BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for June 2009

Mexico in depth

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 10:37 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Mexico could be on the verge of being a failed state. That's the view of some observers, including a former US drugs tsar General Barry McCaffrey - who cite the increasingly violent battle between powerful drug cartels and the government which has deployed the army to fight them.

The World TonightLast year alone, 6,000 people were killed in violence linked to the drugs gangs and the killing shows no sign of abating.

The country is beginning to resemble Colombia in the recent past, not a comparison the Mexican government would like but one many analysts and journalists are starting to make.

This week, The World Tonight's Robin Lustig is in Mexico to look in depth at the threat facing the country. You can follow his trip on Robin's World Tonight blog and hear his reports on Thursday and Friday on the programme.

Mexico is one the world's biggest countries with a population of 110 million and the 13th largest economy. It's also strategically located on the southern border of the United States. So what happens there is significant for the rest of the world.

Jungapeo, Mexico

Yet apart from occasional reports when there is a particularly large number of deaths in the "war on drugs" and when the country was the first to be badly hit by swine flu, the country gets relatively little coverage in the British media.

Listeners to The World Tonight and readers of my entries on this blog will know that one of the things we try to do on the programme is to cover significant global issues that are often not given much daily news coverage elsewhere.

It's for this reason we have followed the worsening situation in Somalia relatively closely as well as the unresolved conflicts in the western Balkans.

In Mexico, we'll be looking in depth at the underlying economic crisis which makes it more difficult to deal with the drugs cartels.

The violence was already deterring business; but the recession in the US has caused a big drop in the money sent home to support their families by Mexicans north of the border; and the swine flu outbreak which may have killed up to 60 people has dealt a heavy blow to the country's large tourist industry.

We'll also ask whether the militarisation of the "war on drugs", the use of the army to deal with a law and order problem in a country with an authoritarian past, is an effective policy or risks making the violence worse.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.

Michael Jackson coverage

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 18:30 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

It was late on Thursday evening London time that we first started getting reports from Los Angeles that Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital. First they were rumours, then more credible reports and finally we received confirmation that he had died.

Fans of Michael Jackson hold a candlelight vigil for the singerBy any lights, Michael Jackson was a huge figure internationally, and BBC News went into gear to report a big breaking news story.

We've had a number of complaints about our coverage, the main charge being that we simply did too much: that his death didn't justify the prominence and scale of our reporting through Friday and into the weekend.

The story was certainly very prominent, with extensive reporting on our domestic and global news channels and it was the lead story on our television and radio bulletins and on the web. But this wasn't to the exclusion of other important stories domestically and internationally. Friday was also the third day of our special coverage on television and our website from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It is clear that Michael Jackson meant different things to different generations, both among our audiences and among our own staff. There are some who had followed him as a boy star, but there's also a large number of younger people who never saw him perform at his height but are only too aware of the controversy about his personal life and his increasingly eccentric appearance and behaviour. There was also the expectation around his comeback concerts in London. Looking at media output around the world, it was clear that his death was provoking international shock and big audience consumption.

Some stories divide audiences, and clearly there are those who aren't interested in Michael Jackson. But we have to try to serve a whole range of readers, listeners and viewers - and undoubtedly a great many of you were extremely interested.

The audiences to our main television bulletins were a little higher than average for a Friday evening and the statistics for our online content broke records: more than 8.2m global unique users, the second highest since Obama's election. The BBC News mobile site had its biggest-ever figures on Friday.

This was also a story which for which many users of the site wanted to access our video, particularly the live stream of the BBC News channel. Within the first hour, there were just under a million hits globally on the live streams of the News Channel and BBC World TV. Overall, a quarter of site users on Friday accessed audio or video (26%, compared to the daily average of 15%). There were over two million users of AV on the site on Friday, higher than the site's previous record (for Obama's election in November 2008).

We will continue to report new developments, and we'll do so in a proportionate manner where we think they are of relevance and interest to our audiences: we're anticipating covering further information about the circumstances of his death; his business and estate - and his funeral.

Throughout our coverage, we have been careful to sift fact from rumour and to assess Jackson's career as a musician and his impact as a creative singer and dancer, while not ignoring the more disturbing side to his life. This was a big news story - about the death of a big cultural icon - all around the world.

Mary Hockaday is head of BBC newsroom.

Responding to big stories at Radio 4

Host Host | 09:20 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

At the Radio 4 Blog, controller Mark Damazer writes about recent programmes responding to current events, namely Iran (The Report and Uncovering Iran) and MPs' expenses (Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem).

You can read more and comment at the Radio 4 Blog.

Ludicrous allegations

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Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 14:28 UK time, Friday, 26 June 2009

Some in Iran have been keen to blame foreign media for fuelling the recent protests. This has led to ludicrous allegations about the BBC which have surfaced in the Iranian media.

One Iranian website reported that the BBC had paid hitmen to kill Neda Agha Soltan, the 27-year-old woman who died from a gunshot in an anti-government protest. A newspaper added the flourish that our Tehran correspondent, Jon Leyne, had personally hired the killer.

While I don't think that anyone takes this allegation seriously, the charge is nonetheless being reported in the Middle East. We state categorically that this extraordinary accusation is of course utterly without foundation.

Since then, another newspaper has reported that our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen has been calling on Iranian people to "go on strike". This is not true either.

Fran Unsworth is the head of Newsgathering.

