BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for May 2007

On tour

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:55 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2007

I'm at the Mesh web conference in Canada, where I was invited to speak about how the BBC News website is dealing with the phenomenon of "social media" - blogs, stories and pictures from the audience, and interactivity in general.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI was on a panel with blogger Tony Hung (of Deep Jive Interests and the Blog Herald) and Paul Sullivan (who runs Orato, a citizen journalism project in Vancouver). The discussion's been blogged in a few places, including here and here.

I said two key strands of our day-to-day journalism – readers' comments and opinions, and newsgathering based on information from the audience – have become an indispensable part of what we do, and talked about some of the logistical and editorial challenges this presents. I'm not sure there was huge disagreement amongst us but there was a difference in emphasis – Paul saying editorial control had to rest with his contributors, me saying we'd want to retain final editorial responsibility for any story we were publishing – whoever had contributed it.

One blogger (Duncan Clark) wondered whether there should also have been a perspective from a commercial news organisation. Maybe there should - but I think it's certainly the case that most news organisations now recognise the need to include the audience's perspective and knowledge into their reporting, and most are doing it in one way or another.

Lots of other interesting speakers here – one who stood out for me was Tom Williams of givemeaning.com – a site which aims to channel people's desire to do something about some of the "bad news" stories which make up a lot of news coverage of events around the world, by allowing them to create and collaborate on projects easily online – "reducing the barriers separating people's generosity from the problems that need attention". We get a lot of feedback on certain stories from readers asking how they can help, so maybe this is one place they can now go.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:56 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2007

Daily Telegraph: Columnist Alice Thompson on Newsnight's debate featuring the six Labour deputy leadership candidates. (link)

Working in Baghdad

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:52 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A year ago, I wrote about the difficulties of working in Baghdad.

On 29 May 2006, our colleagues Paul Douglas and James Brolan from CBS News died when a car bomb hit the US military unit they were accompanying in the Iraqi capital. Exactly, 12 months later, the kidnap of five British nationals has given us further cause to stop and ask some hard questions about what we do in Baghdad.

baghdad_203ap.jpgThe BBC has had a permanent presence in the Iraqi capital for more than a decade - not always with a reporter (we were thrown out at some points under Saddam). But - just as in many of the world's other trouble spots - it's important that we're there, on the ground, eyewitnesses to what's going on in Baghdad, explaining the context - something we can only reflect by being there. That's why we don't base ourselves in the so-called Green Zone. Instead the BBC bureau is in the "red zone" - among those who continue to try and make a life in Baghdad.

I hope you'll understand why I won't go into too much detail about the precautions that we take, but safe to say our team there work in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

We have a group of people based in Baghdad - BBC employees not contractors - whose job is to worry about the security of our operation. And we don't spend all day on the roof of the bureau - most days we get out and about.

As I write, I'm watching Paul Wood on BBC World interviewing Canon Andrew White, the Anglican minister in the Iraqi capital; he's being interviewed by the famous "Saddam Swords" across the river from our bureau. The team will have passed a number of Iraqi and American checkpoints to get there, with all the risk that entails.

Every time we leave the bureau it's a major logistical operation - but it's the only way to get to the story. We keep the situation under constant review - balancing the risk, with our ability to tell the story.

We remain in Baghdad because Iraq remains the defining story of our time. At any one time, we have a team of more than a dozen based in the Iraqi capital, both Iraqi and Western nationals. It is only because of their courage - and their belief in the story - that we can continue to do so.

Were you re-engaged?

Peter Barron | 12:27 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Newsnight logoTwo Shags' replacement? Well whoop-de-doo. Deprived of a leadership contest...the TV news people lined up a load of people we've never heard of and couldn't care less about... presumably to see who'd be best placed for a role that has no actual, er, role.” (Read the rest of this blog here).

That was one view on the blogs this morning of Newsnight's Labour deputy leadership debate, but I must say it was very much in the minority. We'd debated among ourselves how much interest there'd be in a deputy leadership debate. Would an unmanageably large line-up of six contenders simply agree to agree on the key issues, the loser being the viewer?

depleaders_203.jpgBut then we invited you to let us know questions you'd like Jeremy to ask, and hundreds of you obliged (which you can read here). Thousands have already taken part in the post-match vote (click here to vote), and a healthy audience of more than a million watched the late-night debate from beginning to end (which you can watch here).

Could it be that the slightly unglamorous Labour deputy leadership debate is re-engaging the public's interest in politics?

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:37 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Daily Mail: Reports on the BBC inquiry into premium rate phone lines, which criticised Blue Peter for a "serious error of judgement". (link)

World News Tonight

Richard Porter | 15:46 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Name two daily news programmes on British television which concentrate only on international events. Can't do it? Actually there's only one - it runs on the digital channel BBC Four and until Friday it was known as The World.

From tonight it has a new name, World News Today, and a new slot, 7pm. But some things stay the same.

BBC World logoIts focus remains on putting global events into context, explaining and analysing significant stories using the BBC's huge network of correspondents around the globe.

It's unashamedly serious; but that doesn't mean it's not engaging or stimulating. And it's still going to be presented by Zeinab Badawi, who is an outstanding presenter and interviewer.

The reason for the change? Well the programme has always been produced by BBC World on behalf of BBC Four, and we've been gradually developing the concept of World News Today across our key hours of the day.

It made sense to extend it to the programme we make for BBC Four, using essentially the same structure and taking the opportunity to refresh the graphics and music which identifies the programme.

worldnewst_203.jpgWe will soon have four editions of World News Today on air, sharing the same structure and appearance, but each targeted at a slightly different audience. Tonight's programme will be for BBC Four viewers in Britain and, simultaneously, BBC World's audiences in continental Europe. Others are (or will be) aimed at the USA, South Asia and the Far East.

At a time when foreign news coverage is under pressure in many areas of the British media, we're proud to produce a programme which aims to produce a truly international perspective on events, and we think there's demand out there from among you, the audience.

As a taster for tonight, we'll be looking at sanctions against Sudan, the crisis facing the leadership of the Israeli government, and the closure of one of the biggest TV stations in Venezuela. We'd love to know what you think, whether you're watching in the UK or elsewhere.

Newswatch

Host Host | 12:52 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2007

In this week's Newswatch, the programme about viewers' thoughts on BBC TV News, Panorama reporter Paul Kenyon responds to criticism of an investigation into the radiation risks of wi-fi.

Also, Vicky Taylor, editor of Have Your Say, discusses a recent live programme featuring Colonel Gaddafi after the Libyan leader walked out halfway through the interview. You can watch the programme by clicking here.

Russia's back

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 11:32 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2007

What have the increased prospect of a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain and the diminishing prospect of Kosovo getting independence next month got in common? Well, the short answer is Russia's reassertiveness on the world stage.

On The World Tonight and Today this week we are taking an in-depth look at Russia to try to make sense of how the country has changed and where it may be going.

The World TonightWhen Russia reduced the flow of gas to Ukraine at the beginning of last year, European consumers were hit as some of that gas was also bound for Europe which gets an increasingly large proportion of its oil and gas from Russia. Moscow insisted the dispute with Ukraine was commercial - essentially Russia wanted to start charging market rates to its neighbour instead of the subsidised prices left over from the Soviet era and they accused the Ukrainians of stalling in negotiations. Some Ukrainians and Western Europeans said it was political because Moscow did not like the new pro-Western government in Ukraine.

Whatever the reason, it sent shock waves through government circles in Europe and provided impetus for plans for EU countries to diversify their energy supplies.

In Britain, part of the reasoning behind the government's decision that new nuclear power stations are needed is the worry that in the near future the country could become too dependent on energy imports from places like Russia which can't be trusted to keep the gas flowing even if the bills are paid.

