothing could be more British than the Queen surrounded by all that pomp and ceremony? Or do we say "There's no international significance... it's not for us?" The answer is we will carry it because it's actually one of the more important set-piece events of the year, and because The Queen will be addressing significant issues such as security, migration, and climate change, all of which have a resonance to the viewers around the globe who get their news from BBC World.

Today though we'll also be carrying extensive coverage of the Nairobi summit on climate change, with reports from the conference itself supported by background reporting from our correspondents in Africa. We have a very powerful piece from Fergal Keane on the effects of climate change on the Turkana tribe in Kenya. Much as I respect al-Jazeera's ambition to shed new light on some parts of the southern hemisphere, it would be unfair to say they have a monopoly in doing so. We have correspondents throughout Africa (indeed we also have many in the Middle East, al-Jazeera's home territory). And we think it's important to reflect events and opinions in these parts of the world, as much as we do the events in Brussels or Moscow or Washington.

Al-Jazeera English staff prepare in their Doha news room in QatarWhere we appear to depart from al-Jazeera is in our attitudes to reporting what happens in the West. One of their London correspondents says in an interview today he won't attend briefings at Downing Street because "that's typical of the Western way of doing TV News where you take something seriously simply because a big statesman is saying things."

That can't be right can it? I think it's wrong not to challenge and test what people in power have said, but you can't dismiss it simply because they've said it. It's an important part of our role to explain events in the most powerful countries in the world.

But now you have your own chance to judge. We'll be trying to show that the range and depth of journalism, and our ability to present all sides of the story will be qualities which audiences still greatly value. CNN and AJE (as well as Russia Today and the soon-to-be-launched France 24 and Press of Iran), will be promoting their strengths. And at midday today we'll all be able to make our own judgements.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:59 UK time, Wednesday, 15 November 2006

The Guardian: "BBC programmes scaled back their live reporting last night following the start of a 24-hour strike by technicians." (link)

The Telegraph: "The BBC was accused of ageism yesterday after a leaked memo revealed that phone-in presenters on a local radio station have been barred from allowing callers who sound old on air." (link)

Hidden condition

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 22:00 UK time, Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Lymphatic Filariasis - commonly known as Elephantiasis - blights the lives of 120 million people. The disease causes grotesque deformities. The drugs necessary to eradicate it are available - but doctors don't have the funds to distribute them.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoOur medical correspondent, Fergus Walsh, went to Ghana to investigate the problem. He came back with images of the impact of the disease on the limbs of one patient and the genitals of another.

The first edit of his report contained a series of shots of a Ghanaian man's penis and deformed scrotum. We talked in great detail about whether it was necessary to show these images. Fergus said that one of the reasons that doctors have struggled to get funding to fight the disease is because there is so little publicity about it. He argued that with a warning, and after the watershed, the audience should be allowed to see its real impact.

I felt we could make the same point by showing fewer shots and setting it all in the context of a studio introduction that made clear to the view what they were about to see.

The issue became more complicated when we heard a complaint about a photograph of the same man which had been used to illustrate an article on the disease Fergus had written for an in-house magazine. The person who complained felt the man's genitals would not have been shown if he had been white. This raised the question of whether we were guilty of having double standards without realising it?

Would we have even filmed the shot if it had been a white male? Fergus and I are convinced we would have done - but decided we should move to a compromise position, in which the scrotum was shown, but the penis was blurred. The same information would be conveyed, with a smaller risk of offence.

We could have removed the shots altogether - but on balance, I believe that would have been the wrong decision. I am sure the audiences of the Ten O'Clock News and BBC World, which is also showing the piece, know from our track record that we do not ever seek to humiliate or shock.

Moreover, simply because an image is uncomfortable does not mean it should be ignored, particularly when one of the reasons this curable disease remains such a problem is because doctors can't get the publicity or funding to combat it.

Professor Johnny Gyapong who is in charge of the Lymphatic Filariasis treatment programme in Ghana made the following comment on hearing about our decision to transmit the piece including the image of the deformed scrotum: "Lymphatic Filariasis is largely a 'hidden and neglected disease', but with grave socio-economic effects. It is my view that the media has a role to inform, educate and communicate the appropriate messages relating to the disease, because the condition is manageable. Through this, we could advocate to all concerned for more resources to enhance the global elimination programme."

This was an extremely complex editorial decision, balancing the need to reveal the reality of a disease against fears that by doing so we were crossing a number of lines. Giving the matter a great deal of thought before broadcast, I believe the correct decision was reached.

You can watch the report by clicking here.

Credit where it's due

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 11:15 UK time, Tuesday, 14 November 2006

You may have noticed a couple of pieces recently where we have not just credited the reporter.

Darren ConwayOn Friday we mentioned Darren Conway for his exceptional camerawork on the nomadic people of Northern Kenya - and last night we credited camera operator Fred Scott and producer Peter Emerson for their work on a piece with British marines fighting in Afghanistan.

Fred Scott, Alastair Leithead and Peter EmersonThe reason for this is that their work was exceptional - in Fred and Peter's case, risking their lives to bring us the story (watch the piece here), and in Darren's case, capturing some extraordinary images, while working in extremely difficult circumstances (watch that piece here).

