BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for June 2008

Controversy and conspiracies II

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 16:40 UK time, Friday, 27 June 2008

In my last blog earlier this month about the London bombings of 7 July 2005 there was a lot of concern expressed by people who say that when they question such events they're told they're "mad, crazy or in a state of shock". I haven't done this and won't.

What we will do is investigate an issue. For the new series we have looked for key proponents of alternative theories.

World Trade Center siteSo for the new programme about World Trade Center Building 7 (The Conspiracy Files: 9/11 - The Third Tower for next Sunday) we have interviewed at length the architect Richard Gage, the former professor of physics Steven Jones and the writer of Loose Change Dylan Avery.

We have then taken their questions and arguments and tested them.

We've looked for new photographic and physical evidence, for key eyewitnesses and spoken to experts and investigators who have been involved in trying to understand what exactly happened to bring down Tower 7.

It does matter that a lot of people think the US Government is "hiding something" about 9/11. According to one American poll more than a third of those questioned thought government officials either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or allowed them to happen.

And it does matter that according to the official explanation Tower 7 was the first skyscraper to collapse because of fire. Smaller buildings have collapsed due to fire but never a 47-storey skyscraper.

The final official report on 9/11 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology is eagerly awaited not just by critics but also by those who want to know how safe skyscrapers are.

I'm happy to debate the issues. In next week's programme we will look at the what some people have said was the neat symmetrical collapse of Tower 7, we will look at the dust found around Ground Zero, we will look at the BBC's alleged involvement in a conspiracy, and many other issues.

But I've seen there's already a campaign for letters of complaint well before the programme has been aired.

Alex Jones' Prison Planet website ended an article headlined BBC Hit Piece by urging readers to comment on this blog. And comments in urged people to prepare a "counter strike" and to start letter writing and e-mailing. A lot of the later comments on my last blog came soon after those.

It would be good if people watched the programme first. So far we've put out a three minute trailer:

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In response to dotconnect: yes I'm interested in investigating a host of issues such as the death of Anna Politkovskaya, the financing of al-Qaeda, British agents in Northern Ireland - and it does not as you suggest hinge on whether "our side" was allegedly "behind it". But the BBC has already covered these stories and is currently investigating many of them.

In response to cyncastical: the original allegation made in the papers was that we had paid Nicholas Kollerstrom to appear in the programme about 7/7. We did not. We reimbursed him for £30 worth of his expenses. The newspapers corrected their original copy.

The Conspiracy Files: 9/11 - The Third Tower to be broadcast on BBC Two at 2100 BST on Sunday 6 July, repeated on BBC 2 at 1120 BST on Tuesday 8 July, and on Signzone at 0130 BST on Wednesday 9 July.

Balanced, calm and fair

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 14:30 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

There's been some criticism lately, and some internal discussion, about whether the BBC is in any danger of talking down the economy.

Essentially, the question seems to be whether our reporting is adding to - or even creating - gloom and pessimism around the economy. I don't believe it is.

Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn KingIn a week when the Governor of the Bank of England has said that the British economy is facing its most difficult challenge for 20 years it seems to me the tone of our coverage has been balanced, calm and fair.

Firstly, we don't generally produce our own figures, statistics and surveys. We rely on and interpret a range of information - from official government figures to reports and indices from organisations such as banks, estate agents and other bodies. In reporting those figures we try hard to put them in context and accord them the weight of coverage we think they deserve.

Secondly, and most importantly, we try to make the best use of what we hear from you, our audiences across the platforms. From the picture we get reporting around the UK, and what we see online, it's clear that many people are feeling a serious squeeze right now from higher food, energy and other prices. I'd urge you to take at look at our inflation "mood map" and read some of the comments there. So do we emphasise the gloomy picture by ignoring any good news? Again, I don't believe we do.

Terraced houses in North LondonIt's clear that some sectors of the economy are doing pretty well and we report that. If you're a company which exports then the weak pound is a positive boon right now. Likewise, falling house prices are quite good news for potential first-time buyers, though arguably the disappearance of many cheap mortgage deals and high loan-to-value mortgages has more than offset that.

Just today, we're reporting a surge in retail sales. We also regularly point out the reasons to have some faith in the robustness of the UK economy - high employment being chief among them. But, as the Bank of England and many others believe, the big picture remains a more worrying one and it's our job and our duty to reflect that.

