BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for December 2009

Africa debate

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

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

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

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

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Controversial debate

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Liliane Landor | 17:39 UK time, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A debate recently published by the World Service Africa Have Your Say programme has generated some controversy. Editor of the programme David Stead explains the thinking behind it:


By David Stead

"Today Africa Have Your Say debated a bill proposing to make gay activities punishable by death in Uganda. The programme asked:

Should homosexuals face execution? Yes, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind an anti-homosexuality bill being debated on Friday by the Ugandan parliament which would see some homosexual offences punishable by death.
The bill proposes: Life imprisonment for those convicted of a homosexual act. The death sentence where the offender has HIV, is a 'serial offender' or the other person is under 18. Imprisonment for seven years for 'attempted homosexuality'.
The bill claims to 'protect the...traditional family values of the people of Uganda', but it has prompted widespread international condemnation.
Homosexuality is regarded as taboo in much of Africa, where it is often regarded as a threat to cultural, religious and social values.
Has Uganda gone too far? Should there be any level of legislation against homosexuality? Should homosexuals be protected by legislation as they are in South Africa? What would be the consequences of this bill to you? How will homosexual 'offences' be monitored? Send us your views.

The editors of the BBC Africa Have Your Say programme thought long and hard about using this question which prompted a lot of internal debate.

We agree that it is a stark and challenging question, but think that it accurately focuses on and illustrates the real issue at stake.

If Uganda's democratically elected MPs vote to proceed with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill this week they will bring onto the statute book legislation that could condemn people to death for some homosexual activities.

We published it alongside clear explanatory text which gave the context of the bill itself (see above). And as we said at the top of our debate page, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind the bill.

This issue has already sparked much debate around the world and understandably led to us receiving many e-mails and texts. We have sought to moderate these rigorously while at the same time trying to reflect the varied and hugely diverse views about homosexuality in Africa."

Update 17 December: Peter Horrocks, director of the World Service has also blogged about the debate.


Liliane Landor is (acting) head of Africa/Middle East, World Service

Mapping road deaths

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:10 UK time, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Many of us will know of someone who has been killed or injured in a road crash. Last year 2,538 people were killed on Britain's roads. Even though that figure has come down substantially in the past decade, road crashes are still the largest single cause of accidental death for people between the ages of five and 35-years-old. Yet all this seems to be something which society as a whole rarely questions.

In a special series this week, we look at what has been done to tackle the problem, what more could be done, and describe the impact on those involved.

We have also taken a close look at all the detailed data we could find, and this provides a powerful way to tell the story, as Bella Hurrell, who runs the News website special projects team, explains:

By Bella Hurrell

"As part of the coverage of road deaths this week, one of our challenges was how to make the issue feel relevant to people.

The web is great at providing an extra level of depth, for those that want it, and so an interactive map enabling readers to see fatal crashes in their police authority area over the past decade looked like an effective way to help show the enormity of the problem.

Screengrab of map showing fatal car crashes

As far as we know this is the first time that 10 years of government road fatality data has been made public and mapped so we can all see it.

Each crash is mapped to the location where it occurred and many data points include links through to local newspaper reports about the crash.

The map helps to refocus the issue away from being a national problem involving big numbers to being a local issue, affecting people we may know, on roads we might travel.

Mapping data can be tricky though and our solution isn't perfect. Over 10 years there have been more than 32,000 fatal crashes and it would be almost impossible to display all this on one map at once, so we have split up the data into individual years and then again into police authorities so that it downloads more easily.

The data is displayed by police authority as this is how it is recorded, rather than by the unit of county or local authority, with which people are generally more familiar. All this means that some of you won't see the data exactly as you might want it.

Thousands of you have been looking at the map - and thank you for all your feedback. If you found the map a useful way of covering the issue you might want also want to look at this interactive graphic which charts the worst times of day for fatalities by indicators like age and day of the week.

There will be more coverage from our special report on road crashes on Thursday and Friday."