We will always credit reporters, for the simple reason that people need to know who is broadcasting - but when people behind the scenes do something exceptional we will mention them too.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 14 November 2006

The Guardian: "BBC management is preparing contingency plans to keep news bulletins and live coverage of the state opening of parliament on air, as technical staff begin a 24-hour strike at 10pm this evening." (link)

The Telegraph: Reports on the Archbishop of York's criticism of the BBC, which was first reported yesterday. (link)

Today's messageboards

Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 16:24 UK time, Monday, 13 November 2006

For a number of years, the Today Programme website has hosted message boards in which any registered user can start a new thread. Starting this Thursday, we're planning to change the way these boards operate, and this has caused some concern amongst regular users of the service.

The Today programme logoAt the moment users can start discussions on any topic within reason across five broad subject areas (Home, International, Parliament, Economy and Business and the Green Room). The problem with this system is that the topics under discussion are often not closely focused on what has appeared on the programme, and indeed on future stories under consideration by the programme team.

Under the new system, the topics will be set by programme editors in two broad categories - Today's Debate and Coming Up. This will mean that much more of the messages posted will be relevant to the programme just broadcast, and future ideas which reporters and producers are working on. Under the old system, genuinely insightful postings or important story ideas were easily lost in old threads, and the proliferation of topics on the site made it all but impossible for programme staff to read them properly.

Now we will get a quick and concentrated reaction from listeners about the stories we have covered, and crucially solicit information and opinion in advance of broadcast. This takes our programme interactivity beyond the stage of 'e-mail us and tell us what you think'. The BBC and other external message boards host an infinite number of topics, and you can post links to those from the Today site, so there is little risk that users won't find a berth for almost any topic they wish to discuss.

We very much hope that our existing board users will give the new system a try; we think they will find that their views and ideas figure more prominently in the programme as a result.

Newswatch

Host Host | 14:03 UK time, Monday, 13 November 2006

This week's Newswatch - the programme which discusses viewers' complaints about BBC News - comes from Istanbul, where news executives from around the world met recently to discuss current events at a major conference. You can watch the programme by clicking here.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:42 UK time, Monday, 13 November 2006

The Independent: A columnist comments on the recent row over newsreaders wearing poppies. (link)

The Independent: Another columnist comments on the imminent launch of the English language version of the Al Jazeera TV channel, with reference to how it could impact upon the BBC. (link)

Daily Mail: An interview with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, in which he says the BBC has "an anti-Christian bias". (link)

African image

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 12:16 UK time, Saturday, 11 November 2006

The key criticism of nearly all journalism about Africa is that we only hear about the continent's problems - usually by parachuting into an area for a quick hit. Certainly reports can be templated and cliched - how many times have you seen a TV package begin with a close-up of a crying baby surrounded by flies and finishing with a reporter standing in front of a group of people with whom s/he has failed to engage?

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoThe worry that we we sometimes fail to treat Africans as real human beings with many of the same dreams and desires as we have in the West prompted the commissioning of two reports from Fergal Keane and cameraman Darren Conway on the people of Turkana in Northern Kenya. They are nomads - but their lifestyle is threatened by almost constant drought. It would have been easy to focus just on that - but we knew there would also be stories of courage and hope - and felt only by living with them for a week would we be able to fully understand their situation.

Fergal was keen - but we also talked about how what we were doing could be deeply patronising - he could end up looking like a tourist. With help from Oxfam the team set off for Turkana - the combination of stunning pictures and subtle scripting helped us to avoid the major traps.

fergal.jpgThe first piece focused on Kevina Esinyan and her children (you can watch it here). They walked in the blistering heat to the water pump, watched as her children did their homework and heard her hopes and fears. The result was a powerful sense of a remarkable and proud woman living in extraordinary circumstances.

The team spent the last few days with the men fishing on the lake which recedes year by year - (you can watch that piece here). It is equally successful in showing how the Turkana are diversifying rather than depending on foreign aid.

End of midterms

Andrew Steele | 11:35 UK time, Saturday, 11 November 2006

So it’s all over bar the shouting – the US midterms have transformed politics in Washington, and President Bush must add a new phrase to his political vocabulary – bipartisan cooperation.

The BBC’s team in Washington, winding down after a week surviving on black coffee and adrenalin, are taking stock of the new landscape. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the new stars of Washington’s political constellation. It remains to be seen just how well soon-to-be House Speaker Pelosi and the presumed Senate Majority Leader Reid will work with President Bush.

But what next? The departure of Donald Rumsfeld puts the spotlight back on the President’s Iraq policy and how it might change. The independent Iraq Study Group has been charged with finding new ideas – it’s expected to report in early December. New ideas are urgently needed.

The long thinkers are already looking to 2008 and which political figures have burnished their presidential ambitions during the midterm campaign. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is still the odds-on favourite to take her party’s nomination, although Barack Obama is a long bet.