PS. You might have spotted that Hugh Pym has taken over as Economics Editor. For those wondering, Stephanie Flanders has now started her maternity leave and I'm delighted Hugh has agreed to step into her shoes. As a reward he gets a tiny office and will probably work even longer hours than he has up till now as our economics correspondent. Stephanie has said she'll be calling me any time she sees something on the output she doesn't like, probably starting with this blog!

Naming the dead

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:47 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

The newspapers in the UK are today full of detail about the first woman soldier to be killed in the Afghanistan war. She was first named by the Daily Mail and the other newspapers subsequently named her as well. However BBC News has not given her name.

Late last night, following the Daily Mail's publication, the BBC received a request from the Ministry of Defence not to publish details until members of her close family had been informed of her death. This meant we needed to hold back information for a few hours and we decided to agree to the request.

Our instinct is always to publish information once it is in our possession. However we need always to be sensitive to the personal impact our news can have. Broadcasting reaches into people's lives in a way that newspapers do not. We would usually prefer to hold back information for a few hours rather than run the risk that a relative hears of the death of a named loved one over our airwaves.

UPDATE 11.50AM: BBC News has now named Corporal Sarah Bryant as the female soldier who died in Afghanistan. We named her at the time by which the MoD told us they would have contacted her relatives.

Newsroom changes

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Readers of this website will not, I hope, have noticed any seismic changes over the past couple of days in the way it looks and behaves.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBehind the scenes, though, we've been moving all the journalists who work on the main online newsdesk from their traditional home on the 7th floor of BBC TV Centre in west London down to the main newsroom on the 1st and 2nd floors.

So the online news teams have now taken up residence in the newly configured BBC Multimedia Newsroom, next to their TV and radio counterparts, and the newsgathering teams who deploy the BBC's news reporters.

Last meeting on 7th floor for BBC News website team

Empty BBC News website room

The aim is to enable a better focus on telling stories well in video, audio, stills, graphics and text, and getting the right mix of each for any given story on any platform - whether TV, radio, web, mobiles, interactive TV or digital text.

We're not the only news organisation working out how to respond to the rapid changes taking place in technology and the ways audiences look for their news - as others have reported.

And every organisation doubtless faces slightly different challenges as it changes. For us one of these has been the practical difficulty of moving 100 or so journalists and all their equipment from one working newsroom to another whilst simultaneously maintaining a continuous 24-hour online news service.

The first UK News website meeting in multimedia newsroom

The first World News website meeting in multimedia newsroomIt hasn't been that simple to do, so I am rather relieved it has happened. For the journalists working on the website, it feels like a big change, a bit like the start of a new era and a graduation from the online-only newsroom where BBC News Online started in 1997.

Looking ahead, what difference will it make to users of the site? It should mean that you see us becoming an even better showcase for all the best of the BBC's journalism - in video, audio and text; local, national and international.

PS. Here's another change we've made. As of this week, all our blogs will have full RSS feeds, meaning it's much easier to read them in places like Google Reader. My colleague Jem Stone has written more about it on the BBC Internet blog.


Richard Sambrook | 13:25 UK time, Monday, 16 June 2008

The events of last week show us the courage and bravery of many journalists. Outside Bush House, and across the BBC, we paid our respects to our two colleagues who were killed in Afghanistan and Somalia in the space of just two days. This was terrible news for so many of us, but it reminds us of so many others who have also given their lives in seeking and telling the truth to audiences around the world.

Memorial at BBC Broadcasting HouseToday, 16 June 2008, sees an iconic new sculpture about to light up London's night skyline. The BBC will be unveiling a major work by Jaume Plensa - Breathing - an exciting and innovative light sculpture on the top of the new wing of Broadcasting House, dedicated to the memory of journalists around the world who have lost their lives.

Attacks on journalists and others working in news continue to increase, with more than 1,000 killed in the past 10 years. In 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1738, which condemned acts of violence, including deliberate attacks, in many parts of the world against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in armed conflicts, and called on all parties to put an end to such practices.

The BBC, as the world's leading public service news broadcaster, is strongly committed to the safety of journalists. We recognise the Resolution and today's inauguration of the light sculpture is our recognition of the lives of so many killed. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, will be unveiling the sculpture tonight.

You can find out more on the memorial website.

Abdul Samad Rohani and Nasteh Dahir FaraahAs we remember once again Abdul Samad Rohani and Nasteh Dahir Faraah, please join me in thinking about those who have died and all the journalists who today are working in some of the most dangerous places in the world to tell the story to the world.

