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Neil Report recommends how to strengthen BBC Journalism

Category: BBC

Date: 23.06.2004
Printable version

The Neil Report, published in full today (23 June 2004) by the BBC, lays out recommendations and guidelines to strengthen BBC journalism in the future.

Clearly stating the core values of BBC journalism, the Report emphasises the importance of continuous training, and of learning from both existing best practice and from the specific circumstances around the broadcast which led to the Hutton Inquiry last year.

The Report's most ambitious recommendation is that the BBC should establish a college of journalism under the leadership of an academic principal.

Announcing the publication of the Report, BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said: "The BBC does not have the public's trust as of right; it has to earn and maintain it.

"The Neil Report will enable us to do this, highlighting what we do well and what we could do better.

"It is a template for strengthening BBC journalism in the future and I have asked Mark Byford, Deputy Director-General, to oversee the immediate implementation of the Report's recommendations in full."

Richard Sambrook, Director, BBC News, said: "Ronald Neil and his team have conducted a thorough and searching examination.

"We have worked closely with them and welcome their very constructive conclusions.

"We have already begun the work of rapidly implementing the Report's recommendations."

The review group was set up in February 2004 by the then Acting Director-General Mark Byford to identify the editorial lessons from Lord Hutton's Inquiry and Report.

It was led by the BBC's former Director of News and Current Affairs Ronald Neil and included a former Editor of ITN and BBC editorial executives.

Ronald Neil said: "In carrying out our work over the past three months, the review group recognises the formidable professionalism that already underwrites the BBC's journalism every day.

"However, setting out to improve, strengthen and learn from the experience of life's events when they go wrong is a proper ambition.


"It is a stance of strength, not a weakness.

"I and the rest of the review team are very grateful for the considerable openness of BBC journalists and programme-makers in assisting us in our task."

The Report recommends that journalism training in the BBC should have a substantially enhanced role and investment.

It says: "As the largest employer of journalists in the UK, the BBC has an obligation to take the lead in strengthening training in craft skills and promoting debate about journalistic standards and ethics in broadcasting."

The Report concludes that achieving this requires a "sea change in approach" towards a system of career development and promotion based on clear competencies.

The Report sets out and emphasises the core values of BBC journalism. They are:

Truth and Accuracy - BBC journalism should be rooted in the highest possible levels of accuracy and precision of language, well sourced, based on sound evidence and thoroughly tested;

Serving the Public Interest - prioritising and reporting stories of significance and relevance to audiences, being well informed when explaining stories and robust, but fair and open-minded in asking searching questions of those who hold public office;

Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion - reporting facts in their context, not opinion, practising openness and independence of mind and testing a wide range of views with the evidence;

Independence - striving to be an independent monitor of powerful institutions and individuals, making judgements for sound editorial reasons, not as the result of improper political or commercial pressure;

Accountability - the BBC's first loyalty is to its audiences and their continuing trust in the BBC's journalism is a crucial part of the BBC's contract with them. The BBC will be open in admitting mistakes when they are made, unambiguous about apologising for them, and must encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them.

"All programmes operating under the BBC's journalistic banner must work to the same values, professional disciplines and journalistic culture," says the Report.

The Report highlights lessons to be learned arising from the 6.07am broadcast made by Andrew Gilligan on 29 May 2003 and notes that during the Hutton Inquiry the BBC acknowledged that with hindsight it would have done a number of things differently.

The Report concludes that:

The BBC should continue to report stories based on a single source but "only where the story is one of significant public interest and the correct procedures have been followed".

Audience should be given "as much accurate information as is compatible with protecting the identity of the source" and descriptions should be consistent.

Stories from anonymous sources should have greater editorial scrutiny within the BBC.

As BBC News has 10 times as many journalists than a national newspaper, broadcasting 120 hours of output a day, editors are the day-to-day custodians of the BBC's journalistic values.

This includes ensuring producers and presenters clearly understand their responsibilities in adhering to the values.

Accurate and reliable note-taking should be part of all BBC journalists' training.

Clear principles and procedures should be adopted when making serious allegations to ensure that it is clear to the audience who is making the allegation - the BBC or a third party?