The picture is far less clear on the Republican side -- it’s much easier to point to White House hopefuls who have crashed and burned in recent months. So who’s left in the field? Arizona Senator John McCain is still standing, and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has a strong following.

The next two years will be fascinating. Any viewers, listeners or readers who might wonder why the BBC has devoted such energy and time this week to reports from the US, need only consider how wide the implications of this week's events might be - not just the US, but Iraq, the wider Middle East, the UK - and perhaps even the premiership of Tony Blair.

Live issue

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 16:13 UK time, Friday, 10 November 2006

BBC News 24 logoNews 24 has just carried the live statement by the BNP's Nick Griffin and Mark Collett after they were acquitted in court.

The comments were highly charged and Mr Griffin attacked the government, the Crown Prosecution Service and the BBC. They called the BBC "cockroaches".

griffin.jpg
Of course it's always a risk carrying these live events when they are heated and the individuals have a track-record of controversial and outspoken views, and it's an interesting position for the BBC to be reporting in an impartial way while being attacked like that.

Yet I'm sure it's absolutely right that we were there and carried the comments live. Today's case raised the very current issue of freedom of speech and what is - and isn't - acceptable in today's Britain. Carrying - and testing - a complete range of legal views that represent the various constituencies across the UK is crucially important to the BBC's reputation for fairness.

Poppies and presenters

David Jordan David Jordan | 13:14 UK time, Friday, 10 November 2006

Jon Snow of Channel Four News has said on his blog that he has chosen not to wear a poppy on air, though he does wear one in his personal life. His view is that any symbol is a distraction. He's discovered, or perhaps he already knew, that it is a controversial viewpoint.

poppies.jpgAs far as the BBC is concerned, presenters or reporters appearing on television can wear poppies if they want to. There is no rule that tells them they must do so. It is a matter of individual choice. The BBC does give some guidance on when to wear them, so that we can have some sort of uniformity on screen, though there is some flexibility in that too. We suggest starting to wear poppies a couple of weeks before Remembrance Sunday. That's roughly when the Royal British Legion officially starts selling them. This year they started to do so on Saturday 28 October.

Buying and wearing poppies is an entirely voluntary act in society, and we don't believe it should be any different for newsreaders or presenters. There are some places in the UK - Northern Ireland, for example - where wearing a poppy has been a controversial thing to do. It may be difficult for some foreign correspondents. And it may be inappropriate for some activities. So it wouldn't be right for us to issue an all-encompassing directive to all of our reporters and presenters to wear poppies. People have different views about it and find themselves in different situations at home and abroad.

And there is no guarantee that every presenter or reporter who wants to wear one in this period will always be seen doing so. Some TV is made a long time before it is shown and often the participants don't know when the programme will be transmitted. Nor is there a guarantee that presenters won't wear them earlier than suggested . Politicians seem to acquire poppies very early, so on some news and current affairs programmes you may find the presenter doing so too.

I have been asked whether presenters might be pressured by editors to wear poppies before they go on air. This shouldn't happen. But as the controversy sparked by Jon Snow has shown, there is clearly the potential that not wearing one might cause some controversy. In my experience editors and producers usually point this out to presenters and make it clear they might have to answer complaints if they don't wear one. But that's not the same as applying pressure - that's simply a matter of pointing out the consequences of their actions

Go on, make TV history

Peter Barron | 11:46 UK time, Friday, 10 November 2006

It may have an ugly acronym but UGC is the current media darling. It's not hard to see why user generated content is so attractive. With millions of potential newsgatherers wielding mobile phones and cameras, it means they can capture anything newsworthy or entertaining that moves. If, as a media organisation, you can get it to come your way - kerr-ching.

Newsnight logoBut in the related field of current affairs, UGC hasn't roared yet. Al Gore's Current TV has led the way in broadcasting films made by the public, but while 7/7 and the Buncefield fire have been the obvious big UGC hits in news, and whacky "You've been framed" type pictures do the rounds from YouTube, there hasn't yet been a really memorable and arresting bit of current affairs. Indeed, the first wave of TV democratisation - Video Nation - has had much more impact than anything from the new wave.

We're aiming to change that by launching the more smoothly titled Oh My Newsnight (homage to the Korean pioneers in this area. Newsnight already receives loads of high quality UGC in the form of text - check out for example Vikingar's almost nightly essays complete with sources and footnotes - but very little in a form we could put on TV.

So early next year we're offering slots on the programme for short films and pieces of video made by viewers. It doesn't have to be high quality (see Jeremy's effort ) but it does have to say something interesting about the world we live in. Given that large numbers of you tell us on a nightly basis how we should be tackling the war in Iraq, climate change, Madonna etc, it would be disappointing not to see and hear what you would like to say on the programme.

What do you get out of it? A chance to speak to a million viewers. A chance to make TV history. And, I hope, a warm glow.

For details of how to take part click here.