UPDATE, 17 JUNE 12:11PM:
Watch the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon journalists unveil the memorial to journalists.

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Consistency v accuracy

Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 12:15 UK time, Friday, 13 June 2008

As BBC Weather continues to extend its reach and range of services on television, radio, interactive, online and mobile it is becoming a hot topic of conversation as to whether we concentrate our efforts on working with the Met Office to improve the accuracy of the weather data or the consistency of that data between all of our services and platforms; of course in reality and over time we need to do both.

Weather map showing UK temperaturesTo assess where we have got to Claire Douglas, BBC Weathers Producer, data and graphics explains how the process for ingesting and delivering the weather data works:

"One of the major drivers for moving to a new Weather system in 2005 was to be able to provide consistent weather data throughout the BBC.

Previously a significant amount of manual work was needed at the BBC Weather Centre; each forecaster/presenter would create a collection of slides and manually add symbols and temperatures to the core maps. This data was limited to that presentation and was therefore not shared across the website or Ceefax.

Weather map showing temperatures in ScotlandOur current weather system, provided by Metra who are based in New Zealand, is set up to ingest weather data from the Met Office and push the information to all platforms as soon as it is available. Any changes made at the BBC Weather Centre or in the Nations and Regions are fed back to the central database and synchronised with all the databases, as well as Ceefax, the Weather website and applications such as Facebook."

This approach ensures a consistent message is available wherever you are viewing BBC Weather output. Progress continues, this week we have improved the updates from the weather database to the website for site specific information - every 30 minutes any changes to this information are delivered to the website at to our mobile weather service, BBC Ceefax and to BBCi.

Weather map showing temperatures in PlymouthWe are questioned about our ability to be consistent but with the majority of our TV and radio output being live we have the opportunity to make changes right at the last minute - this means we are setting very high standards.

There is a balance to be struck and we are dealing with a continually developing weather story 24/7 but I believe that improvements in technology and speed of data transfer can only improve matters further in time.

On the line and on the level

Peter Barron | 18:44 UK time, Thursday, 12 June 2008

The phone rings. There's an inquisitive and irrepressible journalist on the line. He appears to have an agenda and seems determined to produce a damaging piece, whatever the facts.

Newsnight logoI'm not talking about Michael Crick's phone call a week ago to Tina Haynes, the former nanny to the Conservative chairman Caroline Spelman. I'm talking about the phone call the London Evening Standard put in to the BBC this week when preparing their story "The Tory MP, her nanny and a BBC witch hunt"

In his article, Keith Dovkants makes a series of allegations against Michael Crick, which boil down to this. Caroline Spelman's unusual expenses arrangements with her nanny wasn't much of a story, so why did Newsnight run it? Crick has a track record of making trouble for Conservative politicians so he, and the BBC, must be biased against the Tories, and - let's use careful language here - "Senior Tories...suspect him of sharp practice" centring on his telephone with Tina Haynes.

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Let's deal with that one first - it's a pretty serious charge. In her statement Tina Haynes said she received a phone call from Michael Crick "stating that he was doing a programme about Mrs Spelman and her family life". The clear implication is that somehow Michael misled Ms Haynes (nee Rawlins) about the nature of the item he was working on.

This - as we made very clear to the Evening Standard - was not accurate. Here is a transcript of the opening exchanges in the telephone conversation.

M Hello, is that Tina Rawlins?

T Yes

M Hello, my name's Michael Crick and I'm from a programme called Newsnight, at the BBC

T Yeah

M I'm sorry to trouble you at work. What it is I'm ringing you about a film we're working on about Caroline Spelman

T Yes

M The Conservative politician. I think you used to work for her didn't you?

T I did yes

M You were working as her nanny I believe

T I was working for her as a nanny for five and a half years

M Right and were you doing political stuff as well

T Erm no I wasn't

M Sort of secretarial work or parliamentary work or...

T No I did obviously sort of like take calls for her obviously in the house if she got phone calls...

And on it went. No sharp practice about the nature of the film, no twisting of her words in reply. Michael asked if she had done political, secretarial or parliamentary work and Ms Haynes volunteered quite openly that she had not, but had taken the odd phone call and posted the occasional letter.

Caroline Spelman outside her homeDid we have a story? On Newsnight we thought so. A day earlier, Giles Chichester, the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament had resigned over the fact that he had channelled £400,000 of expenses into his family's company. It was announced that the person at Tory HQ who would be charged with cleaning up matters would be the chairman, Caroline Spelman.