The first set of ears

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Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 17:02 UK time, Thursday, 25 June 2009

This week Shaun Ley interviewed the prime minister on The World at One about the details of a government announcement on parliamentary standards slated for later that afternoon.

World at One logoIn doing so, he may have incurred the annoyance of the new Speaker John Bercow, who has made a point of stressing how important he feels it is that ministers make their announcements to Parliament first, rather than touring the TV and radio studios beforehand.

Indeed, it was a notable feature of the Speaker hustings in Parliament that several of the candidates took the opportunity to criticise the practice of making announcements on the Today Programme.

Clearly, they are right on that last point - in the sense that all important news should of course be broken on The World at One. And our regular Wednesday panel picking over Bercow's comments after Prime Ministers' Questions took the same view.

Nevertheless, I wondered how widely MPs' strong feelings on this are shared beyond Parliament. Given the emphasis it received in the Speaker debates, you might think this was one of the most pressing issues undermining the standing of Parliament.

I rather suspect that following the extensive coverage of MPs' expenses in the Telegraph and elsewhere, the public probably takes a different view.

As one of the Speaker candidates put it, too many ministerial statements are made to an audience of "one man and his dog, and maybe a Lobby correspondent". And you might argue that given the decreasing coverage of proceedings in Parliament in the media, politicians have a responsibility to take the story to where the audience is, at a time when more of them are listening.

So are you outraged by getting the details first from us, or do you too feel strongly that the first set of ears to hear the news should be those of the Speaker himself?

Jamie Angus is editor of The World At One.

The Conspiracy Files: 7/7

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 08:53 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The bombings on 7 July 2005, which killed 56 people and injured 784, England's worst terrorist atrocity, are the subject of one of the most difficult programmes in the Conspiracy Files series. Difficult because it is still an understandably sensitive subject for survivors and relatives of victims.

Bus in Tavistock Square destroyed by bomb, 7 July 2005But I also think it is important to investigate the conspiracy theories that continue to develop around 7 July attacks, because they play on the fears of the Muslim community and spread a highly divisive and damaging message. The programme carefully and analytically works through the allegations and the evidence to separate fact from fiction.

There have been three official reports into the bombings. However, a host of internet films continue to scrutinise every word and every picture for signs of a hidden truth.

The programme, to be shown on BBC Two at 9pm on Tuesday 30 June shows that on one occasion one sceptic was right and spotted a significant error in the Home Office narrative. The government had to apologise for suggesting in a report, nearly a year after the attacks, that the four bombers had boarded a train which had actually been cancelled.

However, crucially the government insists the bombers were still able to get to London on time, because they caught an earlier train, which was delayed leaving Luton.

Internet videos question the official account, suggesting the British government has deceived people into thinking four suicide bombers carried out the attacks. Some go even further and allege the British government was involved.

The latest Conspiracy Files programme films one notorious conspiracy video being played at the Birmingham Central Mosque and sees first hand how conspiracy theories have found favour among some Muslims.

One opinion poll by Gfk NOP for Channel 4, two years after 7 July attacks, found that around a quarter of British Muslims questioned thought the government or MI5 were involved in the bombings.

Rachel North, who survived the bomb on the Piccadilly line, tells the programme that the conspiracy theories need to be countered for that very reason:

"If people in mosques think that the Government is so antagonistic towards them that they're actually willing to frame them for a monstrous crime they didn't commit what does that do to levels of trust? That is a problem for the government and for everybody in this country."

Brian Paddick, who was Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the time of 7 July 2005, argues it is important to counteract the conspiracy theories:

"Programmes like this may be very controversial but hopefully there will be people in the police service and in the security service and in government who will realize how important conspiracy theories are. And how important it is to try and prevent further atrocities that every attempt is made to try and counteract them."

Mike Rudin is series producer of The Conspiracy Files. The Conspiracy Files: 7/7
is on Tuesday 30 June at 9pm on BBC Two

PM's Speakers Week

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Joanna Carr Joanna Carr | 17:18 UK time, Monday, 22 June 2009

Order! Order!

Today marks the climax of PM's Speaker Week. Each day last week, we heard manifestos for restoring trust between governed and governors and then on Friday, our four alternative Speaker candidates debated live with each other.

The PM programme logoPM listeners, and those who comment on the blog, are never shy in letting us know what they think, so here goes an attempt to answer some of the most frequently-asked questions.

(1) Why do an alternative Speaker competition at all? Why not just hear from the actual candidates for the actual post?

"Yes, and" (as the managers say). We did cover the Hansard Society hustings quite extensively on Monday's PM, hearing from each of the candidates. This has been the only public forum so far - there'll more coverage of today's hustings in the House tonight.

But given that MPs defenestrated Michael Martin as part of their response to the crisis of trust arising from the expenses scandal, we thought that there was more than enough room to hear from people in public life with ideas about how to change things.

(2) Why did you choose the candidates you did?

My original brief to our excellent producer, Manveen, was simply to find people who make you want to turn the radio up when they start speaking. I'm sure with that in mind, almost everyone will disagree with our selection for at least one of our four Speakers.

We approached all kinds of figures across a range of areas: in particular, we tried to persuade some prominent business types to take part, without success.

In the end, I was very pleased with our line up: Tim Collins, AL Kennedy, Greg Dyke and Lord Carey.

Surely the ideas of an inspirational army colonel, a prize-winning novelist, a former DG of the BBC and a former Archbishop of Canterbury are of interest to anyone thinking about trust in the institutions of the nation?