Russia is also taking a different line from the West on the future of the Serbian province of Kosovo. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations for the past eight years since NATO drove Yugoslav security forces out of the province during their offensive against the separatist guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The US and many EU countries want the province - largely populated by Albanians but with a Serb minority - to be given independence from Serbia, but the Serbs oppose this and have offered autonomy instead.

Russia says the decision on the future of Kosovo has to be agreed by Serbia as well as the Albanian majority, and given the future of the province should be decided by the United Nations Security Council, Russia could veto a resolution that leads to independence.

There are several other areas where Russia has a different policy to the West - over the Iranian nuclear programme, over the expansion of Nato, over America's plans to base some of its missile defence shield in eastern Europe to name the most prominent ones.

In the 1990s the Americans got used to Moscow either supporting its policies or at least not opposing them, so why has that changed?

Russia has some of the world's largest reserves of oil and gas as well as other commodities, and in the past few years, the rising price of these resources that are fuelling economic growth around the world, but especially in China, has led to a rapid recovery of the Russian economy which had hit rock bottom under Yeltsin in the 1990s. With the return of economic strength has come a return of self-confidence and independence in its foreign policy and a consolidation of central political power by President Putin.

How has this been done and why has it happened?

This week we want to try to answer these questions. The World Tonight's reporter Gabriel Gatehouse who used to work for the BBC’s Russian Service will report for the programme from around the country and the BBC's Diplomatic Editor and former Moscow correspondent Bridget Kendall has been to provincial Russia for Today.

We hope it helps to explain recent events and put them into a wider perspective.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:51 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2007

The Times: Columnist David Aaronovitch on the increasingly tabloid nature of television, referring to the BBC and the Ipswich murders, Virgina Tech and Panorama's Scientology programme. (link)

The Guardian: "BBC Worldwide is creating a digital team to develop and launch of a number of community-based, video-rich websites." (link)

Weighing the risks

Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 10:16 UK time, Sunday, 27 May 2007

A scurrilous piece of journalism appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week regarding Alan Johnston’s kidnapping. An article by Bret Stephens criticises BBC management for our failures of “prudence and judgment which put our reporter, Alan Johnston’s life in jeopardy.” Fair enough. It is not as though all of us responsible for Alan’s safety have not asked ourselves the same question many times over the course of the past 11 weeks.

But the article goes on to propose that our reasons for this complacency were as a result of our institutional pro-Palestinian views which meant we felt able to operate in the Palestinian authority with “political impunity”. He would appear to be suggesting that Alan was a Palestinian sympathiser and therefore we felt he would be protected by that. The author throws in the few other BBC correspondent names to stack up his case – saying Barbara Plett and Orla Guerin had also made their views known to the public.

He alleges we believed this stance gave us “institutional advantages in terms of access and protection” and that is why “we felt comfortable posting Alan in a place no other news agency dared to go".

Aside from the lack of sympathy shown by the Wall Street Journal, who must have asked themselves a few questions over the appalling tragedy of Daniel Pearl, it also happens to be totally unfounded. I would have thought the writer would have attempted to establish some facts before committing to the page. Had he put a call into the BBC he might have discovered that we had been by no means complacent about Alan’s safety.

Alan was highly alert to the possibility of kidnap. He had come out of Gaza on several occasions in the months before he was taken; we had drawn up plans to avoid it happening and even a plan of what we would do if it should. He had spent the previous three years in Gaza during which time the security situation had progressively deteriorated. He had been due to come out two weeks before he was kidnapped, and the BBC was assessing whether Gaza was safe enough for western journalists in the immediate future.

Obviously none of this prevented the desperate situation in which Alan is now in. We, as his managers, have repeatedly asked ourselves what more we could and should have done to protect him, including the issue of whether he should have been there at all. But we do think very carefully about putting our staff into dangerous parts of the world and take every measure we can to minimise the risks. We continually talk to our correspondents on the ground, as we did with Alan, about how to do this. However, newsgathering is not, and can never be, an entirely risk free business.

But I am surprised that one of the US’s leading newspapers with a great tradition appears to think that a desire to provide first hand reporting for our audiences, on a key news story of major significance, was an enterprise to be regarded as foolish and complacent, rather than what journalism is supposed to be for.

Prime minister's questions

Peter Barron | 14:54 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2007

When it comes to party leaders Sir Ming Campbell is the easiest to persuade onto Newsnight. Scotland's new First Minister Alex Salmond is also rarely unavailable, though that may change. But the very biggest beasts have been only rarely sighted on Newsnight in recent years.

blairnewsnight203.jpgLast night we had Tony Blair, which was great. It had been a long time. But much as we'd have liked a no-holds-barred affair with Jeremy Paxman on matters ranging from the Iraq war to Lord Levy, that, so far, hasn't been on offer. Instead our tenacious environment specialist Roger Harrabin got the gig, on the circumscribed area of climate change. And if the PM thought he was going to get some soft bowling the record emphatically shows otherwise. (Watch the full version here).

The episode illustrates the care with which the party leaders' media appearances are picked these days. These days we're in competition with Blue Peter, GMTV, Richard, Judy and more for interviews with our leaders, and frankly they seem to be winning.

Newsnight logoTake David Cameron. Some observers felt he came very well out of the "slippery nipple" encounter (which you can watch here) with Jeremy just before he became Conservative leader. But despite regular invitations to repeat the experience in an imaginative array of formats, more than a year later our wait goes on.

And our next prime minister, unencumbered by the need to go to the country, has so far not felt the need to spell out his vision on Newsnight, though we remain hopeful that will soon be addressed.

There is of course no constitutional imperative to appear on Newsnight - would that there were - but we'd like to think there is a convention that if you want to be prime minister you should.

Watch this space.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:28 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2007

The Guardian: Reports on the Pakistani army's denial of allegations made by a BBC investigation into the conduct of its peacekeeping troops in Congo. (link)

Reporting Iraq

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 20:39 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2007

In Iraq on Thursday, there was a suicide bombing of a funeral in Falluja killing at least 25 people, several attacks around Baghdad killing at least 15 people; the body of one of the American soldiers captured last week by insurgents was identified; and there were several attacks in the north and west of the country that killed civilians as well as American and Iraqi troops. Only the attack on the funeral and the identification of the captured American were reported in news bulletins and none of the news programmes decided to cover any of these events in depth.

The World TonightWhy? Have journalists become so inured to the violence in Iraq that it is no longer considered news worthy?

Although there is a stereotype of callous hacks I don't think this is the explanation.

Part of the answer is that there were two other big stories in the Middle East - the escalation in the conflict between the Israelis and Hamas, and the UN report that Iran could be three years away from being able to make a nuclear weapon - which editors judged were more significant on the day than the continuation of violence in Iraq along familiar lines.

The second part of the answer is that editors are aware that we need to find new angles and new ways to tell the Iraq story, otherwise the audience can get to the stage where they mentally switch off if everyday there is a list of incidents of death and destruction. One example this week was when our Baghdad correspondent, Andrew North, went to the campus of one the main universities in the city to talk to students about how they continue to study and live their lives in the midst of the conflict - his report was broadcast on Today (listen here) and the World Service on Monday.

The following day there were attacks on two campuses which killed a number of students, so we on The World Tonight (listen here) interviewed a student who we have spoken to before about her reaction to these attacks, and her hopes and fears for her and her country's future. We hope that by talking to ordinary Iraqis we can help interest audiences in the stories though hearing how people like them live.

In addition to this, when we decide to cover Iraq we try to choose developments that are indicative of trends which can help us make sense of what is happening and why, and how things are likely to develop. So in recent weeks, we have looked at the row over the building of a wall around a Sunni area of Baghdad to try to reduce sectarian violence, which allowed us to look at whether the 'surge' in US troop numbers in the city has had any effect.