Michael had learned some time earlier that Mrs Spelman had had a problem with her expenses involving her nanny some 10 years ago and that there had been row within the party at the time. Now was the time to find out.

So was it much of a story? A good way of judging is to put the words "Spelman" and "Newsnight" into Google News. At the latest count there are more than 40 stories from newspapers and other media organisations about the affair - Telegraph, Mail, ITN, Reuters - oh, and the Evening Standard.

Which brings us to bias. Yes, Michael Crick has done plenty of high profile journalism scrutinising Conservative politicians. It's hardly surprising given that for the first 18 or so years of his career as a political journalist it was the Conservatives who dominated British politics. But, apart from his love of Manchester United, Michael is rigorously un-partisan in his obsessions.

Wherever there is an untold story or questions to be answered Michael will be onto it, whether the subject is Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem or other. Does he give Labour an easy ride? No. David Blunkett's business arrangements, the Smith Institute's relationship with Gordon Brown, Labour electoral fraud in Birmingham - all have had the Crick treatment in recent times.

But don't take my word for, after all as Michael's editor I'm biased. Try this.

"The BBC had not allowed the liberal bias of some of its broadcasters to run riot. Nor had it libelled Conservatives with malicious and demonstrably false accusations. There was no smear and no McCarthyite witch-hunt...All it had done was report, quite accurately, that Caroline Spelman, the Tory Party chairwoman, got the public to pay for her nanny."

Who said that? Nick Cohen, in the Evening Standard.

Top-secret files

Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 17:43 UK time, Thursday, 12 June 2008

The loss of the top-secret cabinet office files has raised interest in how the BBC came by the documents and how it treats such stories. Security correspondent Frank Gardner called me in the middle of day to alert me to the fact he had in his possession some highly classified documents. I scooted down to his office to discuss with Frank and his producer what we should do with them.

Top-secret documentsThe documents were titled "Joint Intelligence Committee Assessment" and marked "UK Top-Secret". They were numbered and marked "for UK/US/Canadian and Australian eyes only". They had been found on the seat of a commuter train from Waterloo to Surrey by a member of the public.

It was obvious that if the papers were genuine, we were in possession of very sensitive material. If published, there might well be implications for national security.

So what did we have to bear in mind in deciding our next steps? These are the kinds of questions we began asking:

• Are the documents genuine? How can we find out?
• What is the nature of the information they contain? How big a potential story is this?
• If we published any or all of this information, could we be putting lives at risk, or telling Britain's enemies something which would endanger our national security?
• If we published, would we be breaking the law?

Frank and others spent the next few hours attempting to find the answers to these questions.

It seemed clear to him that the documents were the genuine article and were not fakes. This was later confirmed by officials. The senior civil servant had already reported them missing and a search was taking place for them.

One of the documents was an assessment of the state of Iraqi Security forces. It didn't seem to contain much that couldn't already be found in published academic papers. But the second paper - "Al-Qaeda Vulnerabilities", was more complex. We felt that the information it contained could endanger lives if it was made public. We also took the view that it may have helped to alert Al-Qaeda to what the British knew - and didn't know - about them, potentially compromising national security.

But we felt the main issue was the huge security breaches that must have taken place in order for the documents to pass into our hands. After other losses of confidential information by government departments, there is great public concern about information security generally. The fact of their being left so casually on a train was the most significant part of the story.

To illustrate that story on television, we needed to show the audience something of the documents. But we filmed them so as not show any of the contents. Just the title pages with the headings and security classifications.

Before we went with our story, we alerted the government to the fact the documents were in our possession and said we were prepared to return them. A little later the police arrived at Television Centre to reclaim them. We handed them over, assuring them that we had made no copies.

The member of the public who passed the documents to the BBC did us all a great favour. As a result of that action, we now know that Whitehall's procedures on handling this material are clearly at fault. No doubt they are being tightened at this moment. That member of the public presumably chose to give the material to the BBC in the knowledge that we would treat the material responsibly. I believe we did so. Imagine the consequences if the finder had chosen to put them on the internet instead.

Controversy and conspiracies

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 20:11 UK time, Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Are some conspiracy theories just too controversial to discuss publicly? We've spent the past few months investigating whether there is any truth to the many theories that have grown up about the London bombings of 7 July 2005. The results of our investigation will be shown as part of the Conspiracy Files series on BBC Two in the Autumn.

But were you to believe what some publications have recently written about our documentary (eg the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Spectator and others) you would be forgiven for thinking that we shouldn't be making the programme at all.