(3) What came out of it?

I think it was inevitable that we had a quart-into-pint-pot difficulty, and I wish that we'd had even more time to continue the debate on Friday's show.

But over the week, we devoted 45 minutes to a debate which dealt with Lords reform, the kind of people who become MPs, what happens to them when they make it to Parliament, how to keep MPs in touch with the concerns of their constituents, parliamentary reform and whether it's the answer to the expenses question - and much else besides.

(4) Why did we need a phone vote?

We were very keen to gauge to what degree our candidates were finding favour with the audience, and we thought an independently-verified phone vote was the most robust and straightforward way to do this.

Several correspondents to the PM blog asked whether we (the BBC) were making any money from the competition: the short answer is "no". The competition (now closed) was conducted in accordance with the BBC's guidance on competitions.

In short: undoubtedly not a perfect exercise, but hopefully an enjoyable and thought-provoking one. How it compares to the debate in SW1, we'll have to see...

Joanna Carr is editor, PM, iPM and Broadcasting House.

Radio 1 in Afghanistan

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Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 12:15 UK time, Monday, 22 June 2009

The thing that annoys troops in Afghanistan, said the British army NCO between mouthfuls of lamb and roast potatoes, was the way the media reported deaths. "Just a line on breaking news," he said.

He was answering a question which has been on my mind a lot lately. How can we better tell the story of what's happening, day in and day out, in Afghanistan?

We've recently spent 10 days embedded with the UK military, first at Camp Bastion and then at Lashkar Gah. We were on patrol with UK forces and with the newly-arrived American troops in the shape of the formidable US Marines.

Maj Sean Birchall and Sima Kotecha

Our team was made up of reporter Sima Kotecha and producer/cameraman Pete Emmerson. Their dispatches and video-journalism are on the website in our Afghanistan diary. We've also, of course, been going through feedback.

Moira from Arbroath was one of those who got in touch:

"I just want to say thank you to people like Ross Kemp and Radio 1, if it wasn't for their coverage on Afghanistan, then I like a lot of other people would still be quite ignorant to what all our armed forces have to endure on a daily basis."

Our team was left in no doubt of the relationship that many young servicemen and women have with the station. "When is Chris Moyles coming out?" was a question many asked us, and many also wanted Simon Cowell. They were keen to demonstrate that what they were doing there was more than fighting the Taliban.

We have a special duty to tell the story in Afghanistan comprehensively and impartially for our audience. Some are involved in the conflict, or have been, or will be. Many others are connected to the services through friends and relatives. Real people, real stories. Here's one.

For 33-year-old Maj Sean Birchall, "doing more than fighting the Taliban" meant building a wall around a local school near the Lashkar Gah base. With a minefield nearby and the Taliban around, he wanted to protect the boys - and the girls who wouldn't have been educated under Taliban rule - from danger.

Maj Sean BirchallIt was a project that he believed in. He spoke with great enthusiasm to our team, and worried over the price - $10,000. Maj Birchall led his men from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards from the front. He was usually first to dismount from armoured convoys and was keen to talk to the Afghan National Police and to check their welfare.

He looked after our team too and, when off-duty, he was interested in the techniques of radio; the sounds here, the footsteps there, the crickets which you hear in our reports.

On Friday, he was in the second vehicle in a patrol convoy. It was hit by a roadside bomb. Despite prompt attention from the convoy's medic, Maj Birchall died before he could be airlifted to hospital; he was four days short of his birthday. Another soldier was badly injured.

His loss is deeply felt by his colleagues in the Welsh Guards, by his wife Joanne and by the rest of his family. He leaves an 18-month-old son, Charlie.

In this case, we could do more on Radio 1 than a line on breaking news. Our bulletins this weekend featured his words and a brief obituary. But because of broadcasting restrictions imposed by the MoD, often with good reason, and because of our own concerns about our staff's health and safety, these are never easy stories to report. As so often, they can be best told first hand.

We've got to keep trying - and sometimes that's just about getting out there.

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra News.

What really happened

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:58 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

The crisis over the Iranian election has been our lead story for most of the week. As with all our coverage, we have been careful to report what both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi supporters are saying. Similarly, we have taken care to label the pictures we use, explaining what they are of.

BBC News story Obama refuses to 'meddle' in IranHowever, on Wednesday 17 June we made a mistake in a picture caption published on BBC News online. In the story Obama refuses to 'meddle' in Iran, we mistakenly stated that a Getty agency picture of a pro-Ahmadinejad rally was a pro-Mousavi rally.

Some blogs, including, are pointing out that the LA Times used a similar photograph which showed President Ahmadinejad waving to supporters. The Getty pictures we received did not show Mr Ahmadinejad.

When a reader contacted us about it, we checked our caption and corrected it. We're sorry for the mistake and have added a note explaining the correction to the story.

Changes to international pages (3)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:56 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

It's taken a little while to go through your comments and questions about the way we present content for audiences inside and outside the UK (see previous posts here and here). Our project team has helped me by answering a number of them below.

On the wider issue of being able to choose access to the UK/international front pages, we're continuing to look into possible options to address the concerns that so many of you have expressed.

Regarding the other issues raised, then:

Individual sections and features

UK Your MoneyWe have added a UK Your Money section and a link through to the index on the international Business page after listening to the feedback of Geoff K and others. In addition, we have included Economy and Companies sections with headlines.

