BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for April 2011

Making BBC Online accessible to all

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:19 UK time, Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The BBC has relaunched its My Web My Way accessibility pages, which contain information about making BBC Online and the wider web easier to use. There's a post about it on the BBC Internet blog from Jonathan Hassell, head of usability & accessibility.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC World Service and Afghanistan

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:00 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Today's Daily Telegraph makes a number of serious accusations against the BBC World Service and its staff, claiming a leaked US intelligence document suggests our Afghanistan team are part of a "possible propaganda media network" and that BBC employees may have al-Qaeda sympathies.

While I accept that the wording of the intelligence document is not entirely clear, I would strongly disagree with the Daily Telegraph's interpretation of it.

There is a danger that an entirely false impression is created which could have serious consequences for the BBC team who risk their lives daily in reporting from Afghanistan.

There is no evidence - past or present - against members of its staff in relation to supposed al-Qaeda sympathies and we have received no approaches from any security agencies.

This is the full quote from the leaked document:

"The London (UK) number 004420752xxxx was discovered in numerous seized phone books and phones associated with extremist-linked individuals. The number is associated with the BBC. (Numerous extremist links to this BBC number indicates a possible propaganda media network connection. Network analysis might provide leads to individuals with sympathetic ties to extremists or possibly possessing information on ACM [Anti-Coalition Militia] operations.)"

The reference to "network analysis" seems more likely to be a suggestion that intelligence officers should look for other suspects in possession of the phone number than a suspicion that there were BBC employees sympathetic to the extremist cause. In that context, the suspected "propaganda media network" would clearly relate not to the BBC but to a network of extremists who have a BBC number in common.

The BBC Belfast newsroom, where I worked in the 1980s, used regularly to receive claims concerning terrorist violence from extremists. By any reasonable interpretation, if a number of those extremists were then caught in possession of the BBC newsdesk number an intelligence report on the subject would have been more likely to conclude that the extremists were part of a network rather than the BBC was part of such a network.

Because of the BBC's prominent and trusted role in Afghanistan, due to the reliability and impartiality of our journalism, all sides in the conflict regularly contact the BBC to pass on information and give their side of the story. Of course we test all such information rigorously, especially that from extreme organisations.

Today I have written to the editor of the Daily Telegraph pointing out this alternative explanation of the leaked document.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

Extreme weddings

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Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 08:50 UK time, Thursday, 14 April 2011

You've got to hand it to the Tajiks - they certainly aren't worried about "nanny state" criticism:

Bride and groom
"People were getting into debt to afford weddings, now the new law allows only 150 guests to be fed at wedding parties. The celebration cannot last for more than three hours and only one dish is allowed to be served."

That's what Tajik wedding inspector Mahmadrasul told the BBC's Rayhan Demytrie when she travelled to the village of Davlat-Abad, to film a wedding for the BBC's Extreme Weddings day.

And he should know - he stays at the ceremony to make sure there are no transgressions.

There couldn't be a greater contrast with the wedding of Nadini, a well-known singer, and Madura, her businessman sweetheart, attended by the BBC's Charles Haviland in Sri Lanka last weekend. There, hundreds of guests celebrated in a ceremony that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

You can see reports from both these weddings 14 and 15 April, as part of our Extreme World series, where BBC correspondents around the world compare the extremes of any given topic. We've covered hot and cold climates, the rights of women and the best and worst places to die.

And with Britain's royal wedding on the horizon, we wanted to engage our audiences worldwide in a debate about what weddings and the marriage ceremony itself mean to them. So we'll be bringing Rayhan and Charles together to report live on what they've seen.

Although there are great contrasts in the way people celebrate their weddings around the world - whether modest or lavish - we noticed that everywhere you go, people are investing as much as they can possibly afford, and then some more, in their marriage celebration.

It all ties in with the domestic debate in the UK about the scale of the royal wedding - how do the Royal Family negotiate the tricky problem of organising a wedding fit for a prince, in increasingly austere times?

We hope our audiences around the world have some suggestions. And we're asking them and you to contribute pictures and descriptions of the most extraordinary wedding you've ever attended, which we'll be showing on the BBC's royal wedding site.

Just make sure no-one shows Tajikistan's wedding enforcement team - they might not be happy.

