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Archives for February 2011

The difficulty of reporting from inside Libya

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:30 UK time, Sunday, 20 February 2011

Reporting from Libya is tricky at the best of times - clearly, the situation there right now is anything but.

For 41 years, Muammar Gaddafi - the self-proclaimed "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution" - has made life difficult for the Western media. While British nationals can enter many of the world's 192 countries without visas, or collect them on arrival, Libya is one of the exceptions. There, the door is firmly shut to international journalists, local reporters face intimidation and the threat of worse. It explains why, in contrast to recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, we're unable to report from inside Libya on the protests taking place there, and the authorities violent response.

And that's an uncomfortable place for us to be.

In recent years, from Burma, to Afghanistan and Zimbabwe - even in Iran and North Korea - my colleagues have been on the frontline, eyewitness to events making headlines around the globe. In Libya this weekend, we've been forced to rely on others' eyewitness accounts. The geography of the country - much of it is barren desert - means it's simply not practical for us to enter Libya "under-cover". Add to that, the ruthlessness of the Libyan authorities, and the scale of violence, and you'll understand why - just a week after covering Egypt's own convulsions - Jon Leyne is reporting developments from Cairo.

When violence was last visited on Tripoli and Benghazi, the BBC was there to witness events. Famously, Norman Tebbit condemned Kate Adie's reporting of the US airstrikes on Libya on April 1986. Twenty five years later, the protests - and the authorities' response - are taking place with no international reporters present.

The BBC and other news organisations are relying on those on the ground to tell us what's happening. Their phone accounts - often accompanied by the sound or gunfire and mortars - are vivid. However, inevitably, it means we cannot independently verify the accounts coming out of Libya. That's why we don't present such accounts as "fact" - they are "claims" or "allegations".

Similarly, the flow of video - the so-called "user-generated-content" - has dwindled to a trickle as the authorities have periodically turned off the Internet. That means we have an additional responsibility - to be clear with our audiences not just what little we do know, but perhaps more significantly, what we don't.

Critics of the BBC's coverage of Libya 25 years ago accused our reporting from Tripoli and Benghazi of being "riddled with inaccuracy, innuendo & imbalance". I suspect Colonel Gaddafi's supporters will make the same allegations about the international coverage of events in Libya this weekend. It wasn't true then, it isn't true now. But when we're not on the ground, we have to work twice as hard to make sure that we're telling all sides of the story.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

5 live News: Looking back, looking forward

Steve Mawhinney Steve Mawhinney | 14:15 UK time, Wednesday, 16 February 2011

So, three months in (and boy, does it feel like more) I've been asked to share a few thoughts about life as head of news at 5 live and my vision for the station.

I've picked six reflections. They are, I fear, neither definitive nor comprehensive and I am sure I have forgotten lots of important things but I hope they will provide some insight into where I hope our news programmes are going and what we are trying to do.

Read more and comment at the 5 live blog.

Steve Mawhinney is 5 live's head of news

Reporting on banks' results

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 12:54 UK time, Tuesday, 15 February 2011

As the UK bank reporting season gets underway with Barclays today we are naturally very keen to put questions, on behalf of our audiences, to those running our banks. Those questions would of course reflect a number of major issues firmly in the public eye. Unfortunately, as our Business Editor Robert Peston describes, the week hasn't begun well.

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

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