Some of you said that you want to see UK topics in the Have Your Say section, and we will be adding more top UK debates to the international index.

There was some feedback about fewer Entertainment and Sport stories on the international pages. The BBC Sport pages are still your main destination for all the coverage you could access before, and more UK-focused entertainment stories can be found on our international Entertainment index.

UK PoliticsWe had some comments from people who could no longer find UK political coverage on the international news pages. Our political coverage from the UK, and all the same stories, can be found in the UK section of the navigation bar on the left, under the UK Politics subcategory.

On a problem raised by "mikedbrit" of not being able to access video that was available before, via the audio/video section on the UK version of the site: unfortunately, we are unable to use the licence fee to fund distribution of full programmes in high-quality video to international users (we do of course offer many news clips across all sections, as well as live coverage during special events), or to sustain the existing narrowband offering that some of you may have been accessing. This means that the narrowband access - in particular to the One, Six and Ten O'Clock news bulletins - is being withdrawn.

"Giant_of_Nancledra" raised the issue of wanting to view a live parliamentary video stream. This coverage is available via the iPlayer and as such is not accessible outside the UK. However, we plan to later in the year launch Democracy Live which will offer live and on-demand video from all the main UK institutions and the European parliament. Users - both in the UK and around the world - will be able to search the video for representatives and issues that are relevant to them. These changes are not related to the editions switch we made last week.

"LadderEdge" asked where s/he could find BBC coverage of the Digital Britain report. You can find a summary of the report and links to other BBC stories here: At a glance: Digital Britain.

Mobile users

We are aware that there are problems affecting Blackberry business subscribers seeing the wrong edition and we are working to try to resolve this issue. There is an ongoing issue with the Opera mini-browser which we are also investigating with our technical team.

AOL UK subscribers

Some of you who use the AOL browser are being routed through international servers and are therefore being served the international edition. We are working with AOL to resolve this issue and expect it to be fixed shortly.

Advertising revenue

There has been some response that this is about serving more advertising. While commercial placements were a consideration in this switch, the changes are not about directing readers to pages with more advertising or targeting adverts at expats as "BootsDaRov" suggested. Adverts were displayed on the UK version of news viewed by the international audience before the change.

Access to the UK headlines page

News From The UKSome users, including "crosbycat", said that they were unable to click through to the UK news page. We presume that this refers to the link at the top of the News From The UK headlines box, which for a short time was not clickable, but now is.

Postcode field on the feedback form

A small number of people found problems entering their postcode into the feedback form. The form appears to be working correctly, but if you are still experiencing problems with this, please send an email to with the subject field "Postcode error", and we will investigate further.

Thanks again for all your comments, and just to reiterate the beginning of this post, we're continuing to look into possible options regarding the wider issues you've discussed.

Update (17:40, 3 July): There's a new post answering some of your concerns here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

MPs' expenses: Your e-mails

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:50 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009

Since the MPs' expenses were published this morning, we've been receiving hundreds of e-mails from people who have spotted things which they want to tell us about.

BBC News website image We've made the expenses claims available on the BBC News website (you can get there via with the ability to search them by MP's name or by postcode and to click directly through to the relevant page on the parliament site (we've published 646 pages - one for each MP). The searchable list is currently on top of the most-read stories on the site.

We've also asked you to tell us if you notice things you want to bring to wider attention and, when you do, we're then passing the information on to our news teams and the BBC Political Research Unit at Westminster, who are checking, following up and, importantly, putting these points to the relevant MPs for their response.

The results are being published here. It is a great example of many pairs of eyes being better than a few (the principle of what's sometimes described as crowdsourcing), and a good way to tackle the challenge of looking through more than a million receipts.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Reporting restrictions in Iran

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 13:15 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009

Sometimes, it's the absurd that tells the real story. A cartoon by Peter Brookes in The Times today pictures Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei standing on a chair, afraid of a mouse - not a rodent, but the computer kind! It brought to mind Peter Ustinov's bon mot, "comedy is simply a funny way of being serious".

Earlier this week, the BBC and other international news organisations were banned from attending what Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance called "unauthorised gatherings".

Iranians taking part in a rally supporting Iranian opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, in Tehran

Essentially, it means that we're supposed to only operate from our bureau and not to report from the streets. It was a disappointing development and one that means that we're now operating under formal "reporting restrictions".

While John Simpson and Jon Leyne are prevented from travelling to opposition rallies, and must seek permission to attend something like Friday prayers, there are no "minders" sitting on their shoulder with a red pen, deciding what they can and cannot say.

Such restrictions only have limited impact. Two thirds of Iranians are under 30, "tweeting" and "blogging" are second nature to them. While we've used Twitter for information on previous stories, such as the Hudson plane crash, it's the protest in Iran that has seen it become mainstream, providing real-time commentary on events in Tehran and elsewhere - events which we're banned from attending, but which we can follow "online".

Farsi is now the second most popular language on the web - members of the new generation in Iran are "wired" in a way their parents, who lived through the Iranian Revolution 30 years ago, could never have imagined. So while the authorities in Tehran are trying to limit just how much we can see and hear, technology opens a window on what's going on.

My colleague Steve Herrmann has written previously of the importance of verifying what we get from social media and of content supplied direct to the BBC by viewers, listeners and readers. At one stage earlier this week, BBC Persian was getting five pieces of video every minute; the challenge of authenticating what we receive is immense, but the value is even greater.

