BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for February 2010

Why we've interviewed RBS but not Lloyds

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Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:35 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010

Many of you followed yesterday's story about Royal Bank of Scotland posting losses of £3.6bn for 2009 whilst at the same time paying bonuses of £1.3bn to its staff.

It's a story which provoked high emotions. Not only do many of you bank with RBS as individuals and businesses but we all, as taxpayers, own a very large chunk of the bank - 84 % to be exact.

One of the ways we were able to cover both sides of the story was the willingness of the RBS boss Stephen Hester to be held accountable. Through interviews on the BBC he was able to speak to his customers and shareholders - you may not agree with what he had to say but he laid out a reasoned and coherent case for his actions. You can see one of his interviews here.

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There's another bank in which we all have a major stake (41% in this case) and which owes its existence to support from all of us. Lloyds has announced its results this morning. It too has made big losses and its share price sits well below what we taxpayers paid for our stake.

The BBC has been asking Lloyds bosses for interviews but so far they don't feel the need to answer our questions or explain their plans for taxpayers to get their money back.

Lloyds CEO Eric Daniels - the only boss of a rescued UK bank to keep his job throughout the crisis - and on a salary of more than £1m - doesn't seem to feel the same responsibility to be accountable as his opposite number at RBS. If you do have questions you'd like to put to Eric Daniels or the Lloyds Chairman Sir Win Bischoff, then please write them here and we'll keep asking and hope they change their minds.

PS. Robert Peston has written a post about Lloyds' latest figures.

Jeremy Hillman is editor of the BBC News business and economics unit.

Fragile states and international order

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 11:20 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

What do Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan have in common? Maybe not what immediately comes to mind.

Haitians walk the streets after earthquakeIf I add Haiti, East Timor and Burma to the list, perhaps it's more obvious.

They are all what diplomats and analysts call "fragile states" - poor countries with weak state structures and/or whose legitimacy is challenged, usually by insurgency.

I wrote about Yemen in my last post. Since then, the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day - allegedly by a radical Muslim trained in that country - has focussed the attention of Western governments on states which don't exercise complete control over their territory.

The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has identified the insecurity arising from what he calls "ungoverned spaces" as a major priority for British foreign policy, and the US has been increasing its aid to Yemen in both counter-insurgency and development.

As Washington says, the Yemeni government has to improve things like education, health and job prospects if it is see off the threat of collapse.

Last month's Haiti earthquake struck one of the countries least able to cope with a major natural disaster, an event exposing the human cost of state fragility.

On Monday 22 February, The World Tonight is co-hosting a conference with the leading think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. We'll discuss how much of a threat fragile states are to their own citizens and to international order and what can be done both by these countries themselves and the international community to prevent these states from tipping over the edge into Somalia-like collapse.

There are examples of states which have been brought back from the brink.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - which faced an insurgency among its Albanian minority which spilled over from Kosovo in 2001 - was stabilised by quick Nato and EU intervention involving diplomatic and financial support and a peacekeeping mission.

That intervention was carried out with the permission and cooperation of the Macedonian government. But even in the aftermath of natural disasters, intervention in fragile states is often not free of controversy over issues of sovereignty.

When the earthquake struck Haiti last month, the American armed forces quickly took control of the main airport to fly in troops and supplies. They soon faced criticism from Brazil over who was in charge of the relief effort. Brazil leads the United Nations mission in Haiti, the legal authority to operate in the country. All this was over the heads of the sovereign Haitian government, which had effectively ceased to function.

When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in 2008 killing more than 130,000, the Burmese military government was accused of doing little to help the victims and there was serious discussion over whether the international community should intervene militarily to deliver humanitarian relief.

In the end, it did not happen - partly because of concerns that military intervention against the will of the sovereign government in such circumstances would set an unwelcome precedent for the future.

So how can fragile states be stabilised and strengthened? And what kind of intervention is effective and - in a world still organised into sovereign states - justified?

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.

Euthanasia debate

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Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 17:45 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

How do you like your national debate to be held? It's a nebulous concept often invoked when tricky ethical issues like euthanasia are in the news.

World at One logoOn The World at One in the last two weeks we've had several occasions to ask whether the national debate around euthanasia is being led too much by celebrity endorsements in favour of relaxing the current law.

A week after the suggestion by Martin Amis that "euthanasia booths" should be available on street corners, the news was dominated by the author Terry Pratchett's Richard Dimbleby Lecture which advocated a system of tribunals to remove the fear of prosecution from relatives.

On that day's World at One the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu complained about the debate, saying "I would rather listen to the voices of disabled people than to the voices of celebrities or the voices of 1,000 people in an opinion poll."

Two weeks later, the broadcaster Ray Gosling admitted killing a former lover who was dying from an Aids-related illness and defended his actions in in a series of impassioned interviews.

The MP Brian Iddon told The World at One that Parliament was the right place to set the laws around these questions and that he feared campaigners were trying to change the law in the courts.

His view is shared by Lee Rayfield, the Bishop of Swindon, who told the PM programme later in the afternoon that the celebrity-led discussion excluded the views of possible victims, people who "weren't in control of their lives" and that the concept of "compassion" in the debate had been claimed unfairly by the pro-reform campaign.

The presence of the Church in this debate irks some of our listeners. One asked "why do you feel the need to wheel out these numbskull clerics on any opportunity?"

But there does seem to me to be a relative shortage of prominent secular voices opposing a relaxation of the law. I wonder whether this reflects the fact that Britain's arts and science establishment and our usual commentariat are just more liberal on this issue than the population as a whole.