But conspiracy theories about the London bombings are an important public issue.

The stakes are high because conspiracy theories are spreading suspicion about the official account of what happened, ultimately questioning whether the authorities can be trusted. Establishing whether what is argued is true or false, and scrutinising the way proponents conduct themselves, is clearly in the public interest and is a serious and legitimate task for the BBC.

Last year one opinion poll found that around one in four British Muslims do not believe that the four men identified as the 7/7 bombers by the authorities actually carried out the attacks. It is perhaps not surprising that the Metropolitan Police themselves have acknowledged the importance of tackling conspiracy theories about 7/7.

As programme makers we need to be sensitive to the feelings of the families of those who were killed in the bombings and to the survivors. But this should not stop us scrutinising conspiracy theories and the effect they are having on public confidence in the police and the government. Without such scrutiny, these theories are often treated as facts by those who find them seductive.

Some newspapers have alleged that we paid a conspiracy theorist, Nick Kollerstrom, to take part in the programme. This is not true. The BBC has covered the cost of some incidental expenses amounting to no more than £30. This includes the cost of a return train ticket from London to Luton because we asked him to film with us at the location where he had discovered a fact about the bombings - namely that the train that it had been said the bombers took to London did not run on 7 July 2005.

The BBC has also covered the cost of lunch and cups of tea on some of the days we have filmed with him. We did not cover the cost of his trip to Leeds during which he visited the family homes of some of the bombers. Along with his views of 7/7, Nick Kollerstrom's views about the Holocaust will be scrutinised and challenged in the programme.

When the documentary is broadcast in the Autumn you will have the chance to decide for yourself what the facts are about the 7/7 conspiracy theories and the theorists who promote them.

UK news coverage

Mark Byford Mark Byford | 14:02 UK time, Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The BBC Trust has published today its review of BBC network news and current affairs coverage of how the UK is governed in its four nations. The report includes an independent assessment by Professor Anthony King and research analysis from Cardiff University about our content and audience research from BRMB.

BBC Television CentreThe trust concludes that the BBC needs to improve the range, clarity and precision of its network (UK-wide) news coverage of what is happening in the different UK nations and regions.

The audience research shows that 82% of the UK population are interested in news about other parts of the UK and 62% think it important to understand the different politics and policies within each nation.

The report highlights the major changes in the governance of the UK since devolution of power from Westminster began 10 years ago. The research shows that the BBC's performance in this area is "constantly superior" to that of other broadcasters and the trust welcomes the clear conclusion from the review that BBC network coverage of politics and policy across the UK is impartial.

BBC news studio galleryHowever, Professor King, in his independent assessment, concludes that the BBC's network news and current affairs programming has not kept pace and responded adequately enough to the changing face of the UK.

While the trust acknowledges the improvements in performance there have been in the reporting in this area, we, the senior BBC management, accept that we need to do better and we are determined to improve.

Alongside the trust's review conclusions, the management has published its initial response and come up with a range of proposals to address many of the challenges that have been identified. These include better labelling of stories to explain how they may apply differently across the UK to improve overall accuracy; more case examples of the differences and devolved decision-making to inform all UK audiences more fully; better planning between the UK-wide news operation and our news teams across the UK; and increased training. Clearly improving further our reporting of the whole UK is an important objective for us in the coming year.

Mad About Mac?

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:45 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Blogs can be very frustrating sometimes. I've just read one which claims the BBC gave a staggering amount of publicity to Apple's new iPhone...err...I don't think so. I'm always ready to put my hand up when we get it wrong but as our technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones points out I don't think we did this time.


By Rory Cellan-Jones

Steve Jobs and iPhoneSome of you thought we went over the top in our coverage of the 3G iPhone. The accusation is that we are Macheads who are totally obsessed with Apple's every move and give it coverage which any other company would not receive. Really? I took a call from a colleague last week who was planning coverage for Monday's main news bulletins on television and radio. "What should we do about the Apple event on Monday?" she asked. I said we should not cover the event, because this was just an incremental change rather than the ground-breaking event that the original iPhone announcement had been last year.

In the event, while there was a bit of coverage on specialist business radio coverage on Monday morning, the 3G iPhone did not feature on television or radio news bulletins. There was coverage on the technology pages of the website - one news story and one blog entry. I think that the people who do follow technology closely would have found it bizarre if the BBC website had not mentioned a story which was the talk of the tech blogs for days on end. In the event, the story proved hugely popular, and was the most-read article on the site on Monday.