It's why the Ayatollah is probably right to be afraid of that mouse!

Jon Williams is the BBC World News Editor.

Social media in Iran

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The BBC has several correspondents inside Iran.

Heavy restrictions have now been placed on the BBC and other foreign news organisations. Reporters are not allowed to cover unauthorised gatherings or move around freely in Tehran - though there are no controls over what they can say.

Although they are facing difficulties, they have been filing regularly and their reports have appeared on radio, TV and online (recent examples: Q&A: Latest from Tehran; Iran attempts to restrict media).

We also have a Persian service for TV, radio and online which offers BBC news to an Iranian audience both in Iran and around the world.

Screengrab of Iran linksSo why are we also monitoring social media like the microblogging service Twitter and linking to its search results for the Iran elections?

Simply put, it's because among the various impediments to reporting, there's a huge ongoing, informed and informative discussion in Iran between people who care deeply about what is happening there and who are themselves monitoring everything they can, then circulating the most useful information and links.

It should be noted that the majority of messages on Twitter, both within Iran and abroad, are from Mousavi sympathisers - a factor we need to allow for.

There's no filter or editorial process other than the capacity of those involved to correct or contradict each other; my colleague Richard Sambrook has written more about this on his personal blog (Twittering the uprising?).

What really stands out is the range of sources, voices and angles to be looked into. There's no hierarchy: everything's on merit, and there is of course a new set of challenges for our staff - chiefly editorial challenges, as well as a kind of chase as social media services appear and disappear in what The Times' Judith Evans describes as "an electronic game of cat and mouse".

I've written here before about our use of Twitter in another context, and spoke then about the need for us (BBC News) to exercise care and to check information before publishing it as fact - and that remains true. We'll check anything we want to include in our account of what is actually happening. But we also want to link what we do with the flow of discussion, links, rumours and reports which is providing another channel for people following the story.

For more on other ways to follow the story see our list of links and Ben Parr at Mashable has some good tips for using some of these sites.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Radio 1 and 1Xtra Drugs Week

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Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 17:33 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

We've just had five days of journalism on Newsbeat looking at all aspects of the drugs issue.

Radio 1 logoFrom steroid use to drug driving, from hepatitis C risks for cocaine users, mental health issues and cannabis - to the growth of so-called party drugs and the corresponding decline of harder drugs such as crack and heroin. We've even employed a sniffer dog to help us online.

There are some who argue that Radio 1 shouldn't give such coverage to what is, after all, an illegal activity. It's an argument that deserves a reply.

Firstly - Radio 1's target audience is young people: most are aged between 15 and 30. In this age group, recreational drug use is often a norm. Rightly or wrongly - it's not our job to judge. I believe it is our job to gather, interpret and broadcast available facts and stories so our audience can decide for themselves.

Let me give you a flavour of our journalism, in case you missed it. Firstly, we did some substantial research on drugs use: it highlighted a decline in harder drug use like crack and heroin - and an increase in so-called party drugs like speed, ecstasy and cannabis.

This was supported with a documentary Out of It on our sister station 1Xtra from Izzy Fairburn. From steroid use to drug driving, from hepatitis C risks for cocaine users, mental health issues and cannabis to the growth of legal - but apparently sometimes dodgy - herbal highs.

Looking at the thousands of texts and online posts you've sent it, it's clear there'll never be consensus among Radio 1 listeners on the subject. Many are grateful for the help, advice and non-judgmental information offered.

There are others who think those who use drugs - however lightly or recreationally - are losers and the story is not worthy of coverage. I disagree: it's clear that with so many Radio 1 listeners having a view on the subject, either because they are regular or occasional users, or know someone who is, and others seeing friends and family damaged by drug use, it is a story of vital and engaging interest to our audience which numbers in millions of young people.

We'd be failing in our job is we didn't cover this story properly - and seriously. If you were one of those who texted, e-mailed or went for the messageboard option - whatever your views - thank you!

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra News.

Changes to international pages (2)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:17 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

We've read through every one of your messages about the changes we made last week to the BBC site. What's clear is that many of you who've commented would rather we hadn't made them.

BBC News website imageMany of you have explained why you liked being able to choose whether you see the UK or international version of the site, wherever you are in the world. The changes mean that's now decided automatically, depending on your IP address - where you are. For many of you living outside the UK, in particular, that means you now see the international front page, which isn't the one you'd choose.

As I said in my original post explaining the changes:

• they are across the whole BBC website;
• this isn't something we can decide differently for the News pages;
• they are necessary to enable us to continue to develop the site internationally, to give us the flexibility to build new features and present content (including video and ads) differently for different audiences;
• we are working on a whole range of developments over the next year, and to give us a firm platform for that work, we had to simplify the underlying architecture of the site, by removing the increasingly complicated consequences of the different UK/international permutations.

Right now that means, I'm afraid, that there's one fewer choice you can make - selecting your edition. Over time we want to introduce more choice and flexibility over what you can see on the site, wherever you are. For now, we've tried to address some of your concerns with a new UK News section on the international front page, whilst the UK and World pages are there for bookmarking and linked from every page on the site. There may be other things you'd like to see in that UK section, in which case please tell us. And if there's anything else we can think of, or you can suggest, to improve things right now, we'll try and do it.