We also report the deaths of British soldiers, although as the deaths have become more frequent in the past few months, we have done less analysis of why they are getting killed and whether policy will change, and simply reported the deaths in our news bulletins. I was talking to a military press officer recently who said that sometimes soldiers and their families resent the fact that deaths of British servicemen and women seem to be given less emphasis than in the earlier part of the conflict, but on the other hand he said he understood that the more frequently an event - even the deaths of soldiers and civilians - occurs, the less emphasis it will receive.

It would be interesting to know if you think our approach is the right one.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:33 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2007

The Guardian: Reports that the chairman of ITV, Michael Grade, signed a confidentiality agreement when he resigned as BBC chairman in November 2006. (link)

Financial Times: Reports that Rupert Murdoch denies being influenced by the Chinese government over the decision to stop broadcasting BBC News on his satellite channel, Star TV, in China. (link)

Climate on the rocks?

Mark Barlex | 14:41 UK time, Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Why land a reporting team on a huge island of ice adrift in the Canadian High Arctic?

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoPartly because they can hitch a lift on a research team's plane. Also because it makes great television. But also precisely because it's a huge island of ice adrift in the Canadian High Arctic.

Ayles Ice Island spent 3,000 years attached to the Arctic mainland, but two years ago it split away. The fact that it's now floating free is taken as an indicator of the pace and extent of global warming.

David Shukman's reports from the High Arctic have been part of the Ten O'Clock News's focus on climate change and what it means for all of us. Ayles Ice Island is a spectacular symbol of those changes, and we felt it was important to tell people what's happening to it.

There's now a tracking beacon planted on the island - which happens to be the size of Manhattan and weigh two billion tonnes. We'll shout if it gets any closer.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:24 UK time, Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Columbia Journalism Review: Article on the British media’s invasion of the US market. (link)

The Guardian: Reports that broadcasting unions have rejected the latest BBC pay offer. (link)

Also in the News

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:19 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Observant visitors to our website will notice something new later this week. We're adding an extra section called 'Also in the News' where we'll collect together the offbeat and quirky stories which have always been part of our coverage - but which have hitherto been scattered around the site.

What the new index looks likeYou can see it for yourself by clicking here.

We've had an 'Also in the News' slot for individual stories on the front pages for a long time. It's a useful place to put stories which are interesting, unusual, surprising or just plain odd but which are not, frankly, major news. So, for example, our (in)famous man-marries-goat story started life in this slot, as did the memorable video report of a walrus doing sit-ups, to name but two examples.

On any given day there are always a few stories like this, and they usually get well read. As a news site I think it's our task to report on the most significant AND the most interesting, and the 'Also in the News' stories fall squarely into the latter category.

Does it mean we're dumbing down? Well, we've always reported on the odd, amusing and unusual stories as well as the serious and important, so it's not really a new departure – we're just making them easier to find, and to get via RSS if you so choose.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:56 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Press Gazette: "More than 100,000 people from around the world have added their names to the petition calling for the release of kidnapped BBC Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston." (link)

Newswatch

Host Host | 14:54 UK time, Monday, 21 May 2007

On this week's Newswatch, the programme which discusses viewers' thoughts about BBC News, Kevin Bakhurst, controller of News 24, talks about the Madeleine McCann coverage, and whether the lack of hard evidence from police led to reporters speculating rather than reporting the facts. Vin Ray, director of the BBC’s College of Journalism, responded to criticism of camerawork used in Panorama and other news programmes.

You can watch the programme by clicking here.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 10:44 UK time, Monday, 21 May 2007

Financial Times: Reports that the BBC’s international audience grew by an estimated 11% last year. (link)

The Independent: Interview with Five Live Breakfast presenter Nicky Campbell on his life in media. (link)

The Guardian: Reports that scientists have rejected Panorama’s claims on the radiation risks of wi-fi. (link)

The Guardian: "The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, will present an interim report to the BBC Trust next month proposing annual savings of around 5% a year up to 2013.” (link)

Too much from Portugal?

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 19:37 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2007

The coverage of Madeleine McCann continues to cause debate and discussion, particularly now in some of the newspapers. This is something of course that we spend a lot of time talking about within BBC News and it does pose us some dilemmas.

BBC News 24 logoFirstly some facts: even now as we move into the third week since Madeleine's disappearance, the story is still resulting in very high news audiences. This isn't always the decisive measure but it does seem to represent a high level of interest from the audience. Secondly, the number of complaints to the audience log at the BBC over the amount of coverage are still at a low level: yesterday, there were ten complaints. I personally have a number of e-mails complaining about the coverage, but they are all from one person.

In the Guardian today, Simon Jenkins takes up the theme complaining that the coverage has been "absurdly over the top" and is surprised that we sent out a presenter to back up "at least two other on-screen reporters in place".

I have the highest respect for Mr Jenkins and his record in print journalism but I'm sure he would also recognise that in order to provide coverage around the clock for Breakfast, BBC World, BBC News 24, the One, Six and Ten O'Clock News and Newsnight, as well as to gather news and report from at least two locations in the Algarve, that TV News needs rather more than the three people he outlines.

Mr Jenkins also asserts that the coverage of Madeleine led the Six O'Clock News ahead of Gordon Brown's leadership bid. This is just wrong. Gordon Brown winning the leadership led the Six O'Clock News on Thursday night. So far this week, the search for Madeleine has led the Six O'Clock News on one evening, though it has obviously been given prominent coverage elsewhere in the bulletin.

We have been particularly careful to avoid entering into a round of speculation and rumour, though this has surfaced in some other media. And we have tried to satisfy the genuine interest among a huge portion of our audience and strike the right tone. There have been days - such as when Tony Blair announced his departure and when power was restored to the Northern Ireland assembly - when we have done very little coverage.

Last weekend, we specifically decided that we should cover many other stories while giving the search for Madeleine appropriate prominence. But we decided not to do rolling coverage all day when there were really no news developments and it would - in my view - almost have seemed exploitative.

I'm sorry if some viewers feel - as Mr Jenkins and one or two other commentators do - that we have done too much. I'm also sorry if others feel we haven't done enough. But we have tried to tread this difficult line.

Listen and learn

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 17:07 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2007

So Gordon Brown wants to "Listen and Learn" and earn the country's trust before he gets the keys to Number 10. If he were to listen and learn from Radio 1 listeners and earn their trust he's got do one simple thing: call a general election.

Radio One logoThe texts, emails and online comments from Newsbeat listeners over the past few days reflect a clear thread of opinion. Many don't like him because' he's "Scottish", "grumpy", "dull", "grey", "supports Raith Rovers", "mucked up pensions", "tried to be something he's not by talking about the Arctic Monkeys" - and yes, he comes from North of the Border ("why can't we have an Englishman in charge?" is a common refrain on our texts from listeners).

But the real problem is they don't think he's got a mandate to lead us. We've done plenty of explanation about our democratic system and why he doesn't have to call an election - they know - it's just that it's not washing.

Armed with this our political reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan - for my money now one of the sharpest (and smallest) operators on the Westminster scene - went along to ask Brown the key question. His answer: "It is not a presidential system," he explained. "People elect a government through electing their members of Parliament and out of that parliamentary party, whether it is Conservative, Labour or Liberal in the past" etc, etc. You may have heard this one before so I won't spoil the punch line.

Rajini jumped back in as eyelids sagged under the weight of the citizenship lecture... "Yes, sorry to interrupt. I think the thing is, they know that's the case, but they say if you want to be a credible prime minister, why not just go to the polls?". Cue for Prime Minister Elect to launch into what some there (link to Times article) felt to be a deeply patronising lecture about Asquith, Lloyd George and MacMillan - names not guaranteed to fire the imagination of many people outside the Westminster bubble. Answering the question with a good, accessible argument for Radio 1 listeners it wasn't. Perhaps he doesn't need their votes.

