BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for May 2009

Who's watching you? (2)

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 17:24 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009

When I started with Richard Bilton on our new BBC Two series about surveillance (see previous post), I knew the often-quoted statistic that the UK has 4.2 million CCTV cameras (actually, this is a very rough guesstimate made in 2002), and I knew that we have one of the largest DNA databases in the world.

What I didn't know was how relaxed the British public has been about the collection of data and how pervasive surveillance has become.

The office of the Information Commissioner runs an opinion poll every year asking people to rank various social concerns such as crime, health, unemployment and the environment.

annual tracking reportLast year, for the first time ever, the report [361Kb PDF] shows the protection of personal information ranked equal alongside concerns about crime. Three years previously [193Kb PDF], it ranked third.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, told us that he thinks that people have now "woken up to the implications" of increasing surveillance.

So maybe things are changing. But we already have a huge network of surveillance. The big change has been the growth of enormous databases which not only record masses of information but also allow it to be searched, linked and accessed by other systems. Increasingly, modern surveillance is general and not targeted.

Take the network of number plate recognition cameras spreading across the country: a system that reads everyone's journey and holds it for two years. Of course, this is aimed at criminals and terrorists, and it has an important function - but to get them, it holds records on all of us.

And it's not just the government that's watching us; business is too. Look at all those loyalty cards that we willingly use, which record everything we buy. And look at some of Google's latest features: Latitude - where, if you opt in, others can track your location based on your mobile phone - and Street View, which allows you to look in detail around cities, but which also filmed lots of people in places where they would rather not have been seen.

surveillance mapA surprising number of CCTV cameras are now provided online, openly and publicly. For the first time, we've started to put all those cameras on a clickable map of the UK. We want to build the map to show just how much is already available. So, if you spot a CCTV camera that has a public feed, please go to and add it to the map.

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. The official figures suggest that there are around 30,000 CCTV cameras operated by public authorities. Beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands - and almost certainly millions - of private CCTV cameras.

It's worth looking around to see all the unusual places where cameras have now been installed. We're also asking for your pictures of surveillance in the UK - where's the most unlikely camera?

Privacy seems to matter little until it's your privacy that's being invaded. Most of the time, surveillance is hidden and we're unaware and unconcerned about just how much there is.

Who's Watching You? delves into that secretive world to see just how much surveillance there is and what it means for all of us - and your contributions are appreciated.

Mike Rudin is series producer of Who's Watching You? and The Conspiracy Files. Who's Watching You? starts on Monday 25th May at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.

Explaining MPs' expenses

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Simon Goretzki Simon Goretzki | 15:57 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

MPs' expenses - it's a huge story that obviously gets the audiences of most news programmes angry and animated.

But what if your audience can't vote, doesn't pay taxes and has probably never heard of the key players? For Newsround's audience of under-12s, the story is not an obvious "must do". It's complicated, confusing and packed with details of things many children just aren't aware of - things like mortgages, constituencies, and of course, expenses themselves.

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Plus we know that, aside from the prime minister and perhaps David Cameron, MPs don't feature highly on their radar. Why cover it at all, then?

Well, despite the above, kids get as outraged as adults at anything that might be seen as cheating, and have a very strong sense of right and wrong - so we knew that if Newsround could explain it clearly, we could get them on board.

Once we'd decided to go with the story, it was really just a case of Newsround doing what we like to think we do best - boiling down a story to its essential ingredients, poring over every line of script, and asking ourselves "Will this be easy to follow for a ten year old?"

Never heard of expenses? Well, they're "extra cash for things that help you do your job" -not perhaps what you'd hear Nick Robinson say on the Ten O'Clock News, but vital, we think, for a child who may have no idea what the fuss is all about.

Saying that, the BBC's political editor did play his part, grabbed by our reporter Sonali on College Green for a soundbite that made it into a report that managed to get in all the crucial elements in just over 90 seconds.

Our web story was, we hope, also a model of clarity, with links to an online explainer on the workings of Parliament and politics. If the expenses saga helps get Newsround viewers interested in those subjects, that can only be a good thing. If it happens to also introduce them to the idea already held by many adults that not all politicians are whiter than white - well, they were bound to find out one day, weren't they?

Simon Goretzki is the acting editor of Newsround

Iran to release Roxana Saberi

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 15:06 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

In recent weeks I've written about the plight of our former colleague Roxana Saberi. Last month, Roxana - an American born Iranian freelance journalist - was sentenced to an eight-year prison term, convicted of espionage. This morning, as you may have read, the appeals court in Tehran freed Roxana, reducing her sentence to a two-year suspended term.

Roxana, her family and friends have been through much in recent weeks. They protested her innocence. The result of her appeal is a huge relief for them - and for us. Roxana's case highlights the perils journalists face in many parts of the world. I'm delighted she's been set free and will be reunited with her family.