But at this point in the evolution of the BBC website, if we don't make these basic changes to versions, we'll be putting at risk our ability to develop the site effectively, and that's not something we think is in our interests, or yours. We do appreciate and listen to all your feedback, we know you wouldn't take the trouble if you didn't care in the first place, and we'll get to work on making some changes to the site which we think you actually will like!

Lastly, a reminder that if you are still seeing the international version and you are in the UK, you can use this form to let us know - we are working with internet providers on this.

Update (1558, 19 June): There's a new post answering some of your concerns here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Stop the blocking now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Save our sounds

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Steve Martin Steve Martin | 16:00 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Bang. Clatter. Rustle. Thud. Just some of the noises I made doing my very first job at the BBC. Creating sound effects on The Archers is one of the best jobs in radio.

World Service logoTwenty years later, I find myself absorbed in the subtleties of sound once again as the BBC World Service launches a short but engaging project called Save Our Sounds.

The editorial issues are quite different. No need to worry about using April birdsong during a June garden party scene or playing the wrong doorbell. The biggest dilemma for Save Our Sounds is accessibility.

Save Our Sounds aims to give people the world over a taste of "acoustic ecology", the act of capturing and preserving sounds which paint a picture of the world and which may become extinct. You'll understand that there's a huge, growing and fairly well-classified photographic archive, but a sonic record of global life is harder to come by.

So we're building a sound map of the world onto which you can add your own recordings. You can also join a growing online conversation by following the inevitable Twitter feed at (@bbc_sos) where you'll meet science writer and journalist Kate Arkless Gray.

But what about the large number of BBC World Service listeners who don't have internet access? Save Our Sounds is clearly built on the opportunities afforded by digital media, but we want to provide a way in for everybody.

Part of the answer lies in what sets the BBC World Service apart from other online organisations: we have a whopping great radio station attached to our website. So we've created Save Our Sounds radio programming that anybody can enjoy.

So those listening to the daily Outlook programme next week will be able to share in the project. The brilliantly inventive BBC World Service producer Rami Tzabar is also crafting a pair of Discovery radio documentaries, fronted by Trevor Cox, which you can hear in early July.

We've also tried to provide some pretty low-tech ways of contributing to our sound map. In addition to uploading from a web browser, by e-mail, or via the free AudioBoo application on an iPhone, you can use the plain old telephone system or even send a cassette tape in the post. Remember cassettes? They're still in widespread use in many places around the world.

I'd be interested to know how well you think we've done to open out this project and, of course, would love to hear any sound you choose to share with us.

Meanwhile, does Ambridge have broadband yet?

Steve Martin is editor of promotions and navigation at BBC World Service

Changes to international pages

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:35 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Across the BBC website we are making a change to the way we present content for audiences inside and outside the UK.

Up to now, people outside the UK who visited the website could select a UK version and those within the UK could select an international version of the site.

A radio button in the "set location" section at the top of the BBC homepage and on the left hand side of News and Sport pages allowed you to switch between versions.

From now on this won't be the case. The button is going, so if you are inside the UK you will simply see the UK version, outside the UK you'll see the international version.

But - and I'm resorting to italics here to stress this - all the same content will be available as now so you'll still be able to get both UK and international news wherever you are.

The UK front page of the News site will still have international stories amongst the headlines of the day, and of course the usual links to all the world sections of the site.

The international version will have links to all the UK sections, along with a new, expanded area for UK headlines. We're not taking away any of the content you can already see. You'll still be able to get to popular indexes like England, Scotland and Magazine by following the UK link on the section navigation at the left of the front page.

Screengrab of new UK News box

Here's how the change will affect the main BBC homepage - my colleague Ian Hunter explains:

"The new customisable BBC homepage at and launched in February 2008. It was significantly different from the previous version and gave users the ability to shape content on the page to suit their personal interests. With this in place, there was less need to offer fixed editorial versions.
"The only significant exception is the main feature of the homepage (which differs between the UK and the rest of the world). Anyone abroad investing a few moments customising their homepage can set up a 'UK-flavoured' international page for themselves - not to mention one aligned more with their personal tastes and interests. Do you want the latest tennis results? Technology news? Great - we can do that too."

So why bother with the change? Because the option allowing you to choose "site versions" (which relatively few of you actually chose to use) has started to lead to some potentially frustrating experiences for you, as well as some significant technical complications for us.

One of the reasons for this is the growth in the amount of video and audio around the site which, with the "versions" set-up we've had in place so far, has led to a growing number of potentially confusing results.

For example, international users selecting the UK version might follow prominent links from front pages only to find messages saying things like: "Currently BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only". (The BBC doesn't have the legal rights to show content on the iPlayer abroad though that may change in future).

Other content too may only be available to some audiences, for rights and legal reasons. Some sports coverage on the BBC, for example, is restricted to the UK, whilst the BBC World News TV channel is produced for international audiences.

The change also means that the advertising which you can see on our pages if you are outside the UK can be integrated around our pages without the need to change page formats for the UK version of the site.

We hope the change we're about to make will mean things are simpler all round. Front pages will be optimised for wherever you are, and content throughout the site should be simpler for us to produce and easier for you to find your way around.

UPDATE, 18:07, 11 June: Thanks for all your comments. Here are some responses to the main points you've been making:

Several of you mention customising pages - don't forget this only applies to the BBC Homepage where customisation has been an option for some time already. You can find out more about making changes to the BBC homepage here.