Anyway, the audience, judging by our interaction after our piece was broadcast, is not impressed by his arguments. Not so much "listen and learn" from Gordon Brown at the moment, though to be fair we'll keep asking and he can keep answering - he may win the argument, but at least we've got Rajini on our side.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:28 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2007

The Times: Article on the "crusader journalist", following John Sweeney's investigation into Scientology. (link)

The Guardian: Columnist Simon Jenkins on the BBC's coverage of the Madeleine McCann story. (link)

Birthday greetings

Host Host | 10:25 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2007

Today's is Alan Johnston's 45th birthday, and his 66th day in captivity. Here some of his colleagues, friends and editors from across BBC News extend their birthday greetings - and invite you to add yours via the Comments box.

alanposters.jpgDear Alan, I'm about to write a quick note to your parents to tell them what we're preparing for your birthday. it should be a surprise I know, but I don't want them to miss World Have Your Say. Mark and his team have asked writers to send you their best wishes and they've all obliged: Brian Keenan, Ian Rankin, Paulo Coelho, AS Byatt and many many others have sent some incredibly moving words which I know you will get, now or later when you're released. Happy 45th birthday, we're all thinking of you.
Liliane Landor, World Service

Now more than ever, we miss your humanity, objectivity and integrity in reporting the story of Gaza. From all your friends in the Middle East and around the world - happy birthday Alan.
Jon Williams, Newsgathering
(More from Jon in this From Our Own Correspondent)

Hi Alan, all the best on your birthday, I have been thinking back to the many night shifts we did together at World Service and how you always seemed the calmest most sensible presence in the office,m always a huge pleasure to have around. I hope you'll be around again as soon as possible.
Alistair Burnett, World Tonight

Many happy returns to you Alan your 45th birthday. We all have you in our thoughts and are working hard for your release which we dearly hope will happen soon.
Fran Unsworth, Newsgathering

Happy Birthday from everybody on Today. We can only wish that your day is as good as it can possibly be. If there's a window, we hope you can see out of it. If there's a radio, we hope you can hear it so that you'll know how much we, our listeners, and people around the world are thinking of you, and looking forward to the day when we'll be able to say to you in person: "We're sorry we couldn't see you on your birthday."
Ceri Thomas,Today

Alan, I am editor of the One and Six O'Clock News. We haven't met, but now - for all the wrong reasons - I feel I know you. Like so many journalists you wanted to tell the truth about the country you were working in. Your kidnap is wrong. You should be released now. Here in the newsroom we think of you every day... and of course we extend our best wishes on your birthday. The greatest gift you and your family could have is your freedom.
Mark Popescu, Daytime

Alan, All of your friends and colleagues in the BBC World Service and Global News Division are thinking of you and wishing you well. We hope you receive these messages of support and that you'll soon be back with us. Stay strong.
Richard Sambrook, Global News

Many Happy Returns - and here's hoping for a happy return soon to your family and friends.
Jonathan Baker, Newsgathering

Best wishes on your birthday from all at the BBC News website. Our thoughts are with you.
Steve Herrmann, News website

Happy Birthday my friend. We miss you but we are with you, everyday. By the way I checked with the suits and you should be able to carry your leave over into next year.
Pete Rippon, PM

PS. If you run a blog or website, you can add the Alan Johnston button by following the instructions on this page. If you haven't already added your name to the petition calling for Alan's release, you can do so here. Thank you for your support.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:21 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Guardian: Reports on the resignation of the editor of Blue Peter. (link)

Metro: Reports on actor John Travolta's response to the BBC's recent documentary on Scientology. (link)

Improving journalism

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 12:39 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The scientologists have done us a service. Their rebuttal campaign aimed at John Sweeney’s Panorama investigation is a foretaste – a particularly well-funded and well-produced foretaste – of the feedback firestorm beginning to engulf all of Big Journalism.

Good. Journalists and audiences have to get used to the new world.

The story so far. The latest Panorama (which you can click here to watch) began life as a John Sweeney investigation into Scientology. It’s not the first time Panorama have been here; they looked at the religion in 1987. Many of John Sweeney’s allegations were familiar, though his evidence was more up to date and more compelling.

But the film turned into a report on a report on a report. Panorama put a reporter, producer and crew into the field; the scientologists did the same… Panorama looking at Scientology’s methods and mores, Scientology looking at John Sweeney’s methods and mores.

The result; a Panorama film that told the story of a Panorama reporter’s reaction to the scientologists’ mirror. And a little bit about the scientologists too.

sweeneyj_203pa.jpgIn the end, (depending on your point of view) either John Sweeney cracked or, as he explained it in the programme, he asserted his authority, leaning heavily on a prior thespian persona in “Oh What a Lovely War” (Joan Littlewood, you have much to answer for). Either way, he shouted a lot and links to the clip of 'the moment', posted to YouTube by a scientologist blogger, spread through e-mail networks faster than Staph A on a lukewarm Petri dish.

And the scientologist onslaught was multimedia; they handed out copies of their counter-film to BBC staff on Monday morning and posted it on an elegant and well-designed website which broadened the attack onto the BBC in general.

Good.

This is how it is now and will be more so in days to come. And it's not a bad thing for Big Journalism. OK, so not everyone in journalism's many audiences has the resources, time, commitment and Tom Cruise/John Travolta on the books. But almost everyone has a mobile phone, a digital camera, the ability to record audio, blog, join networks... do much more to just tell the editor what they think of the journalism they use or experience.

And if you doubt the power of the audience... look what happened to Eason Jordan, Dan Rather and Judith Miller.

It's uncomfortable... IF you're used to the old one-to-many lecture that journalism used to be. But the reason it's to be welcomed is that it will improve journalism; perhaps even raise our trust in what journalists tell us.

After all, if the argument for investigative journalism is that things done in the light are done with more integrity and accountability than things done in the dark... then the argument for investigating journalism - for audiences and those journalism puts in the news to investigate journalism - is unanswerable. Journalism that has integrity and honesty in the first place has nothing to fear.

Postscript: one of the many other features of this new world is the maxim - 'nothing is ever finished, it's just the latest version'. Within hours of the 'Sweeney moment' being posted to YouTube this 'tweaked' version joined it.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:49 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Guardian: Reports that former Newcastle United assistant manager, Kevin Bond, is to sue the BBC for libel following a Panorama programme about football bungs. (link)

The Times: Reports that Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond has won a Royal Society science writing award for a children's physics book. (link)

The Guardian:
"The BBC is fighting back against the growing number of reports claiming TV is bad for children with an independent assessment of their scientific validity." (link)

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:49 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The Independent: Reports that the BBC is to close its online education service, BBC Jam, with the loss of 200 jobs based there. (link)

Daily Mail: "The 14-year-old daughter of BBC news presenter Gavin Esler has revealed in a television interview how she battled cancer." (link)

Investigating Scientology

Sandy Smith | 20:15 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2007

We set out to ask if Scientology was changing. It's an organisation with a chequered history, and a very colourful founder. It's been described as corrupt and sinister in courts in the UK. But the Church says that's all in the past, and it's just opened a new HQ in London.

panorama.gifAs part of his investigations, our reporter John Sweeney (more from him here) had been shown an exhibition entitled the 'Industry of Death'. Scientologists believe that all psychiatry should be eradicated, and that it is evil in every form. Like everything to do with Scientology, their views are absolute.

In that exhibition John had seen representations of needles being pushed into children's eyes, he'd seen torture imagery, all of which Scientologists say is legitimate. He'd been talking to Scientologists and ex-Scientologists all week, they'd been dogging his every step, following him, and interrupting interviews that he'd been doing. At one point he was conducting an interview when a spokesman for the Scientologists turned up unannounced in the middle of a car park, to challenge John for "interviewing a pervert".

sweeney.jpgThe whole thing came to a head when the spokesman accused John of going too soft on that interviewee, and John completely lost it in a way that I don't condone. We're not broadcasting the clip to promote the programme because we're proud of it - we're showing it because it's been on You Tube and the BBC is being criticised for it - and we don't want to hide it. We would have included it in the film in any case. I'm very disappointed with John, and he's very disappointed.