I have restrained myself to such an extent that I have not uttered a single word about the new iPhone in the last 36 hours, on TV, on radio or online. So, while I'm here, wasn't it just a little disappointing? Still no video, the camera stays at the original 2mp, and no ability to cut and paste. And isn't the price cut proof enough that Apple misjudged the European market, and needed to kick-start sales? There, I'll stop now.

Politically engaged

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 08:50 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The gripping climax to the long running struggle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic ticket in the race for the White House has highlighted, for me, the differences between the two countries about how their respective young audiences view the political process. I was lucky to observe the story from Washington as Obama triumphed - exactly 20 years after I first covered a US election from America as a reporter.

Radio 1 logoAs we know, here in the UK, younger audiences are broadly bored and/or cynical about Westminster politics. I detect something genuinely different about what's happening in America at the moment.

Rich or poor, old and young - but especially young - well educated or not - the election is the talking point. It may be because the American networks have saturation coverage. There's excellent coverage available on the BBC too - from Justin Webb's comprehensive online analysis to World News America's take on it all.

But for whatever reason - it's the talking point. There are theories on why Hillary should or could never be Obama's running mate. On why McCain is too old - Obama too young or inexperienced. Race, gender and age are in there: along with Iraq, healthcare and the issue that seems to be bothering Americans most - the economy, credit crunch and gas prices.

Many told me, on my trip there, that there was a mood of change taking place. Sceptical as ever I wondered if that might be wishful Democrat thinking. The polls, after all, are pretty tight.

US flagStudents at a journalism college in New York that I spoke to believed that young Americans felt they might make a difference in November at last. So does that mean a vote for Obama and change? If you listen to the politically engaged in the big cities, you could be forgiven for thinking so - though there are still those that feel Hillary was cheated - and that McCain will soon prove his worth.

But America is a big country as it's easy to get drawn into a sort of lazy journalism where a rather romantic notion of a "new JFK" might hold sway.

We probably have done rather too much on the Democratic race - and too little on McCain on Radio 1 and 1Xtra, so far. That's not down to a left-liberal bias - it's simply been the most compelling news story up to now. Now, the campaign proper starts - that's something we're going to have to correct by getting our reporters, Iain Mackenzie and Sima Kotecha, out and about into small towns and settlements. Testing this troubled nation's mood and the impact of McCain and Obama's policies and personalities.

We make no apologies for covering the US election on Newsbeat and 1Xtra News. As my colleague, World Tonight editor Alistair Burnett explained in his blog, we're all affected by what happens in November: our troop deployments in Iraq and potentially Afghanistan, the growing economic crisis that people sense up and down the country - and some very interesting US political stories and finally, perhaps crucially, the personalities of the two men.

Politics may not be the juiciest story from our young audience's viewpoint - but this story could turn out to be the most important in the world. We have a duty to report it. Perhaps it might even be an accessible and meaningful way into politics for younger Britons.

Terrible price

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:50 UK time, Monday, 9 June 2008

This weekend, colleagues on two continents paid a terrible price for telling stories they wanted the world to know about.

Nasteh Dahir FaraahIn Somalia on Saturday, Nasteh Dahir Faraah was shot dead in the southern port city of Kismayu. Dahir was 28 and a freelance journalist working for the Associated Press and the BBC Somali service.

Yesterday, we got the shocking news that Abdul Samad Rohani had been murdered in Helmand province in Afghanistan. For the past couple of years Rohani had been our fixer in Helmand, working with Kabul correspondent Alastair Leithead and reporting for the BBC Pashto service. His bravery had allowed us to tell a key story for audiences in the UK, in Afghanistan and around the world.

Abdul Samad RohaniRohani was just 25 years old; he was married with two children. He was found with his hands tied behind his back - he'd been shot in the head. Early this morning he was buried at the family cemetery in his home district of Marja, near the provincial capital Lashkar Gar.

Of course, yesterday, there was further grim news from Afghanistan. Three soldiers from the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment were killed in a suicide attack in Helmand, bringing to 100 the number of British servicemen and women killed since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Each death is a tragedy - today we're experiencing some of the pain 100 families have been through in the last six and a half years in Afghanistan.

Around the world, every day, journalists risk their lives to help us understand the world and what's going on a little better. Last year, the International News Safety Institute reported that two journalists had been killed every week over the past ten years - a thousand media workers lost their lives between 1996 and 2006. But even by that grim standard, two in a weekend is hard to bear.