The News and Sport front pages aren't customisable in this way. But a simple way to get straight to the content you want (other than following the "UK" and "World" links on the left side of the page) would be to bookmark the page you want to visit most often - whether that is UK news, world news or another section of the site.

There is also now a dedicated UK headlines section on the international-facing News front page, so those of you looking for UK headlines from the front page internationally will see them there.

And, to repeat what I said in my original post, all the same content will be available as now so you'll still be able to get both UK and international news wherever you are.

For those of you with your internet access routed through a non-UK server (for example if you're in the UK and work for a company based overseas) you might look to our servers as though you are an international user, so you will see the international versions of pages. We recognise this may not be your preferred version, but there's the new UK headline section on the front page of the international version, as well as the link to UK news.

Some of you are saying you are viewing the website from within the UK on a UK connection and you can still see the international edition, in which case please use this form to let us know.

We really do need to make these changes to allow the site to work better, so we will try our best to work through and resolve the issues you are raising. Thanks again for the feedback, it is appreciated.

UPDATE, 17:29, 12 June: My colleague John O'Donovan has written about the recent (now resolved) issues affecting video/audio playback, the ticker and the picture galleries. You can read more and comment at the BBC Internet Blog.

UPDATE, 11:04, 13 June: Some users in the UK are seeing the international edition due to the way their internet provider connects them to the web. We are working closely with those companies on a solution to correctly identify which of their subscribers are in the UK and to serve them the correct edition.

More on customisation: some of you who have been using the ability to customise news, weather and sport by postcode from the UK front page will have lost that if you are outside the UK. Ideally, we would not have taken that away, it's just that it wasn't possible to maintain it and still carry out the changes we had to make. It was used by a relatively small number of you, but if you were one of them - I'm sorry, and please bear with us while we work on developing the site. We'll be looking at how to make the site customisable in other ways as part of that work.

UPDATE, 15:17, 15 June: There's a new post on the changes here.

UPDATE, 15:57, 19 June: The active post with open comments on the changes is now here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Network problem

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:10 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

People had problems getting onto the BBC News website a little while ago. We think we've tracked it down to a problem with our network and the problem should now be fixed. Let us know if it's not. Apologies for those of you who were trying to access the site and couldn't.

If you missed PMQs, you can watch it here.

Blogs on polling day

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 15:42 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

Readers of BBC News blogs might have noticed that they are today unable to leave comments on posts about political matters. This is because of the elections being held for the European Parliament and English local authorities, and it will remain the case until the close of polling in the UK at 2200BST on Thursday. You can find out more about the BBC's policies on broadcasting during elections from this Editorial Guidelines document [172Kb PDF].

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

White House interview

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Simon Wilson Simon Wilson | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Justin Webb's interview with President Obama was months in the planning, confirmed on the morning and almost endangered by a security scare.

We have of course, like all news organisations, been talking to Obama and his press team since election day last November about the possibility of an interview. Our pitch was based on the BBC's global reach and the fact the president's words would be heard not only in English, but also in a host of languages around the world, including Arabic and Farsi.

An interview with an American president at the White House is not one you want to mess up, so we turned up some three hours before the allotted time.

Unfortunately, a minor security scare meant that our usual entrance was closed - and when it reopened, there was a long delay in getting all our camera equipment cleared.

The minutes ticked by and at one point, anxious aides started muttering worrying questions to me like, "when's your red line?" The implication was that if we weren't ready in time, wherever the fault, the president's busy schedule would pass us by.

The interview was to take place in the White House library and, out of respect for the historic nature of the room, great care is taken to prevent visiting TV teams from causing damage. One loyal retainer's job was to move the chairs for us, even if it was just a matter of inches. Another was dedicated to providing and carefully positioning a vase of flowers. It was all done with the minimum of fuss and helped to calm some anxious BBC nerves.

Eventually, the equipment made it through and we had (so we thought) 45 minutes to set up our cameras - just enough time for this kind of interview.

Five minutes later, a new aide appeared to inform us that the president would actually be joining us in 20 minutes' time. Adrenalin is a powerful drug and somehow our technical team was ready in time.

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The interview played out pretty much as planned. We wanted to press the president firmly on human rights in Egypt, where he is making his big speech this week, and on his public disagreement with the Israelis over West Bank settlements. But, as we have with previous presidents, we also wanted to get a sense of life behind the scenes at the White House.

And as we made our way out, we got a glimpse of our own. A secret service agent politely motioned to us to wait in the main corridor. A few moments later, the Obama girls Sasha and Malia skipped past - presumably on their way back from school - and headed upstairs.

Today 'TV'

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Jon Zilkha Jon Zilkha | 17:38 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Can radio make good "TV"? For the past couple of weeks on Today, we've been conducting an experiment: filming the goings-on in our studio so that it's now possible not only to listen to the programme, but also to watch some of it.

Many radio interviews, of course, aren't done face-to-face, but "down the line" with the interviewee in a different studio. It's fair to say that when presenter and guest are together, it usually makes their encounter a much better listen.

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As my colleague Brett Spencer has written regarding similar experiments at 5 Live, the results are making for interesting viewing. Our experiences can be seen on the Today site, among them Sarah Montague's grilling of BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons, Labour MP Stephen Pound describing the expenses scandal as "like a slasher-movie", and Michael Horowitz insisting that there is still honour among poets.

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Experimenting with what is grandly called "visualisation" is hardly new. For us, the idea was to see whether the cameras could capture something of the intensity of interviews, as well as to give an insight into the working of the programme.