But when you watch the programme (which you will be able to do on our website after tonight's transmission), and you see what goes before and what comes after, you see a portrait of an extraordinary organisation which will not accept any criticism of itself whatsoever. It's not a question of us setting out to call Scientology a cult - it's just a question of us asking legitimate questions, and their organisation being unwilling to engage seriously with us. And when you go in as a journalist to try and deal with that, it's explosive. I'm now dealing with a situation in which the Church of Scientology has released a video to all MPs and peers accusing Panorama, of staging a demonstration outside one of their offices in London and making a death threat - or as they call it, a terrorist death threat - against Scientologists. The BBC, accused of terrorism.

The Church did, at first, agree to be involved. Over a day and a half, they organised formal interviews for us - they wanted us to talk to actresses Anne Archer and Kirstie Alley, as well as other celebrities and sports stars. They lined them all up, one after the other, and they talked about what Scientology meant to them. They were convincing and strong - Kirstie Alley in particular was very persuasive. John asked why some people say that it's a sinister cult, and about claims of brainwashing. Which, for the record, is not an allegation we've made - I don't want Scientologists in the UK to think that that's our view.

We completed the interviews, then three or four days before transmission, we received solicitors' letters from California saying that the interviewees no longer wanted to take part. So we were obliged to remove them.

In a sense, they've shot themselves in the foot by refusing to allow us to broadcast those viewpoints, when that was what we wanted to do. The Church rejects all criticism, and disputes that they offered us conditions on access which we couldn't accept.

The BBC's head of current affairs has reviewed our footage and, apart from the moment where John loses his temper, he's happy that none of it breaches the BBC's guidelines. The Scientologists claimed that we breached Ofcom's guidelines over 150 times - though I think that's for the regulator to assess, not the Church.

Your suggestions

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 20:04 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2007

Over the weekend I spent some time responding to the comments and ideas for improving the website that you left on my last post. You can read my comments here.

Too much on Blair?

Gary Smith | 10:23 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2007

Did the BBC do too much on the Blair departure story? Some of you think so. Among your complaints: it’s been reported for months that he’s about to go, so what’s new? He’s not going just yet – in fact he’s not actually going for another seven weeks. One caller even said: “Has Tony Blair died?”

numberten_203ap.jpgValid points. We broadcast a huge amount on this story. Right through the day we covered – exhaustively, some would say - the events, the reaction, and the analysis.

Why?

Because the end of Tony Blair’s prime ministership is an important moment in British politics and British life. It’s a moment to look at his achievements over the past ten years, at what’s gone well and what’s gone badly, and at how his leadership has changed the country.

We received an enormous amount of feedback from our audiences, some negative about aspects of what we said, some positive. But interest was exceptionally high; and the vast majority of the viewers, listeners and readers who communicated with us were enthusiastic about the seriousness with which we treated the story.

You may not have agreed with everything we said, or with the emphasis we put on one aspect of his premiership over another (why so much on Iraq and so little on Northern Ireland?). But broadly you wanted the breadth and depth of what we provided.

And why now? Why not wait till Mr Blair’s last day as prime minister? I suppose the answer is that politics is a brutal business. Once you’ve announced the date of your departure, attention moves on very quickly to the successor, in this case – unless something very surprising happens – Gordon Brown.

So to have waited till the end of June, when Tony Blair finally closes the door of Number 10 behind him, would have seemed like turning up at the party after all the other guests had left. Particularly as every other broadcaster and newspaper also chose this moment for their assessments of the Blair years.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:56 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2007

Daily Telegraph: Reports on video clip of Panorama reporter John Sweeney losing his temper during an investigation into Scientology. (link)

The Guardian: Jeremy Paxman is to deliver the keynote speech at this summer's MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival. (link)

Daily Mail: Reports that the BBC is to spend £100,000 on a documentary about Cherie Blair's years in Downing Street. (link)

The Guardian: Article on the delays and costs affecting the BBC's iPlayer project. (link)

New news summary

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 13:21 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2007

Viewers in the Birmingham area may have noticed something different at 8pm on BBC One.

It's a short summary of the day's news (which you can click here to watch), presented by Natasha Kaplinsky. We're piloting it in that area, in the hope that it will be commissioned to go national later in the year.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoThe summary is above and beyond current BBC output, and came out of a desire to attract people who might not traditionally watch BBC news, particularly younger adults.

Inevitably, some papers have got the wrong end of the stick and claimed it is a case of the BBC "dumbing down". One article even ended with the line "The BBC still intends to continue with the Ten O'Clock News" (which I happen to edit) as if we would ever consider scrapping the programme in favour of a one minute summary!

BBC News is not dumbing down in any way - as anyone who saw yesterday's comprehensive coverage of Tony Blair's departure plans will have seen.

What we do understand, is that the audience is fracturing as never before - different groups have different needs - and the BBC needs to be able to speak to them all. That doesn't mean the summary will be the Daily Star on air, but it does mean that we will explore some areas that are not in our main programmes.

I hope that people who like their news pure and traditional will understand that because we use new programmes to appeal to different groups, does not mean that the Ten O'Clock News will be any less serious.

Did you wait for Howard?

Peter Barron | 12:25 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2007

What is it about Michael Howard and Newsnight?

Newsnight logoThe former Conservative leader already holds the accolade for the greatest-ever Newsnight moment with, of course, that interview with Jeremy in 1997 in which he failed to answer the same question 12 times in a row (watch it here).

Last night he made a renewed bid for YouTube immortality in an extraordinary moment of theatre involving his old adversary Alastair Campbell. Howard and Campbell were live in Newsnight's studio discussing Blair's legacy, and as midnight hovered into view something of the night seemed to overtake Mr Howard. He launched a savage and sustained attack on Campbell's modus operandi, effectively blaming him for the ills of the Blair years and accusing him of using lies as a weapon of government.

In case you'd already gone to bed, click here for another chance to enjoy.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:04 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2007

The Guardian: "Alan Johnston, the BBC's kidnapped Gaza correspondent, was today named broadcasting journalist of the year at the annual London Press Club awards." (link)

The Guardian: The BBC's Andrew Marr reports on a month spent with an 'eBook'. (link)

Avoiding intrusion

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 16:48 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2007

There's no doubt in a week of major news stories, that Madeleine McCann has captured the thoughts and hopes of the British public and there's a real desire for the latest updates. I thought it may be interesting and useful for the audience to have an insight into the decisions on coverage and the arrangements on the ground.

BBC News 24 logoNews 24's Jane Hill has been in the Algarve since Saturday morning as part of a sizeable BBC team and we have strived to try to get the tone right as well as the amount of coverage. Both in the Algarve and here in the UK, we have liaised closely with Madeleine's family and the British authorities on the wishes of the family and the facts and tone of the reporting. Early on, both ITV and Sky joined an informal pool operation in the Algarve around the family where we only showed Madeleine's parents and family by consent so as to try to avoid intrusion. The BBC helped to organise the televised statement by Mrs McCann which was pooled to British and Portuguese TV stations. Even in these difficult circumstances, the McCann's know that publicity for Madeleine is important as the search goes on.

We have called Madeleine by her full name (not Maddy), at the request of the family because it is what they call her. We passed on the accurate details of Madeleine's pyjamas, at the family's request, correcting the police's initial description. For several days there were many developments that we reported as they unfolded and large audiences watched News 24 over the Bank Holiday weekend, concerned for Madeleine. For the last couple of days, there have been fewer concrete developments (at time of writing) and the temptation for some seems to have been to report unsubstantiated rumours of which there are many to try to keep the story going - particularly when there is self-evidently high audience interest in the story itself. We have looked into many of these rumours on the ground and that is all they have so far turned out to be.