The need to demonstrate fairness, openness and straight dealing in the BBC's journalism is paramount.

Approaches to people or organisations against whom serious allegations are being made must be honest, clear and specific and made in a genuinely open-minded spirit and in good and reasonable time.

Live "two ways" are still an important part of modern broadcasting but that they are normally inappropriate for breaking stories containing serious and potentially defamatory allegations.

Editorial lawyers should be a routine fixture in the main news areas.

The Report notes that the Board of Governors has already approved new policies and procedures in relation to journalists and programme-makers undertaking outside commitments, including writing for newspapers.

The BBC has also been conducting a review of its complaints handling procedures, the main findings of which will be published in the near future.

The Neil Report points to the lessons that should be learned from the handling of the Today programme complaint, including the need for "a system and a culture that encourages fast clarification and correction".

In addition to the establishment of a new college of journalism, the review recommends that the BBC institutes a programme of continuous learning for all staff at all levels with a culture of learning from the reporting of difficult stories and from instances where mistakes have been made.

The Report states: "At the heart of strong journalism is a confident, well-trained journalistic force, who have a real knowledge and experience of the essential craft skills and disciplines. All training should be dedicated to that single end."


Notes to Editors:

Statement from the Board of Governors regarding the Neil Report can be found below.

The review group was announced on 18 February 2004 by Mark Byford and was asked to:

examine the editorial issues for the BBC raised by the Hutton Inquiry and Report

identify the learning lessons and make appropriate recommendations, including necessary revisions to the Producers' Guidelines and to the handling of complaints.

The members of the review group were: Ronald Neil, a former Director of BBC News and Current Affairs; Glenwyn Benson, Controller Factual Commissioning Television; Helen Boaden, Controller Radio 4 and BBC 7; Adrian Van Klaveren, Head of Newsgathering BBC News; Richard Tait, former Editor-in-Chief ITN; and Stephen Whittle, Controller Editorial Policy, BBC.

Statement by the Board of Governors

The BBC Governors fully endorse the findings and recommendations of the Neil Report which examined the editorial lessons for the organisation arising from the Hutton Inquiry.

The panel was convened by the Acting Director-General, Mark Byford, in the wake of the Hutton Report and chaired by Ronald Neil.

The independent panel's recommendations will be implemented in full by BBC managers, editors and journalists and will be incorporated into the BBC Producers' Guidelines.

The Governors will be regularly updated on the implementation of the reforms by management and will examine their impact, in due course if necessary, through independent assessment.

The Neil Report will become required reading for all current and future BBC journalists, their managers and Governors.

The Neil Report notes that the Governors had overseen changes in the BBC's management structure, its processes and guidelines before Lord Hutton reported in January this year.

These included appointing a Deputy Director-General with responsibility for editorial compliance, undertaking a thorough review of the BBC's complaints handling system and tighter rules on BBC journalists and presenters writing for newspapers and magazines.

The Neil Report and the implementation of its findings represent a central element in the BBC's commitment to learn the lessons of last summer.

The Governors agree with the Neil panel's view that learning from events when things go wrong is a sign of organisational strength not weakness.

The Neil Report's recommendations will lead to substantial changes in how the BBC will execute its commitment to impartial and fair journalism.

In particular, the Neil Report's emphasis on training reforms is crucial.

The Board of Governors is clear that the BBC must remain editorially independent and continue its commitment to investigative journalism set within a strengthened editorial framework.

In addition, the Governors have now approved an overhaul of BBC complaints procedures and the findings will be published in the near future.

Some aspects of these reforms have been informed by the handling of the complaint about Andrew Gilligan's broadcast (referred to in the Neil Report).

On 29 June the BBC will publish its first public contribution to the Government's review of the BBC Charter. This document will set out a vision for the BBC's future based around building public value.

It will explain the detailed changes the BBC plans to make in its governance and accountability arrangements.

Some of these changes have been influenced by the Governors' review of their own decisions.

The BBC's Annual Report and Accounts for 2003/04, to be published mid-July, will summarise all the changes implemented by the Corporation since Lord Hutton's Inquiry.



Category: BBC

Date: 23.06.2004
Printable version


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