It also gives us the tools to bring out the lighter side of what we do - the nervous swinging legs of the young Scouts accompanying their new chief Bear Grylls for instance.

We've also filmed the presenters' daily review of the programme in the studio, so that you can see exactly what they thought of what we'd just broadcast.

And while we hope that the added visual dimension makes the programme more accessible and appealing online, Today TV isn't here yet. And of course the bigger question is: does it mean that the magic of radio is lost? We'll see. And so can you.

Visualising 5 Live

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Brett Spencer | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Have you been watching your radio? That's right, not "listening to" but "watching". At 5 Live, we've been developing a way of delivering radio that we call "visualisation".

Radio 5 Live logoRadio with pictures might sound like television, but it's important to remember that visualising radio is a different medium altogether. Our aim is to give the option of a rich multimedia experience while ensuring that we don't interfere with those listening to the linear transmission.

We've already experimented with visualisation using the red button (606) and the website (Mark Kermode), and our four-camera set-up means that we can offer the BBC News Channel live content, like yesterday's phone-in when Nicky Campbell hosted Harriet Harman.

Now we're taking the next step: for the next few weeks, the Simon Mayo programme will be broadcast live for three hours in our brand new "visualisation console".

We combine the live video stream from our studio with news and sport headlines, listeners' text messages and a behind-the-scenes live information scroll, written in the control room.

Our plan also involves feeding in live pictures of breaking news. A very busy first day yesterday meant that we tested the console to its limits.

The audience response so far has been fantastic, and something we have learned from. When we broke for news, sport and travel, we initially put up a holding card. But enough listeners demanded to see what was going on that we replaced it with the video of everybody coming and going,

Unfortunately, some people haven't been able to see all the additional content because their web browser hasn't had the right Flash "plug-in" - and that included Simon Mayo in the studio. That will be the first thing we fix. The sound was out of sync with the pictures if you were watching on a Firefox browser on a Mac, and we'll fix that too.

The trial will continue for another three weeks (except on Wednesdays, when we're in our Westminster studio), finishing with a live outside broadcast from Edinburgh on June 19th. It's a learning experience for all of us, so please have a look and let us know what you think.

Brett Spencer is the interactive editor for 5 Live.

From 'Taleban' to 'Taliban'

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Adam Curtis | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It has been the News website's practice for a number of years to use the spelling "Taleban" in preference to the alternative "Taliban".

Neither version is wrong - what you come up with depends on which system of transliteration is used from the Arabic script. At the time we established our style, there was no consensus.

Afghan Taliban fightersHowever, in recent years, a growing number of news outlets including Reuters, Associated Press, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post have all adopted "Taliban".

So too have institutions such as the United Nations and the US and UK governments. Indeed, the movement usually refers to itself as the "Taliban" when it uses English.

Further evidence of the emerging dominance of "Taliban" can be found through Google. Readers who use the search engine to look for "Taliban" will find well over 20 million references, while "Taleban" scores only about 1.25 million.

For these reasons, we have decided to switch our spelling to "Taliban" and other parts of the BBC News operation have done the same.

The decision did create a potential problem with the website archive, but our technical team has come up with a solution which we hope will prove satisfactory. The two versions have been combined into one set of results, so that users entering "Taliban" or "Taleban" will get a list of results which should retrieve all the relevant articles. We have also altered the spelling in some important articles, such as this profile.

Adam Curtis is the head of editorial standards, BBC Newsroom.

Momentous events of 1989

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 10:13 UK time, Monday, 1 June 2009

This week 20 years ago, Communism in Europe and China was at a crossroads.

On 4 June 1989, the Polish Solidarity movement won that country's first free election, on the same day as Chinese combat troops crushed the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

The World TonightWithin months of Solidarity's victory in Poland, the Berlin Wall had gone, Czechoslovakia had had its peaceful "Velvet" Revolution and the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu had been violently overthrown. This was followed within a couple of years by the break-up of the Soviet Union itself.

In sharp contrast, the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in China was followed within a few years by the launch of radical economic reforms and rapid growth that have led to China's emergence as a world power, under the leadership of the Communist Party.

A key personality in all these events was the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

When Mr Gorbachev decided not to use force to overturn Solidarity's victory and it entered government in Poland, opponents of communism in the rest of eastern Europe took note, and one by one the existing regimes gave way to multi-party democracies.

Mikhail GorbachevOpponents of the Soviet Communist Party inside the Soviet Union also took note. In Ukraine and Lithuania, nationalists and democrats realised they could break away from Moscow and within two and a half years, the USSR itself had disappeared from the map.

In China too, Mr Gorbachev was a catalyst to events.

It was his visit - the visit of a communist leader who espoused reform and openness - to Beijing in April 1989 that helped bring students protesters out into Tiananmen Square. Those students stayed after Mr Gorbachev left, and were only cleared by force on the night of 3/4 June.

Twenty years ago, few Poles would have imagined their country would be a major player in a European Union of 400 million citizens. And few Chinese would have imagined that their country, with the Communist Party still at the helm, would have experienced more dynamic economic growth than the countries that shrugged off communism.

This week, The World Tonight will have special reports from Beijing, talking to veterans of Tiananmen as well as a special programme from the Polish city of Gdansk where Solidarity was born.

We'll be assessing how and why these momentous events happened and what they mean for the world today.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.

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