We all sincerely hope that there is a positive outcome for Madeleine and the McCanns and we will continue to try to provide the high volume of coverage and updates that the audience obviously wants, whilst respecting the family's privacy and needs and whilst striving to separate real developments from rumours.

Assessing the record

Colin Hancock | 16:34 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2007

Well, that's what the audience was telling Five Live...

wato.jpg...over on Radio Four we got a few more of the "why are you doing this" style of email (sample: "Tony Blair is NOT DEAD. Please spare us the endless obituaries. Today's programme has been totally dominated - we're NOT INTERESTED, & I suspect many share my opinion. Please do not pander to this man's search for a legacy, & especially do not carry on this for the next 6 weeks").

Well I can assure listeners about the last point - even we have a boredom threshold and I'm pretty close to reaching mine.

However, I still think it was right to take the opportunity today to assess the record... and although other listeners have a visceral hatred of Alastair Campbell, I thought the discussion with him, William Hague and Charles Kennedy was pretty interesting stuff (you can listen to the whole programme here). Martha secured us the exclusive, and first, interview with Blair's confidante Sally Morgan and I enjoyed Nick Robinson's account of the Blair speech and his final essay.

Despite the advance notice it was still a hectic morning all round, especially at College Green at the heart of the circus. We tried to make room to stand back and assess the past ten years - maybe you thought we did so too much.

Of course there's now a danger we'll go overboard on the Brown succession. We'll try to avoid that, but I'd be interested to know what it is about him and his likely Government you feel merits airtime.

In the meantime, to the man who found this lunchtime's Scarlatti concerto on R3 more diverting, I'm sorry.

Talking Tony

Richard Jackson | 11:49 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2007

At 06:05 this morning, the following text message dropped into the Breakfast inbox.

"I am getting fed up hearing about Tony Blair - change your record. Robert in Cheltenham"

Radio Five Live logoThis was not what we wanted to hear. We'd only been on air five minutes. We'd barely mentioned his name.

And we had already got extensive plans for the Five Live Breakfast programme - to reflect on the impending departure of Tony Blair. We wanted to hear from listeners - telling us what they would remember about the soon-to-be ex-PM. But, if Robert in Cheltenham was typical, we could be swimming against the tide.

Fortunately, Robert turned out to be a fairly solitary voice. Plenty of other people wanted to have their say about Tony Blair. The critics were out in force, The same words kept cropping up - spin, Iraq, lies, illegal war, pensions. But there were others who wanted to praise Blair too - for example Valarie in Essex...

Thanks Tony Blair for saving our NHS and hence saving the life of my lovely Granddaughter and Thank you also for saving my life and for the wonderful treatment I received for Breast Cancer, I could not have got better if I had gone private.

And so, hour after hour, the reaction continued to pour in. Even though Mr Blair was not leaving his job straight away, but merely telling the world his intentions, people were armed and ready with the opinions of 10 years under Labour.

It was meaty stuff - there were allegations of broken promises, claims of a new dawn for the NHS, complaints about education standards, celebrations of investments in new buildings.

But when it comes to interaction people like nothing more than a gag. And as John Pienaar stood outside Downing Street telling us about the arrivals of cabinet colleagues for a moment of history, someone was spotted carrying a guitar case into Number 10.

Oh no. He's not going to sing is he? No sooner had the idea been given the briefest of airings, than we were inundated again - this time with the titles of the songs Tony might sing to his chums after he bade them farewell. No more mr nice guy... Tears of a clown... you get the idea.

And then the tone changed again. William Hague - a man who once had his own ambitions to be PM - said there should now be a general election. It should be down to the people not the Labour party to decide who should run the country. This even before Mr Blair had spoken publicly about his plans.

And so a text vote started on Five Live... and within minutes hundreds of people had voted. Eighty percent (in an unscientific straw poll) said yes - there should be an election.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 11:47 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2007

Independent: Reports that Moira Stuart may move to ITV. (Link)
Independent: Janet Street-Porter says TV is still run by men, despite what Sir Patrick Moore says. (Link)
Daily Mail: Report on Today programme's investigation into child carers. (Link)

Post Stormont

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 14:49 UK time, Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Will The World Tonight ever report on Northern Ireland again? It's a question I was asked last night, presumably on the grounds that with the return of devolved government and what we used to call power-sharing, the Northern Ireland story will become routine - and dare I say - normal.

The World TonightThe World Tonight is younger than the conflict in Northern Ireland. We began broadcasting in 1970, and over the past 37 years we have covered extensively the violence and the attempts to bring peace, but during that time we have also covered other stories. Recently, we have looked at economic changes that have brought greater cross-border integration on the island of Ireland and reported on the fact that Northern Ireland now has the highest rate of inflation for house prices in the UK.

This will continue, as we will track the success of the new adminstration. However if Stormont succeeds and, hopefully, there is long term stability, the coverage will inevitably change to focus on less momentous events, and the province may end up being less frequently featured as a result.

But everyone pays the licence fee, and we have a commitment to reporting the UK as a whole (although we are sometimes criticised for not reporting enough from outside London and the south-east). So the answer's yes. You will continue to hear about interesting things going on in Northern Ireland.

10 years on - a new era

Tim Levell | 12:40 UK time, Wednesday, 9 May 2007

This summer, we at Newsround are working out how to mark the end of a memorable and at times controversial decade, the like of which we may never see again.

Newsround logoAfter 10 years at the very top of his game - during which he's dominated all those around him and arguably changed the landscape forever - he's finally stepping down. Many people can barely believe that this moment is here, but yes, after this summer there will be no more.

He started way back in the summer of 1997. No one quite knew what to expect, but within a few years it was clear that nothing would be the same again. And not only did he conquer Britain; he wowed millions of fans in America, the Far East and Europe too.

So we're working out how to look back over the past 10 years, and we're also embarking on the search for his successor. Someone needs to take over where Harry Potter has left off, but the problem is - no one knows who.

In June 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published - just a month after Tony Blair came to power. Ten years later, on 21 July 2007, the seventh and final book in the instalment will be published, having sold a staggering 225 million copies in 64 languages worldwide.

Admittedly, there are still three more movies to come. But really, this is the end of the line for the Harry Potter story - something which, on the Newsround website at least, has consistently provided far and away the most popular stories we've ever published.

And this actually provides us with a serious dilemma. Gordon Brown may be Tony Blair's heir apparent. But for Harry Potter, it's nowhere near so clear. In a recent vote, Tracey Beaker was number one to take over, followed by the Alex Rider series. But none of those have had quite the cultural crossover which JK Rowling's creation has enjoyed.

In today's atomised environment, where kids download hundreds of different bands, there seem to be very few breakthrough pop-cultural phenomenons. The era of the rock-solid showbiz stories about Take That, Busted or Britney has long gone.

Harry Potter was a good banker. Come the end of the summer, who will take his place?

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:46 UK time, Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Daily Mail: "The BBC was accused of dumbing down yesterday after it revealed plans to broadcast a 60-second news summary on its main channel at 8pm." (link)

The Guardian: "Former BBC director general Greg Dyke has warned today the corporation will be "hamstrung" by its new governance body, the BBC Trust." (link)

News 24 live

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:14 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

You might have noticed a change at the top of the News website pages today.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIn the orange banner next to the BBC logo (on the UK edition of the website) where we used to have audio and video links to programmes, we now have a link to a live stream of BBC News 24. (The programme links have moved to the right).

We’ve known for a long time that when we make the News 24 stream available on the site during a major breaking story it gets a lot of traffic. We also know that there’s a good take-up for the News 24 video summary.

So as part of our aim to make sure all our key news services are available on-demand, the News 24 continuous live stream will be available from today on the website, whenever you want to watch it.