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

Reporting the wintry weather

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Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 17:10 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Autumn 2009 started on a mild note and many of us may have been thinking that winter might just let us off the hook.

However, with winter officially starting in less than a week's time we are looking at the weather turning wintry too.

Throughout October and November the UK was under the influence of warm air with subtropical origins, this kept temperatures above average and brought notable amounts of rainfall.

In contrast and since the weekend we've seen a shift in the source of our air; from a warm southern ocean to a cold eastern continent.

Thanks to the dominance of high pressure we'll be bringing in air that's travelled from the bitter plains of Russia, delivering a biting wind and temperatures that struggle to get above freezing.

So it's going to be cold, is it going to feel cold?

How we interpret temperatures varies according to a number of factors, chiefly the humidity of the air and strength of the wind. These combine to produce a phenomenon widely termed "wind chill" and provide a scale by which we can measure what the temperature "feels like".

The brisk and dry easterly wind this week will make the temperatures feel quite different. For example an east coast day time maximum of 2C may actually feel like -2C once the wind chill effect has been accounted for.

When these values are significant we'll be doing our best to highlight them in our broadcasts so keep your eyes peeled.

Screeshot of feels like

Meteorologists often talk about broad areas of air with common characteristics.

Air masses as they are collectively known move large regions of air with similar temperatures and humidities about the globe. They receive their attributes according to whether they form over warm or cold land or oceans.

We've been working on a way to illustrate this technical piece of data as a clear and representative graphic. We think this new graphic does a good job of showing why it's going to get colder or warmer because it shows where our air is coming from.

Screenshot of air mass

By showing the movement of the mass of cold air, represented by shades of blue, we can describe one of the mechanisms influencing temperature and get an insight into the incredible forces at work within the atmosphere (we'll be trialling this on Weatherview over the coming weeks).

And it doesn't stop there, the movement of the blue colours also reveals another property of the cold air; its potential to produce snow.

So what about the white stuff? Well some areas are certainly in for a light covering over the next few days but the regional details are particularly important; many western parts of the country are likely to be wondering what all the fuss is about.

To keep abreast of the latest forecast for your region the BBC Weather website provides local video forecasts as well as a detailed five day outlook.

If you're interested in anything a little further away (a white Christmas or wet New Year maybe?) the Monthly Outlook gives our best guess of the next four weeks and how conditions are likely to vary.

We hope the additions to our winter forecasting armoury will give you a better idea of why the weather is varying and also help to keep you better prepared.

Of course, you'll still need to look out for the specific details of rain, wind, frost, fog and temperature, all of which can combine to provide hazardous winter conditions.

Jumpers at the ready.

Richard Chapman is editorial manager of BBC Weather.

Reporting from Yemen

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:15 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Is Yemen - the Arab state bordering Saudi Arabia and across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia - on the verge of collapse?

Displaced Yemenis at a campThat is a question which is beginning to push its way up the international agenda as the country is wracked by two insurgencies, an internal refugee crisis, food shortages and fears that al-Qaeda could return to a country which seemed to have driven them out a few years ago.

Observers have been trying to bring the crisis in the country to the world's attention for some time, but it has received relatively little media attention.


Part of the answer is that it has been overshadowed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the piracy in the Indian Ocean emanating from its neighbour Somalia.

This means foreign correspondents have been diverted to these stories and also editors back at base sometimes take the view that their audiences/readers can only take so much war and conflict on a day to day basis.

It is also partly because it is not an easy place to report from - it can be dangerous for foreigners with some being kidnapped and killed.

Added to this, the government has not been keen to allow too many journalists access to the areas affected by insurgencies and humanitarian agencies have been reluctant to jeopardise their ability to operate in the country by allowing journalists access to their work - which is one of the ways reporters can travel and report from conflict zones.

But this week on The World Tonight and Newshour on the BBC World Service, Owen Bennett-Jones will be reporting from there and assessing how fragile the country is and whether al-Qaeda can re-establish itself.