Extreme Weddings is on throughout 14 and 15 April on the World Service, BBC World News and the BBC News website.

Jamie Angus is acting head of news, BBC World News.

Reporting foreign intervention

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 14:51 UK time, Thursday, 7 April 2011

Since the foreign military intervention began in Libya in early March, The World Tonight has been airing the debate over why action is being taken in Libya and not other countries, such as Ivory Coast.

Ivorian mothers and children sit at a UNHCR camp for displaced people in Duekoue.

Ivorian mothers and children sit at a UNHCR camp for displaced people in Duekoue.

Over the past decade, we have covered the waxing, in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, of so-called humanitarian or liberal intervention, and its waning in the wake of the Iraq invasion in 2003. It is never a simple case of the international community intervening to protect civilians who are victims of repression from their own governments. If it were, we would have seen foreign forces going into such countries as Sri Lanka or Burma as well as Sierra Leone and former Yugoslavia.

Last Thursday, we asked Elizabeth Dickinson of the respected Foreign Policy magazine why up to that point there had not been the same international action in Ivory Coast as we'd seen in Libya. She told us that conditions were not yet right for intervention there despite the humanitarian situation with large numbers of civilians being killed and displaced by fighting between forces loyal to the internationally recognised President Allasane Ouattara, and his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to leave office despite losing last year's election.

Was it as simple as the fact that Libya is a major oil exporter and Ivory Coast a major cocoa exporter?

No-one goes to war over cocoa, Elizabeth Dickinson argued, but that is not the whole story. As usual in international affairs things are never that simple and there is rarely any single reason to explain why governments decide to take action or sit on their hands.

There have to be a combination of factors in play and - rather like the ingredients of a cocktail - there needs to be the right mix for intervention to take place.

The motives to intervene in Libya were much more than a simple humanitarian impulse. Colonel Gaddafi had publically threatened to take revenge on his enemies in Benghazi, so there was an imminent danger of a humanitarian catastrophe, and a humanitarian disaster there could have lead to large numbers of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean which the Europeans clearly don't want. Libya is, of course, a major oil producer, so it is also strategically important to Europe and indirectly to the US.

In addition, at the moment when the Libyan revolt picked up steam, both the British and French leaders wanted to demonstrate they were on the side of Arab publics after being caught by surprise by the "Arab Spring". President Sarkozy had taken a lot of criticism for backing the Tunisian leader, Ben Ali, until the last moment (his foreign minister had to resign over her links to the now former Tunisian leader) and David Cameron had been criticised for touring the Gulf states with a business delegation, including arms exporters, at the same time as his government was suspending arms export licences to countries in the region, including Libya, which were using force against peaceful protesters.

Colonel Gaddafi also lacked powerful foreign friends to protect him. So when the French and British brought Resolution 1973 to the UN Security Council, it seems the leaders of China and Russia did not believe they had enough at stake to protect the Colonel by wielding their vetoes, and the Arab League and African Union backed the intervention as they have no time for the Libyan leader who has never been shy of lecturing them on their faults or interfering in their internal affairs.

Finally, there was a known tactic - a no-fly zone - that was readily to hand.

All these factors had to come together at the same time for intervention to take place.

In the past week, enough factors have come together so that France and the UN have now intervened in Ivory Coast proving that old maxim that a week can be a long time in (geo)politics. Last Friday, a new Security Council resolution was followed by French and UN helicopters attacking Mr Gbagbo's troops who were resisting the advance of Mr Ouattara's forces.

So what changed? Firstly, Mr Ouattara's forces suddenly got the upper hand in the fighting on the ground, so the foreign forces did not need to use much air power to give what they hope will be a decisive push. And, as we've been hearing on The World Tonight this week, the humanitarian situation deteriorated rapidly and evidence of massacres emerged creating a sense of urgency.

Add to this President Sarkozy's new found desire to show France is not a friend to authoritarian leaders, and you had the necessary ingredients for military intervention.

Neither Ivory Coast or Libya are straightforward and easy to explain, but we have tried to avoid falling into the pitfalls of seeing them in black and white terms and reflect the debate over why international - including British - military forces have got involved.

But, unfortunately for Bahraini or, for that matter, Burmese pro-democracy activists, the humanitarian impulse to help there has not been reinforced by a confluence of other key factors to trigger strong intervention on their behalf.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.

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