Narrowest niche

Peter Knowles | 15:48 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

On the face of it, BBC Parliament is the narrowest of niche channels. You’d have to travel down the channel listings as far as Discovery Ironing +1 before you’d find something more niche. What it says in the lid is very much what is inside: Parliament. This means committee hearings and debates from the devolved parliament and assemblies, as well as full coverage of the Westminster chambers. They occupy the bulk of the schedule.

bbcparliamentlogo.jpgBut there is something in the character of these debates and hearings which is the source of an idea we’ve been exploring. We care about authenticity and speech, unmediated. It’s the opposite of soundbite television. There is a lot going on in the political world which is worth hearing in full and a lot of resources to be tapped into – by way of archive and material from other broadcasters – not available anywhere else.

So, over a bank holiday weekend where the weather was less than inspiring, the channel made use of some surprising resources.

frenchdebate203_ap.jpgFrom abroad, we broadcast the whole of the election debate between Sarkozy and Royal (Friday evening with translation – all two hours 40 minutes of it). From the election night itself, the channel took coverage from TF1 and France 2, in French, for those who wanted to experience the event direct and as an alternative to the high-powered special presented by Jon Sopel on BBC News 24, (who, rather conventionally, stuck to broadcasting in English). Earlier in the day, we heard from C-SPAN, with Angela Merkel on the transatlantic partnership.

From the archive, ten years on from New Labour coming to power, BBC Parliament showed in entirety the election night broadcast and this ran all day across the rainy bank holiday Monday. We’ve been told that many participants in the 1997 election stayed glued to their sets, throughout the day. (Next stop in our tour of the election archive:1987, which is showing 5 October).

Drawing on the BBC’s wider resources, the channel showed BBC Scotland’s beautiful film by Ruaridh Nicoll. Patriot Games, examining the history of the Act of Union. And from our own archives, in a new documentary, Robert Orchard told the complex story of Tony Blair’s relationship with Parliament as he prepares to step down.

paisley_203ap.jpgThis morning, that extraordinary opening session of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Back to the Commons, this afternoon, and normal business.

The programming ‘specials’ do, I think, offer something of value and they get the channel noticed in newspaper articles and blogs. In turn, this helps us reach a wider audience for our normal parliamentary schedule. BBC Parliament is the only parliamentary channel, among dozens in the world, to have regular audience ratings (we reach around one million adults, per month) and I think these specials play their part.

Television Centre statement

Host Host | 12:47 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Alan Johnston banner on Television Centre


Suggestions box

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The BBC News website won two Webby awards last week – best news site and the People's Voice award in the same category.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFirstly I want to thank everyone who voted for us for the People's Voice award - it's great to know you appreciate what we do. The main Webby award winners are chosen by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, whose website says: "To be selected among the best is an incredible achievement worthy of praise -- and perhaps a little bragging." So here goes.

It's the third year that we have won both awards, which is a major tribute to the journalists, developers and designers who make the site what it is.

Over the past year we’ve brought in some new things – introducing personalisation of local news, weather and sport, making video easier to find, adding the "most popular now" pages and introducing this blog, among others.

The range and quality of the BBC's journalism underpins what we do, and finding new ways of presenting it on the site, as the tools of our trade get updated and reinvented (last week's election maps and results, for example), is one of the best things about being in online news.

We've got some exciting plans for the coming year which I can’t share in huge detail yet, but will include further developing video on the site, pulling together key editorial content more readily for big issues and stories, and raising the profile on the site of some of the key BBC News programmes. That’s a few of the things we’re working on – what else would you like to see?

Newswatch

Host Host | 10:55 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

In this week's Newswatch, the programme about viewers' thoughts on BBC TV News, Newsround’s editor, Tim Levell, discusses whether it is appropriate for a news programme to poke fun at President Bush and News 24’s Stephen Mawhinney defends the amount of coverage given to Topshop’s unveiling of the Kate Moss collection. You can watch the programme by clicking here.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:22 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The Guardian: Leader article praises BBC Parliament. (link)

Daily Telegraph: Interview with the BBC's director of future media and technology, Ashley Highfield. (link)

Daily Mail: Reports on Sir Patrick Moore's comments that the BBC has been ruined by women. (link)

The Guardian: Reports that BBC staff numbers have fallen by 9% since Mark Thompson became director general in 2004. (link)

Children's concern

Tim Levell | 12:15 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2007

A debate in the Newsround office right now is whether to cover the story of David Hasselhoff being filmed drunk by his daughters.

Newsround logoThere are many many families up and down Britain where drunken parents can cause great upset for their children - and even rip families apart.

The fact that David Hasselhoff has released a statement saying that his daughters were "concerned for my well-being" and that he has seen the tape and "learned from it" means that he has accepted the problem and is on-side with the tape being shown.

And it's a powerful example of how concerned children can help their parents get through their troubles.

But the video is undeniably strong. One clip shows him struggling to eat a hamburger; in another he says he is "lonely" because he has "trouble in our life".

hasselhoff_203ap.jpgIt should go without saying that we would do this as a story about children raising concerns about their parents' behaviour -- not in any way making light of what's happened.

Since I started writing this entry, one of our reporters has been talking to Alcohol Concern, who've told us that "as long as we do it responsibly, it could be beneficial".

We are erring on the side of doing it - and on the side of showing some but not all of the video. (Another discussion is whether we show the video full-screen or somehow shrink it or have it in the background.) Bearing in mind that we aim at six- to 12-year-old children, what do you think?

What did you do in the war?

Peter Barron | 12:01 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2007

Newsnight is under attack again from Medialens, the online group whose self-appointed task is to "correct the distorted vision of the corporate media".

Newsnight logoThey take issue with an interview Gavin Esler did recently with the US Under Secretary of State Nick Burns on Iran and Iraq. I don't think it was the greatest interview we ever did, and nor does Gavin, but does that make us, as some Medialens adherents have claimed, complicit in war crimes or agents in preparing for war with Iran?

Unlike some in the media who studiously ignore them, I've always thought Medialens make a noteworthy contribution. Along with other lobbyists and pressure groups they invite us to question what we do and when they make a valid point we should reflect it. But how many people do they actually represent?

We had a different complaint this week about our coverage of the Iraq war from Michael Gove, the Conservative front bencher. He said: "It is still the case that around one third of the British population believes, despite all the errors and horrors, that the decision to remove Saddam was right. But where, and how often, is that perspective presented on the BBC?" Should we listen more to that view than Medialens's? Gove at least represents Britain's currently most popular political party.

Where I do agree with Medialens though is that we shouldn't try to please everyone by adopting a safely uncontroversial stance somewhere in the middle. Our job is to ask uncomfortable questions reflecting views from right, left and centre and not just from those who shout the loudest.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:57 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2007

The Times: Report on future of TV viewing via the internet (Link)
The Times: Columnist Oliver Kamm on Lord Tebbit declining to take part in Radio 4's The Reunion (Link)
The Mirror: Report on the success of Boots face cream after Horizon programme (Link)
Press Gazette: Parliament to act after Ten O'Clock News investigation into human trafficking. (Link)

Free media

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:28 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2007

The United Nations declared 3 May 1993 World Press Freedom Day. It's been marked on this day every year since.

3 May 2007 is Alan Johnston's 52nd day incarcerated who-knows-where. Seven weeks ago, as many of you will know, he was abducted at gunpoint in Gaza City. Neither his family nor the BBC have heard from him since.

This year the BBC celebrates 75 years of international broadcasting. For three quarters of a century, we've relied on an extraordinary group of people who remain in the world's trouble spots, when everyone else is getting out. They don't just work for the BBC of course. And World Press Freedom Day is about more than Alan Johnston. But arguably now - more than ever - Alan's plight represents the dangers facing journalists around the world.