Young broadcaster update

Steve Martin Steve Martin | 11:37 UK time, Friday, 10 November 2006

I promised to let you know when you could hear and comment on the finalists in our young broadcaster competition. Well, the time has come - the shortlist of contenders is here. Over to you.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 11:19 UK time, Friday, 10 November 2006

Guardian: Jeremy Vine to present revamped Panorama (Link)

Daily Mail: Foreign secretary criticises broadcasters for interviewing extremist Muslims (No link)

Daily Telegraph: I won't bow to 'poppy fascists', says Channel 4's Jon Snow (Link)

Daily Telegraph: Head of MI5 says life is not as simple as Spooks (Link)

Independent: Obituary for BBC Radio Norfolk's John Taylor - "widely acknowledged to be the oldest presenter working in local radio". (Link)

Overturning restrictions

Alison Ford | 14:37 UK time, Thursday, 9 November 2006

The story of Dhiren Barot, the al-Qaeda plotter who planned to kill thousands of people in the UK, has been all over the news this week. Sentencing him to life in prison, the judge said that if his plot had succeeded he could have caused carnage on a "colossal and unprecedented scale".

Dhiren BarotOur correspondent Daniel Sandford had been across this trial for some time and obviously recognised its significance. So he was more than a little dismayed when the trial judge decided to impose restrictions on the reporting of the case which would have stopped us making any of the details public until over three years after Barot's arrest. (The judge believed that the publicity the case would receive might prejudice the trial of seven other men who are still in custody.)

We begged to differ, and thankfully, so did our lawyers. Just over a week later the BBC, along with colleagues from the Times and Associated Press, went to the Court of Appeal to try to get the decision overturned. This kind of challenge can be an expensive and risky business but we decided the story was so strong that it was well worth it. We turned out to be right; the judges declared the original ruling unlawful and lifted all reporting restrictions. If they hadn't, one of the major stories of the week would not have been told.

We weren't the only ones who felt this was too important a story for the public not to know about it. As Barot began his life sentence Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism commander told the media: "For well over two years we have been unable to show the British public the reality of the threat they faced from this man. Now they can see for themselves the full horror of his plan".

'Slamming' newspapers?

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 10:41 UK time, Thursday, 9 November 2006

Recently, I spoke at the Society of Editors annual conference in Glasgow where, according to the UK Press Gazette I "slam op-ed writers and reveal newspaper of tomorrow".

Well, sort of. I wasn't actually aware of slamming anyone or, for that matter, revealing anything. I was there to talk about the journalist of tomorrow and the learning we (the industry generally) need to offer.

Understandably, a lot of the talk was about skills; turning monomedial newspaper journalists into bi- and tri- and multi-media journalists. My argument was that this is the wrong focus. Yes, of course journalists need to acquire all the skills necessary for polished, professional production in any and every possible medium - and the BBC College of Journalism will be at the forefront of providing that learning.

But journalism is facing a much bigger crisis; the simple fact that five out of six don't trust what they read in the papers. And if journalism - newspaper journalism especially - doesn't address that, having all the skills in the world won't help.

Publishing skills are getting easier and easier to acquire - you can be faking photos as elegantly as any tabloid picture editor within an hour of buying Photoshop. Having those skills (or the means and money) is no longer the thing that distinguishes journalists from non-journalists. Nor is the ability to tell a good story.

Hundreds of millions of digitally literate 'ordinary people' are writing blogs and making podcasts every day... and telling very good stories in the process.

But the blogger or podcaster doesn't have to answer the question from a paying (or even non-paying) consumer; "do I trust this source to tell me something true and useful?" They may do both - but journalists have to. If there is a future market for journalism, it is for the work of trusted intermediaries dealing in fact.

The same isn't true of opinion... which is where "slamming" the op-ed pages comes in. Gutsy, partial, vitriolic and not-necessarily wholly fact-based argument is vital to any society's openness and free expression.

But I wonder how much longer consumers will be prepared to pay for it when many free blogs are already better written, more timely, more authentic, more argumentative and more thought provoking than most op-ed page columns.

As to revelation - that future of newspapers wasn't mine at all but part of a conversation with the reporter, photographer, blogger, author, thinker and renaissance man, Ben Hammersley at the Frontline Club in Paddington last September. Ben's prediction is that newspaper reporters will soon be using off-the-shelf software and hardware that "an eight year old" could master to choose how to tell their stories - text, film, audio, graphics... whatever. Mostly online. And with no deadlines, the 'newspaper' will be no more than a version of content frozen arbitrarily at the time someone pressed the print button.

He makes the same point; journalism will justify itself by what it is, not by what its practitioners can do. And if what it is can't be trusted, then why should anyone take any notice of it?

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:49 UK time, Thursday, 9 November 2006

The Mirror: "Pete Doherty was yesterday fined £750 for assaulting a BBC reporter." (link)

The Guardian: Columnist Mark Lawson discusses TV coverage of the US mid-term elections. (link)

A new goal

Amanda Farnsworth | 15:59 UK time, Wednesday, 8 November 2006

If you look up my old blog entries, specifically one I wrote about feeling conflicted about the Six O'Clock News being shunted off to BBC Two when big sporting events appeared, you will find it less of a surprise that I'm moving to set up a new sports news programme.