Yemen is not the only state in the world that is seen to be in a fragile condition and such states are seen as a cause of conflict, instability and a potential source of terrorist violence, so The World Tonight is planning to hold a conference with the Royal Institute of International affairs at Chatham House in February to look at how some states like Macedonia avoided collapse, while others like Somalia didn't which we will broadcast from.

We hope you find the coverage interesting and informative.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.

Coverage of Copenhagen climate conference

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 15:03 UK time, Monday, 7 December 2009

So, the UN climate conference COP15 finally gets under way in Copenhagen today. It's been a long time coming.

Copenhagen coverageYou can measure it from the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007 where world leaders agreed to work on further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more widely and deeply than the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and decided to meet in Copenhagen in 2009.

Or you can measure it from more recent events: the hours and hours of diplomacy this year preparing a draft treaty. Until even a few weeks ago, there was talk of a couple of thousand square brackets of unagreed text still being pored over by the politicians and their "sherpas" preparing the ground for the final gathering over the next two weeks.

Our job in the BBC newsroom has been to report on the build-up to the summit and to prepare our audiences to make sense of whatever happens. Now we aim to interpret the various negotiating positions and - if a treaty is agreed - to judge what it means for all of us.

Arctic researchOur specialist environment correspondents have been reporting on climate change - the science and the politics and the debate - for a long time. This year, for example, David Shukman has filed reports from the Arctic and Bangladesh on the changes to our climate and our planet. He was with scientists on the northern ice trying to measure its thinning, and in Bangladesh talking to those dealing with the effect of rising sea levels and looking at the analysis that links these to man-made climate change. Roger Harrabin has reported from China on the effect of warming and efforts to reduce emissions. And at his blog Earth Watch, Richard Black has built up a rich body of reporting and analysis.

The scientific background is not, of course, undisputed. The row about e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit shows how charged the debate can be. We were the first mainstream news organisation to report the story and have since drawn out three related but distinct threads. Are there question marks over the CRU's scientific work? Are there question marks about how it has handled its scientific data and engaged in public debate? Will the row affect Copenhagen?

There are those who answer the first question with a yes, and many more saying, like UK Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, that "one string of e-mails does not undermine the global science on climate change". The row has certainly raised the temperature leading up to Copenhagen, and the second question still needs an answer. In time, we'll report on the findings of the review of the incident and of a police investigation of the hacking or leaking.

This is because that's our main job here: to report what's going on. Our coverage of climate change comes under scrutiny and criticism too. We don't endorse one interpretation or another: we seek to report the range.

David Shukman last week, for example, reported on the variety of public opinion about how serious the threat of global warming is, and on the scientists who challenge the mainstream view. Our job is to help guide audiences and to report on where the centre of gravity lies in the debate, which is why he explained that the broad majority of climate change scientists accept that the evidence is clear that human activity has contributed to global warming. (See also Richard Black's look at sceptical objections and our feature The arguments made by climate change sceptics.)

It is complex stuff, and there are many questions for us all to try to understand. How much is the climate warming? Is it because of man's activities? How much might temperatures rise? And what can or needs to be done? Among those who support the scientific consensus - be they scientists, politicians or the wider public - there is still much debate about what to do - and that is what will be thrashed out in Copenhagen.

World Service climate change pollThe world leaders who will gather in Copenhagen at the end of the summit will make their decisions informed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic work relevant to climate change. Governments are given the chance to scrutinise every word of the IPCC's main findings; delegations, including those from the Bush administration, endorsed the core conclusion that there is a 90% likelihood that most recent warming is man-made.

So the politicians are gathering because they believe something does need to be done to prevent rising temperatures affecting our planet and the people who inhabit it. The real argument is, then, over what to do about it. We've been covering the different approaches of various governments and varied public opinion around the world, such as today's World Service opinion poll on attitudes to climate change.

Whatever comes out of Copenhagen, there will be those who will say it is too little, and those who will say it is too much. Whatever governments sign up to, they will then have to take the case back to their publics and, where appropriate, their law-makers. So the debate will continue - as will our reporting.

Mary Hockaday is head of BBC newsroom.

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