It's a terrible reminder of the dangers we face. But it's vital that stories like those in Afghanistan and Somalia are told to a wider audience. It's thanks to the courage and sacrifice of people like Rohani and Nasteh that we're able to do so.

Honest politician

Gavin Allen | 09:45 UK time, Friday, 6 June 2008

Lying is rather frowned upon in the House of Commons. Indeed it's assumed that since no MP, honourable as he or she is, would stoop to such levels, it's deemed unparliamentary language to even accuse someone of being a liar.

Politics Show logoBlackguard, git, guttersnipe and other vicious slurs are also on the banned list, but they were less on David Cameron's mind on Wednesday when he ridiculed the prime minister. "If a company director got up and read out a statement like that, the authorities would be after him," said the leader of the opposition - that's "Gordon Brown's a liar" to you and me.

And you and me probably wouldn't be that shocked if MPs did lie - after all the popular approach to politicians is perhaps best summed up by the "Why is this lying bastard lying to me" school of thought beloved by some journalists. It's unfair of course, but the age of spin and selective use of stats has left many voters rather jaded.

So what a delight when a politician is brazenly, shockingly, in-your-face honest and decides to tell it like it is. The former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who resigned when she realised she just wasn't good enough, the late Alan Clark who gabbled through a ministerial speech on equal pay and "found himself sneering at the more unintelligible passages", startled by the "sheer odiousness of the text". And now, as highlighted by the Politics Show this week, Mike Russell.

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Mr Russell is the environment minister in the SNP administration at the Scottish Parliament. Called a few days ago to make the closing speech in a debate on "Moving Scotland Forward", custom and courtesy might have expected him to praise the previous speakers or applaud the quality of the contributions. Thankfully for us, not a bit of it. He told a wide-eyed Parliament that the debate had been pointless, uninteresting and useless. It was political theatre. And, gloriously, he declined to take any interventions from other MSPs on the basis it would waste everyone's time still further, adding: "My intention is to get through this and then I want to go home".

Does this make it into the top ten most honest political moments? It would be an interesting list - if a tad short, you might fear. "It is appropriate for ministers to tell the truth and that's what I intend to do," said the candid Mr Russell. The only worrying thing for us voters is that a politician feels he has to spell that out.

Unfair attack

Stephen Mitchell Stephen Mitchell | 21:30 UK time, Thursday, 5 June 2008

When I was growing up one of my heroes was a man called "Stan." I never met Stan...And that wasn't his proper father carried a picture of "Stan the Pole" in his pocket and used to show it me. He had met Stan in Italy fighting the Germans and the things they had done together had convinced me as a boy that I was looking at a picture of a super hero, drawn from a race of super heroes... so when Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski announced out of the blue on the Five Live Breakfast show and Today Programme on Wednesday that the BBC was to blame for a rise in attacks on Polish people living in the UK I was always going to take it seriously - not just because of my job, but because of "Stan."

Polish deliThe problem was Mr Kawczynski's claim took most of us here by surprise. Mr Kawczynski said that the "liberal elite" at the corporation knew they had to cover the subject of immigration, but would "not do stories about more controversial immigration, focusing instead on the 'soft touch' of "White Christians from Poland".

It's not a point of view we have really heard expressed before. And I suspect that most of my colleagues feel, like me, that it's just not true.

I also suspect that, while there have been pieces of searching journalism which analyse the impact of the mass immigration we've seen in the past few years, particularly when concentrated on particular towns, most of the time Polish immigrants have had a pretty good press.

However, just because the claim doesn't feel right to us, it doesn't mean that it's not valid. It's also possible that, even if not true, the perception might nevertheless be widespread among Poles in the UK. I have spent a bit of time yesterday and today going through previous items we've broadcast on Today and Five Live looking for evidence that Mr Kawczynksi might be right - and so far haven't found anything to go on.

I did discover through later interviews Mr Kawczyinski did that he had already complained about two other programmes - Question Time and Panorama. It has been pointed out to him that Panorama hasn't done any journalism such as he imagined and that the comments on Question Time he objected to had been from panellists...not the BBC. It is the nature of a programme of lively debate such as Question Time that a whole variety of views will be expressed, not all of them comfortable to everyone. I also pointed out to anyone who would listen that the BBC's coverage of immigration has over time dealt with all the main immigrant communities, not just the Poles.