BBC One and Six O'Clock News logoThat means leaving the One and Six and going up a few floors in this building to the Sports department. It's going to be on BBC One and start sometime next year. I shall continue to blog and I will be starting a debate on the web to solicit your ideas as to what you might like to see on the programme once I get my feet under the table. I am leaving one of the best jobs (and more importantly best teams) in journalism and I must admit I got a little teary-eyed when I told the team this morning.

But change and challenge is generally a good thing. A BBC correspondent once said to me, if you see an open door you should push it and see what's on the other side.

Crash course

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 13:11 UK time, Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Our reporter Gabriel Gatehouse is joining the effort to clean up our green act.

The World TonightOur colleagues at Newsnight have got their ethical man, Justin Rowlatt, who has been trying to change his lifestyle for some time now, but as the UN meets in Nairobi (did the delegates offset their flights I wonder?) to review progress on climate change, we decided to put our own Gabriel on a crash course to see how he could become greener in his lifestyle. He was given an assessment by the Earth Day organisation in the US (you can see how green you are at their site) and will be attempting to see how much he can change his lifestyle, how quickly.

One thing we are trying to do with this is to provide an insight into how much lifestyles can be changed in order to reduce how much of the Earth's resources we each consume and how much carbon we produce, but we are also trying to do it in a lively way given our coverage of climate change and environmental issues has often been criticised for being dull and austere.

Not sure if this will work, but let us know. We got one immediate reaction after Monday night's programme - Justin Rowlatt from Newsnight came round to tell us he was there first ….

Murder

Peter Rippon | 10:23 UK time, Wednesday, 8 November 2006

I need your help. For a programme committed to holding officials to account, testing argument and rigorous debate we sometimes have a problem with a more traditional form of news.... Crime. How much of it should we have in our programme?

The PM programme logo
When deciding whether to do a crime story it is easier if there is an issue attached: there's a terrorism angle, it says something about UK drug culture, there is a clear racial motive, the criminal justice system failed etc etc. But when its just a compelling, awful, human story it's much harder to judge.

Heart wrenching interviews with relatives can be deeply moving and powerful radio but what makes them news? We devote significant resources to crime stories so I would appreciate your thoughts.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:14 UK time, Wednesday, 8 November 2006

The Guardian: A columnist writes about the BBC's bid for a licence fee increase. "In terms of the quality of its output, it is hard to recall a time when the BBC has been creatively stronger." (link)

Daily Mail: Reports that Sir Paul McCartney is in negotiations to do an interview with the BBC. (link)

The Telegraph: "Why can't newsreaders just read the news... when they are not trying to become stars, they are always flirting with each other to demonstrate their mucilaginous on-screen chemistry." (link)

Election time

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:49 UK time, Tuesday, 7 November 2006

President Brezhnev is once reported to have said "the trouble with free elections is, you never know who is going to win". And that why they're great fun for journalists - our equivalent of a cup final.

The thing about this job is that there's an election somewhere virtually every week - and there's always drama, no matter where the polling is taking place! Last weekend it was the people of Nicaragua who were voting for a new president - today, it's the people of the United States (you see the two countries do have something in common after all).

Traffic travels down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the United States CapitolAnd when it comes to drama, the US does elections in style. Not content with the hanging chads of 2000, and the close result four years later, now various officials are biting their nails at the prospect of new electronic voting machines malfunctioning.

Compared to the UK, they do things differently in the States. The polls close at different times in different states - we may get our first clues around midnight UK time, but the polls don't close in Alaska until 6 hours later. And imagine BBC presenter David Dimbleby going on air in a British general election with the projected result while the polls are still open - but that's exactly what we'll be able to do tonight. Somewhere in New York, representatives from the American TV networks and the Associated Press will be huddled together in a windowless room, dubbed the Quarantine Room.

Determined to avoid a rerun of recent years, when its exit polls leaked out by early afternoon to the Drudge Report, Slate and other web sites, a media consortium is allowing two people from each of the networks and the AP to pore over the exit polls. BlackBerrys and mobile phones will be confiscated - and the dedicated staffers will not be allowed to communicate with their offices until 1700 EST (2200 GMT).

Tonight we'll get our information from our US sister network ABC. It's a military style operation - and true to form, we've embedded some BBC staff with our American friends. They'll be the key points of liaison for information from field producers and the Quarantine Room, as it becomes available throughout the evening. The consortium, called the National Election Pool, is conducting no surveys for House races. The exit polling will take place for Senate and gubernatorial contests in 32 states with competitive races.

It promises to be a big night - and a late one. And perish the thought: If it's tight, it could be at least Thursday before we know what's really happened. Just as well America's home of the all-night coffee store!

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:01 UK time, Tuesday, 7 November 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC's live coverage of the state opening of Parliament next Wednesday faces disruption from a 24-hour strike by TV news technicians." (link)

The Scotsman: "The BBC plans to buy news and content from local papers across Britain for its planned network of local TV stations, the corporation's director-general said yesterday." (link)

The verdict

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 17:29 UK time, Monday, 6 November 2006

News 24's rolling coverage of the Saddam verdict on Sunday morning attracted big audiences, hitting a peak of well over 6% of all viewers.