Or perhaps you'd rather hear more from people experiencing this dilemma for real - either the couple in their 80s who e-mailed us to say they were "disgusted with the amoralism of the BBC" or another correspondent who praised "an amazing, brave thing to do. I'd like to think I'd be able to do the same for someone I loved - and that someone I loved would do the same for me."

Jamie Angus is the editor of The World at One and The World This Weekend.

BBC News on iPhone

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Pete Clifton Pete Clifton | 12:36 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Our Future Media boss Erik Huggers made it clear today that our BBC News and BBC Sport services will be the first official BBC apps to launch on the iPhone.

If you want to see a demo of the BBC News app, David Madden, exec product manager from our mobile team, can walk you through.

This is an exciting development for us and a natural progression after providing the best of our journalism - news, sport, weather, travel - on mobile devices for the past 10 years.

Our approach has always been simple: web equals mobile; mobile equals web. If we have made great content for our websites - with your licence fee money - then mobile is just another platform to make it available to you.

The rising audience numbers for our mobile content show that our users appreciate the service and expect to find it when they are on the move - or on the touchline, or on the sofa.

The applications unveiled by Erik will provide a slicker way to access our existing content on smartphones, with a real focus on the distinctive, original content we have on offer.

This includes breaking news from our journalists across the UK and the world, embedded video on our local, national and international text stories, the best of the blogs from our leading correspondents, easy access to news podcasts, and a permanent link to watch the BBC News channel live.

There'll be lots more, and you'll be able to personalise the service so that the content you are most interested in rises to the top.

We will be developing the service over the coming months, on the iPhone and then for the BlackBerry and Android devices later in the year, and we plan to have an iPhone application for Sport in time for the World Cup.

As ever, your feedback will be invaluable. And, of course, if you are not part of the "smartphone set", you can still find the content via your mobile browser at bbc.co.uk/mobile.

It will certainly be a relief to have an official BBC presence on iPhone instead of the distinctly patchy unofficial "BBC" applications that some of you may have encountered in the past couple of years.

You'll no doubt continue to enjoy accessing news on the move from a variety of sources on your mobile, and we hope that will include the BBC.

Pete Clifton is head of editorial development, multimedia at BBC News.

Changes to Have Your Say

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Alex Gubbay Alex Gubbay | 12:12 UK time, Monday, 15 February 2010

Next week, we will make some changes to the News website's Have Your Say section.

BBC iD logoThe technology we currently use to host debates will be replaced by the system we use for our blogs - including this one. That system includes BBC iD, our sign-in process for comments and other user-generated content, which we are rolling out across BBC Online so you only have to sign in once to use any of our services.

This means old Have Your Say accounts will no longer be valid; so if you do not already have a BBC iD account, you will need to create one.

Some elements of the current service - including recommendation - will not be carried over to the new system, but we hope the switchover will address the most frequent complaint we get about Have Your Say: that comments take too long to appear.

We are not promising instant publication, but we are confident that moderation queues will be significantly reduced and the moderation process more transparent. With any luck, there should be a big improvement in your user experience.

The developments are the first step in a gradual development of our interactivity, and I look forward to keeping you up-to-date with further enhancements over the coming months.

*** UPDATE 13:00 Wednesday 24 February ***
We have just published our first debates on the new system - one on Ofsted's criticisms of the Three R's, and one on the political situation in Nigeria.

Alex Gubbay is BBC News's social media editor.

Media restrictions in Iraq

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:03 UK time, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Next month it will be seven years since British and American forces invaded Iraq. Under Saddam, the international media was subject to censorship, with minders assigned to news organisations to "monitor" their reporting. More than 250 journalists have died covering Iraq's transition to democracy since the invasion in 2003. Now, seven years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi authorities are threatening to reimpose serious restrictions on the media.

The Iraqi Communications and Media Commission was set up by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004. Its purpose was to regulate the media in Iraq - in itself, a perfectly legitimate aspiration. But the international media, including the BBC, are concerned that new plans outlined by the Iraqi authorities owe more to a desire to control and censor the news media rather than to enshrine Iraq's constitutional right to free speech and a free press.

The Iraqi authorities want the BBC and other news organisations to disclose full lists of staff, an act we believe might endanger those who work for us. The Iraqi authorities are demanding journalists reveal their sources in response to complaints, in violation of the journalist's age-old responsibility to protect those who come to us with stories. And they want to prevent the international media from reporting stories that might incite violence or sectarianism, but have failed to clarify what constitutes "incitement" or "sectarianism".

Iraq remains a difficult place in which to operate. The political environment is tense, with a general election in Iraq just a month away, where even reporting death-tolls is viewed as controversial, and could lay the international media open to censorship.

In a conference centre in London, the Iraq war inquiry is poring over the detail of the Britain's decision to go to war. Those who prosecuted the case for war talked of freeing Iraq from intimidation. Today, there is a risk of a return to the days of Saddam-style "regulation" and censorship.

Journalists have a responsibility to be accurate and fair - we don't want, and don't ask, for special treatment. However, we do want the ability to operate freely, without fear or favour. Our audiences deserve nothing less.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

Our new arts blog

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:26 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

Screengrab of Will Gompertz's blogI'm delighted to say that Will Gompertz, the recently-appointed arts editor for BBC News, is launching a new blog today. You can find Gomp/arts here and it will have a permanent home on the BBC News website.

This is the first move towards giving a higher-profile and more consistent focus to our arts reporting in general; in his first post Will outlines his thinking about what he'll be covering.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

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