Seventy five years after the birth of the BBC World Service, today we live in an age where there's no shortage of news - there are dozens of 24 hour news channels around the world, on radio, on TV, and online. And yet, serious, dispassionate, impartial journalism is as at a premium. At a time when there's so much noise, making sense of it all really matters.

That's what Alan Johnston was doing in Gaza. Journalists are the eyes and the ears of their audiences. That's why it matters that the BBC is still there in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why we need to show what's going in places like Darfur. A free media can be a powerful influence. But that's precisely why, in so many places, that free media is under threat.

freealanmarch_203ap.jpgIn December 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1738, demanding governments around the world respect the safety of those in the media. Journalists don't want - they don't deserve - special treatment. They do deserve equal treatment. Journalists shouldn't be singled out to be silenced. That's why back in Gaza, Alan's colleagues in the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate have turned out in such numbers to demand his release. 14 foreign journalists have been kidnapped in the Gaza Strip since 2005 - so far, each of them has been released unharmed. But everyday, local journalists face harassment, intimidation, kidnap and worse.

World Press Freedom Day is an important moment to pause and reflect; a free press needs people like Alan Johnston. Without them, there will be no eyes and ears telling us what's going on - there won't be the insight from those who are able to make sense of it all. More than ever, that is why - 52 days after he was abducted - we hope for Alan's early release.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:52 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2007

The Guardian: Reports on claims made by the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, that there’s been progress in efforts to free the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza.(link)

Daily Telegraph: “Lord Tebbit has accused the BBC of 'debased standards' after it invited him to take part in a programme with the man who planted a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton 23 years ago, which resulted in his wife being left paralysed.” (link)

Bomb plots and bins

Matt Morris | 10:10 UK time, Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The jury in the trial of seven men accused of a bomb plot returned their verdicts towards the end of Monday morning - a big breaking story that Five Live, like the rest of the BBC, had been planning for.

Radio Five Live logoBut we had other plans which were also coming to fruition on Monday morning - a live outside broadcast, presented by Simon Mayo, on the big topic of refuse collection. We were in Grantham in Lincolnshire, where the South Kesteven council is introducing fortnightly collection of household waste.

The broadcast was due to be on air at noon, and to last an hour, and we'd assembled a strong and well-informed panel and an audience who were well up for it.

There is no doubt that bins rouse passions - among young and old, rich and poor, families and singletons. Simon had just done his bins trail, into Richard Bacon's morning programme, when the verdicts started to come in.

Andrew Hosken went live on Five Live to report the news that five men had been found guilty and to set the ball rolling on coverage of a story that was to dominate the news for many hours to come.

bins152.jpgBut what about the bins programme? The timing could in fact have been much worse. Andrew was able to get the main story on air, and we managed to tell the backstory about the links to 7 July, well before noon. We had Patrick Mercer on live, and John Reid's initial statement came in on time too. All the while the clock ticked towards noon. Simon and Five Live's audience editor, Lou Birt, warmed up the Grantham audience. I don't quite know why but an image of Gary Cooper popped into my head and I started humming, tunelessly, "Do not forsake me, oh my darling..."

Simon orchestrated a really lively debate (which you can listen to here). People are really angry about bins - it's not all a figment of the Daily Mail's imagination. At half past noon we broke off the debate to return to London to hear from Peter Clarke, from the CPS, and from Danny Shaw as the Crevice story rolled on.

We'd got away with it. If the verdicts had come in half an hour later, we might have been faced with putting the bins debate back an hour - with an impatient audience getting restless and increasingly in need of their lunch.

On the way back to London I heard Jenny Seagrove interviewed by Phil Williams (who was deputising in Simon's normal afternoon slot). Ms Seagrove told Phil how her partner Bill Kenwright had converted her into an Everton supporter, and congratulated him on his intelligent handling of the continuing updates of the terror trial. A woman of sound judgement, except for the bit about Everton.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:33 UK time, Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The Guardian: Reports that the BBC has re-signed John Humphrys and Terry Wogan for another two years. (link)

Financial Times: Reports on the different "catch up" services to be offered by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, allowing viewers to watch programmes they might otherwise have missed. (link)

Celebrity has its uses

Ceri Thomas | 15:24 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Jade Goody and John HumphrysAt first glance the similarities between John Humphrys and, say, Jade Goody aren't all that obvious (the swearing, the aggression - Jade would never do that) and I certainly didn't expect John to be the first to point them out.

But after John's acceptance speech at last night's Sony Awards we now know that John and Jade are brother and sister in the undeserving family of Celebrity.

The Today programme logoJohn's point was this: that reporters in the field - correspondents like Alan Johnston who take real risks - are far more deserving of awards than 'personality' presenters who fly in to nasty places for a day or two and then disappear off home again. He's right, of course - up to a point.

The correspondents John listed, and plenty of others besides, are the eyes and the ears and the brain of the BBC. It's almost ridiculous to have to point out how vital they are and how much recognition they deserve. But in the world as it is, and not as we might like it to be, celebrity has its uses too.

The journalistic puritan in us might want to think that words are just words whoever speaks them but the truth is that a certain sort of celebrity - one that's built on experience, achievements, reputation - can transform the power of any script.

That's not a symptom of some modern disease, it's a reflection of human relationships down the centuries. We don't dish out our attention in a dispassionate way, we give it out lopsidedly to the voice that's familiar, to the name that we trust. Celebrity can amplify. It would be daft not to use it.

On the rack

David Kermode | 15:09 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2007

As Kate Moss's collection hit Topshop this morning, we found ourselves on the rack for covering it.

Breakfast logoShoppers queued through the night to catch a glimpse of her new range, but the overwhelming majority of our viewers (those who got in touch) seemed to suggest it was a non-story:

"Congratulations on your marketing efforts on behalf of Kate Moss. Each time you mention her name a wave of apathy runs around our household", said one viewer. "Philip Green must be laughing all the way to the bank" said another. While "Look at those lemmings piling into that shop" was how someone else summed it up.
So why did we feature it? And why did we feel we needed to mention it on two consecutive days?

The first question is easier than the second.

kmoss_203afp.jpgLove her or loathe her, Kate Moss is a modern icon. Just look at the level of press coverage she generates.

Topshop - a privately-owned company and a big employer - have taken a commercial decision to involve her in their design process, just as other retailers have done with the likes of Madonna and Lilly Allen. That, in itself, is an interesting shift in fashion retailing.

There's also the issue of modern consumer behaviour. Witness the scenes at Primark's Oxford Street launch.

Is it 'a story'? Well, it's all about popular culture and - as I have said before on this blog - news content needs to include popular culture if it's to retain its relevance.

But why did we do it twice? This is a trickier one for me. We focussed on the launch, in a preview piece yesterday, because we thought it would be odd not to look ahead to one of the biggest retail launches of the year. Our package included an element of critical review, from a fashion writer, in order to make it feel like a proper piece of objective reportage.

topshopcrowd203_getty.jpgThis morning, it would have seemed odd not to be there for the opening of the doors, so our reporter Susannah Streeter was live in the queue. Keeping a sense of critical review, amid the excitement outside the store, was tougher. However, we included voxpops from a couple of shoppers who were somewhat underwhelmed by the offer.

Among the criticisms this morning, a few of our viewers pointed out that there are many young British designers struggling for recognition. Why don't we feature them? The answer, of course, is that they are 'not Kate Moss'. But I must admit that those comments did set us thinking about how we might tell that 'story' too.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:52 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Daily Telegraph: "Viewers will be able to watch BBC programmes on the internet under the terms of a new service agreed yesterday." (Link)

The Independent: Reports on the BBC’s success at the Sony Radio Academy Awards. Winners included John Humphrys for news journalist of the year and Five Live Breakfast for news and current affairs programme. (Link)

Financial Times: Reports that the BBC has topped a poll of employers as voted by graduates. (Link)

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