BBC News 24 logoIt's not always easy to judge the appetite for big international stories but looking at our audience numbers and the huge number of hits for the BBC News website, this was one of those that people really wanted to see.

We had our world affairs editor, John Simpson, in court to witness events as they happened and Andrew North was in central Baghdad to describe reaction. The deployment underlined the BBC's commitment to the reporting of Iraq despite the obvious dangers of doing so and contrasts with some of our competitors who didn't feel this was a significant enough event to send a correspondent to Iraq.

BBC News 24 has benefited from the BBC's commitment to having a correspondent - Andrew North - resident in Baghdad throughout the year: a decision that has helped us to give day-to-day coverage of one of the world's biggest stories as it unfolds. It represents a very significant proportion of the BBC's weekly world news coverage budget but we feel it is a story we have to cover well and in depth. The challenge in the next few weeks will be reporting on the fallout from Sunday's verdict, the various viewpoints on the judicial process and the death penalty, and how we cover the execution itself - if it happens.

Stern report - your views

Amanda Farnsworth | 15:53 UK time, Monday, 6 November 2006

Thanks to those of you who commented on my blog about our climate change coverage - some interesting views. I thought you might all be interested in the results of a poll by the Daily Politics programme on our willingness to pay green taxes.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoIt's a somewhat more mixed result - and a poll is only a poll - than I had thought. People do seem willing to pay IF they can be sure the government is going to tax in the right way and at the moment they don't seem to trust this will be the case. Anyway here are the results.

    The government has published a report showing that climate change could have a very significant impact on the world economy unless action is taken now to reduce carbon emissions. Please say whether you agree or disagree with each of the following statements:
    1) The government should impose higher taxes on activities that cause pollution, even if that means the end of cheap flights and driving a car becomes more expensive. Agree 53% Disagree 45%.
    2) 'Green taxes' will unfairly hit poorer people, while rich people will be able to continue to drive and fly just as much as before. Agree 69% Disagree 28%.
    3) 'Green taxes' are not really about helping the environment; they are just designed to provide more revenue for the Government. Agree 62% Disagree 33%.
    4) There's not much point in doing my bit for the environment because Britain accounts for only 2% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Agree 33% Disagree 64%.

You can find more details here (it's a PDF file).

Newswatch

Host Host | 11:47 UK time, Monday, 6 November 2006

On this week's Newswatch, the programme which discusses viewers' complaints about BBC News, Newsnight editor Peter Barron debates David Loyn's interview with the Taleban, and there's a report about the use of old pieces of film on contemporary reports. You can watch it here.

Blogs on the BBC

Host Host | 10:34 UK time, Monday, 6 November 2006

An semi-regular feature where we round-up blog comments on matters relating to the BBC. Today - Newsnight's recent interview with Madonna (discussed on this blog here and here).

Stressqueen: "It felt positively surreal and utterly ridiculous to see Jeremy Paxman discussing Madonna's adoption of a Malawian orphan on Newsnight." (link)

Adventures in engineering: "Newsnight’s decision to have Kirsty Wark interview Madonna, for example, is coming perilously close to being entertainment." (link)

The set of the BBC's Madonna interviewBill's comment page: "What is the stage set all about? Is this whole thing not an enormous fire risk?" (link)

Potunkey: "I was under the clearly mistaken impression that responsible journalism didn’t involve getting the subjects of interviews to dance." (link)

Adrian Monck online: "The truth is there are good ways to put on audience, and then there's doing a Madonna interview." (link)

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:18 UK time, Monday, 6 November 2006

The Independent: Extended interview with BBC News presenter Ben Brown. (link)

The Times: Reports that the historic former BBC studios at London's Alexandra Palace could soon be demolished. (link)

New Statesman: Peter Wilby comments on the recent row over BBC impartiality - "The proposal that the BBC should echo some notional consensus of demotic opinion is a fairly recent one". (link)

Kicking our audience

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:40 UK time, Friday, 3 November 2006

"It's time to bring back the cane!"

Radio One logoNo, not the view of a crusty colonel from the home counties in response to this week's news that British teenagers are just about the most badly behaved in Europe. That's Chloe's view - a teenager herself - who argued on our website that borstals and tough prisons work as well as corporal punishment. Teenagers need to show more respect, she argues, and if she is out of order with her parents she knows she can expect a slap.

Plenty of people had their say on this: Bear in mind our audience are both teenagers and twentysomethings - so we're not talking about a big generation gap here. Our reporters, our text response and our online talking point at Newsbeat were deluged with views. Many teenagers complained there was little for them to do, so it's hardly surprising they get into scrapes. Our twentysomethings tended to be more critical - blaming bad parenting, relaxed licensing laws and social factors such as being born into poverty or the breakdown of traditional family units.

Our teenagers were much more split in their views. There were many who argued that adults, "should leave them alone/get off their backs". Dave told us that he's a binge drinker and loves it. All had stories of Saturday night fights after the binging went bad. Others were critical of us media types, researchers and others who lump teenagers into one group of evil, snarling, aggressive, hard drinking and drug taking hoodies. Plenty of people to point out that there's a lot of good behaviour around - voluntary work - caring for sick and elderly relatives and much more teenage 'respect' than the government gives them credit for.