Fixing the Have Your Say fault (2)

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Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 16:37 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009

Since the problems with Have Your Say first arose last week, we have been doing everything we can to identify the causes and bring the service back online. Sadly, despite these efforts we are not yet in a position to say with certainty what caused the downtime. As such, we have now decided that the priority is to bring Have Your Say back online as quickly as we can, even if this means offering a slightly reduced service.

So that is what we are doing. We are publishing a new debate and you should be able to contribute to it via the usual Have Your Say index. However, though you will be able to log in as normal, we can't yet provide you with access to old debates or old comments. We are, however, continuing to investigate the issues that are preventing us from making this archive content available.

As we are effectively running a backup service, we're going to build up a full list of new debates gradually. It's possible that there will be some downtime in the future, but we are doing our best to make sure that this doesn't happen; we will provide updates on this blog if it does.

Matthew Eltringham is the assistant editor of Interactivity

New mobile site for News

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:10 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009

We've just launched a new version of the BBC News website for mobile devices.

Screengrab BBC News website mobileIt is similar in look and feel to the one it replaces, but shows more headlines at the top level, makes it easier to get to our Sport and Weather mobile sites, has faster publishing speeds, and provides related story links at the end of stories - so for example analysis or on-the-ground reports from our correspondents related to a key story of the day, or a Q&A or background article.

The other change is one you can't see but which makes a very big difference to the editorial teams - the new mobile site can be updated, changed and added to easily now from within the main website publishing system, using the same technical tools. This makes it easier to respond quickly to big stories, for example, by adding a new section to the mobile site while a story is in the headlines.

Over the past year usage of the BBC mobile site has virtually doubled and now reaches about four million UK users - a lot of this growth is driven by interest in News and Sport. So if you are one of those mobile news devotees tell us what you think of the changes, and if not - maybe now's a good time to have a look.

PS My colleague Gavin Gibbons gives more details at Journalism Labs.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Webby Awards: Thank you

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:31 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A big thank you to everyone who voted for the BBC News website in the Webby Awards. We have won the People's Voice award in the News category, and that is entirely down to your appreciation and support. Impressively, we have also managed to win the Webby for best News website.

BBC News website imageBoth wins are a great achievement which everyone here working on the site, and all those contributing to it - journalists, developers, designers and technical support teams - are justifiably proud of.

We've made a number of changes behind the scenes in the way we work in BBC News over the past year or so, bringing the online journalists into the heart of the BBC Newsroom, and making the website a more central part of BBC News.

The effect of those changes, I believe, already means we are getting a greater range of the best of the BBC's journalism onto the website.

We're working on some further changes to the site itself over the coming months, about which more later. For now, though, thank you again.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Fixing the Have Your Say fault

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Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009

The BBC's Have Your Say messageboards are unfortunately not quite living up to their name at the moment, for which I'd like to apologise.

A technical fault has meant that the boards have been down since Wednesday evening and despite the best efforts of our software engineers it's likely that the problem isn't going to be fixed for a few more days.

It's doubly unfortunate that we've been hit with the problem in the middle of the outbreak of swine flu - between Monday and Wednesday this week Have Your Say had around 500,000 hits and provided our audience with a valuable insight into the experiences of people around the world and what they were thinking about the story.

We're working hard to fix the fault, as we recognise that for many Have Your Say is an extremely important platform that allows them to voice their views and opinions on the most important issues of the day. And for the BBC it is a highly valued way to listen to what matters to our audience and to find out what they are thinking about key stories, which we then feed into our journalism.

As a result, while we continue to investigate the issues, we will still offer an opportunity for you to Have Your Say on one or two of the big stories of the day. You'll be able to email in your views and experiences on those subjects and the HYS moderators will publish a selection of them. We'll be able to publish far fewer comments that we usually do and it will take longer for us to do that. But we hope that it will provide you with a least a flavour of what everyone is thinking and we will publish as many comments as we possibly can. So please bear with us and please continue to contribute your views.

We'll provide an update on the issue early next week.

UPDATE, 10:40, Wednesday, 6 May: I want to give you an update on the current problems with Have Your Say. We have been using the existing software since October 2005 and in that time it has hosted more than 6,000 debates - which has meant the publication, without fear or favour, of about six million comments across a wide range of topics and political perspectives.

But like all systems it's not infallible. The engineers are still working on the problems - it is proving very tough to isolate the cause of the outage, but we expect to have much clearer info about the situation soon, and I will obviously update you on that as soon as I can.

I'd also like to thank you for the comments about the functionality Have Your Say offers and the moderation processes we use - they have been extremely interesting to read and reflect much of what HYS users have already told us directly about the system.

Matthew Eltringham is the assistant editor of Interactivity

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