Lots of intelligent solutions too, from better diet to parenting classes to investment in youth and sports clubs.

Did we feel uncomfortable covering this story given our audience was coming in for a pasting? Someone asked me if this was the sort of story the rest of BBC News could happily cover but that we might want to shy away from, for fear of upsetting our audience or patronising them. The level of debate and engagement from our teenage listeners proves that wrong, I think - and say what you like about today's teenagers, but they're willing to join the debate about all aspects of modern life in Britain.

Last word to Chloe: "We're not all bad but those of us who understand manners and courtesy get blacked out by those who don't."

Sniffing out edits - update

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:33 UK time, Friday, 3 November 2006

Apologies to those who haven’t been following this, but here’s a brief update on my recent posting about the News Sniffer website.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteAs far as we can see, what the site is now showing looks like a more accurate picture of which comments are removed from our Have Your Say pages - when we posted on Tuesday these looked wrong. To make things more complicated we NOW think we’ve got a bug on our side which causes some comments not to show up - we're looking into this.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t removing some that break house rules - we are. To try and demystify how the Have Your Say pages work, I asked Matt Eltringham, a senior journalist in our interactivity team, to explain. There’s more on the pages themselves (under house rules) but here’s a summary:

    “The HYS debates are operated by a team of moderators who work across seven days a week from 0700 to 2300. Every day we receive about 10,000 emailed contributions to the debates we have started - debates often suggested by our readers.
    “These debates can be either fully or reactively moderated. If a debate is fully moderated, it means that all the comments are read first by our team of moderators before they are published on the site.
    "A reactively moderated debate means that some users who have registered with us through a simple online process beforehand are able to post their comments directly on the site without first being read by a moderator. Therefore, in reactive debates, all members’ comments are published on the site, then comments that break the house rules are removed by the moderation team. Most of the comments that break the house rules are highlighted to us by users who click the 'alert a moderator' button.
    "Regardless of whether a debate is pre or post moderated the presumption is that all comments should be published unless they break the house rules. These ban defamatory, abusive or offensive comments. We don’t edit comments or correct spelling or grammar.
    "But the sheer volume of contributions means that in practice we simply aren't able to publish all of the comments that don't break any of the House Rules.”

One more thing - you may also be interested in this interesting analysis of the News Sniffer site.

Material facts

Peter Barron | 11:27 UK time, Friday, 3 November 2006

I hesitate to say more because I know many Newsnight fans truly hated the Madonna experience (which you can still watch here), but to put the subject to bed here are a few quick facts and figures.

Newsnight logoIt was certainly popular. Our audience share doubled, nearly three million watching three or more minutes of the interview. Grubby talk I know.

It was controversial, though not as controversial as the previous week's Taleban film. That attracted 300 comments to this blog. So far Madonna stands at half that. Most have been debating the rights and wrongs of the adoption, but a few think the episode signalled the end of a once-great TV institution.

Was it newsworthy? The interview spawned hundreds of articles worldwide, so if it wasn't that's an awful lot of us with rubbish news judgement.

Madonna, on that set..Regrets? Just a few, number one being that set. Yes, we should have tried harder to restrain the flamboyance of Madonna's stylist, which surely didn't do her any favours either. As one viewer put it: "Just promise me no more petals". I promise.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:48 UK time, Friday, 3 November 2006

Daily Mail: Richard Littlejohn on news coverage of the Stern Report: "The BBC is only too willing to give free rein to the wildest fantasies of the eco-nutters, especially if it can pin the blame on George W. Bush and the evil multee-nash-nuls." (link)

The Sun: "Telly anorak Keith Hamer yesterday unveiled his amazing collection of BBC test cards." (link)

Global agenda

David Kermode | 16:47 UK time, Thursday, 2 November 2006

I'm in Istanbul (at the News Xchange annual conference) getting to grips with the global agenda and, right now, the Turkish keyboard configuration. Both are challenging.

Breakfast logoThere's a small group of us here from the BBC. Well, okay, not that small. But it's at these kind of events you realise just how enormous the BBC's news operation is and just how varied is its agenda.

Our domestic television output is represented, radio too, then of course there's BBC World and World Service radio. There's also a big safety focus to this event, with the people who specialise in keeping journalists and crews out of harm sharing their experience and knowledge. The morning session ended with a grim roll call of those who have died in the name of journalism within the last year - almost two hundred.

The day had two really big themes I suppose - war and terrorism.

The keynote speaker was Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, a man who speaks his mind. He told us how much he wished we'd be more consistent in our approach to war and disaster. He said that coverage of global catastrophes was like "a lottery", with some getting a huge amount of coverage and others getting next to nothing.

Mr Egeland talked about Darfur, which had a lot of attention from the world's media, then asked us why we had largely ignored the situation in Congo or Northern Uganda? He also talked about the media's obsession with celebrity, contrasting the time the American media devoted to Darfur versus the amount of airtime given over to Martha Stewart's brief spell behind bars. He clearly wasn't in Britain for coverage of the McCartney-Mills separation, but I suspect he'd have been less than impressed.

After a short break, while we digested what Mr Egeland had had to say, the rest of the morning was given over to the debate on embedding with the military. This subject is familiar territory now, but here was a chance for some senior military figures (retired, or about to retire) to give us their perspective on fighting with journalists in tow. There was debate about the extent to which objective journalism is compromised by being embedded with the military. The consensus, from where I was sitting, appeared to be that while embedding was useful in terms of getting access you would not otherwise get, there was still the need to have unilateral journalists going their own way.

That, of course, was what Terry Lloyd was bravely doing when he was killed. He was very much in delegates' minds today.

When is a terrorist a terrorist? It's frequently raised as an issue at the BBC and that question dominated the afternoon's proceedings as we debated the way we cover terrorism.

The person with the most experience of such matters at the BBC is probably the current affairs journalist Peter Taylor, who has frequently reported on al-Qaeda. He shared his thoughts on the challenge of covering "terrorism" and the obvious difficulty in getting access to those who seek to promote it. Yosri Fouda of Al Jazeera has had such access. He defended his decision to interview those involved in terrorism, reminding us of the importance of context.

At the BBC, we know that hearing all sides of the story is really important to our viewers, but we also know from some of the reaction to the recent Taliban film that it's a divisive issue. One person's "context" is another's "enemy propaganda". This debate rages on, as I write, and I suspect will be back on next year`s agenda.

Perception and reality

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 11:39 UK time, Thursday, 2 November 2006

What a difference we often come across with many stories we cover - especially in areas such as crime, the justice system and the NHS. The World Tonight asked why it is that given all the extra investment the government has put into the health service - with new GP surgeries and new hospitals being built, and new technology being introduced into those surgeries and hospitals - why the latest opinion polls suggest a majority of the population think the NHS has got worse over the last ten years.

The World TonightAre people just badly informed or is there a more nuanced explanation? The pollster, Joe Twyman from YouGov, discussed his findings with Robin Lustig on Wednesday's programme (listen here) and it seems a large part of the explanation is that people don't trust politicians, so the more our politicians say the NHS has improved, the less people believe it.

There are also the protests of staff and unions which get publicity, and people tend to believe the professionals more than the politicians. There's also a lot of negative coverage of health issues in the press which add to this. Finally there are the anecdotes that get passed from person to person and end up inevitably getting distorted. Only today a colleague told me a particular hospital had killed his father - if I passed this on to you, maybe you'd tell a friend and another anecdote could take off.

Set against this on the other hand, Anna Walker of the independent watchdog the Healthcare Commission, told Robin Lustig their surveys of patients shows most think they get good care from the NHS.

This is a potent mix with pretty disturbing implications - it appears people are more prepared to believe things they hear about a crucial public service than to believe politicians or their own direct experience. We also need to look to the role of media in this - is our coverage of the health service giving an accurate picture overall? After all, news is what is unusual and so the 'bad stories' about the NHS such as job cuts, hospital closures, or outbreaks of MRSA tend to get more coverage than the building of a new hospital on time and to budget.

I think as journalists we tend to assume our listeners, viewers and readers make allowances for the fact that what makes news is not the norm but the exception. Are we right to do so?

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:49 UK time, Thursday, 2 November 2006

The Guardian: "The recent BBC debate over religious adornments gives a new context to the annual display of Remembrance poppies by BBC frontpeople." (link)

Daily Mail: Reports that presenter Huw Edwards was briefly without a poppy during a recent broadcast. (link)

Interviewing Madonna

Peter Barron | 09:36 UK time, Wednesday, 1 November 2006

What's harder to get - an interview with the Taleban or one with Madonna?

Newsnight logoNot much in it I'd say, but assuming all goes to plan Newsnight will have managed both within a week. Tonight Madonna will give her first UK interview since adopting a baby in Malawi, when she talks to Kirsty Wark. (you can watch a clip here)

The question on most people's lips is - how on earth did you manage that? The answer, really, is persistence and luck. Newsnight has been making a series for BBC Four in which Kirsty talks to prominent women in the media - we already have interviews with Tracey Emin, Alison Jackson and Janine di Giovanni lined up. And of course we bid for that ultimate media woman Madonna.

And of course she turned us down.

Madonna, being interviewed by Kirsty WarkBut when the story of the adoption of David Banda broke, producer Natalie Schaverien had the presence of mind to fire off a renewed bid. So, presumably, when the queen of pop decided the time was right to give her side of the story we had sufficiently prepared the ground so she instantly thought: Oprah Winfrey and Newsnight's Kirsty Wark. Obvious really.

So, was Madonna right or wrong to adopt a Malawian baby? And is Newsnight right to interview her?

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:07 UK time, Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Daily Mail: The BBC are facing accusations of anti-Christian bias after a BBC drama portrayed evangelical extremists murdering Muslims. (link)

The Guardian: Reports that Madonna has given the BBC her first UK interview since adopting a Malawian child. (link)

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