But I've also been looking through the e-mail responses we've had from listeners, some of whom say Mr Kawczynski has got a point. So it's an issue we will have to consider in our journalism and our Home Affairs Editor Mark Easton began to do just that in his appearances on Newsnight last night and on Today this morning. It's also a topic we will return to in our conversations as editors...and I have no doubt that you the readers of this blog will let us know your thoughts...

Find, play and share

Pete Clifton Pete Clifton | 14:40 UK time, Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The swish new page we have launched for the BBC's China 08 season marks an exciting development in the way we want to showcase the best of all our video, audio and text content on the web.

People cheer during the Olympic torch relay in Hefei, central China on 28 May 2008With this approach in place, you hopefully won't have to be Sherlock Holmes to easily locate all the highlights of the BBC's focus on China over the next couple of months.

This page, at is a great example of the focus we now have on "find, play and share" - making it as easy as we can for our audiences to locate the best of our multi-media coverage, hopefully enjoy it and then pass it on.

Of course, say China to lots of people right now and they will think Beijing Olympics (and there is a link off to that coverage on the page), but there is so much more to reflect from a country with such a rich culture and an increasingly important place on the world stage with its society transforming and economy booming. All that and lots more besides is reflected on BBC sites like Wild China, the Inside China special from BBC News, the Reith lectures on Radio 4, the school twinning from World Class, the Video Nation Silk Screens, BBC, Radio 3's Focus on China season and much else besides.

It can just be pretty exhausting finding it all, so on the new China page you will find the pick of our coverage on TV and radio and easy routes to watching and listening, the pick of BBC web coverage of China, the latest and most relevant news, up to the minute weather information and key facts about the country drawn from our popular profiles on the BBC News site.

James ReynoldsThe page will also include some other editor's choices from around the BBC, at the moment including James Reynolds' excellent blog from China, a module dedicated to linking out to the China coverage of other news sites, and a separate area highlighting other relevant sites. In the near future, we will also be introducing a blog tracker, giving users an insight into the discussions about China happening elsewhere on the web.

A lot of this aggregating is being done by automated searches across our content and other feeds, and we also have some human oversight to ensure it is working smoothly and to pick up suggestions and feedback from you. As this is a new approach for us, there are bound to be some early bumps along the way and we are really keen to see if we can improve them with your help!

China 08 presents an early opportunity to really focus a page around a season of coverage, but this is one of a number of topics pages we are launching this week to try the same approach across a range of countries, people and subjects. During this beta phase we hope to gradually extend the range of topics on offer so we will ultimately have a fantastic set of pages to give you a much easier route to interesting content without having to don a deerstalker.

• My colleague Matthew McDonnell explains more about the topic pages on the BBC Internet blog.

Crime interest

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 11:19 UK time, Tuesday, 3 June 2008

There is a debate among senior BBC journalists about our coverage and prominence of crime. My colleague Kevin Marsh has blogged on the subject - and his views are worth a read. Rather than replicate those arguments, I present a practical hands on journalists' dilemma over the argument...which you will have views on...

Radio 1 logoLike it or not - viewers and listeners are interested in crime stories. They may make them worry - they may appeal to the heart - or they may make them wonder if the authorities could do more to halt the perceived march of knife crime. There's nothing new about crime interest and viewers, listeners and readers - it's an even older phenomenon than Jack the Ripper, after all.

So why do news organisations - especially those who are audience driven or influenced - give such prominence to crime, when as authorities point out, violent crime is falling - and you are very unlikely to be a victim?

Faced with a list of stories which might include will-Hillary-pull-out-of-the-US-election race, a think-tank report on social policy and last night's Vauxhall conference might imagine why our on duty journalists might be drawn to lead their bulletins on a murder - especially one with a strong narrative attached.

Should we react automatically in this way? Of course not. Should we add context to our reporting when we lead on, say, knife crime as explained in Kevin's blog? We certainly should.

But is the audience interested in the story in the first place? Our evidence is that they are - and that whatever we say - they are very worried about violent crime. So on that basis should we cover the story? Yes probably.

In Birmingham City centre, 1Xtra reporter Briar Burley didn't take long to find a young man who carries a knife. He told us "it' inches....anyone who attacks me...I go for the neck and throat". Our reporter challenged him about the likely fatal consequences of such a move as well as the illegality of possession. He was unmoved: that's why I'm doing it.

We know younger people are more likely to be crime victims than homeowners in leafy suburbs - but among both groups fear is high - and arguably reflect a sense of powerlessness of the Police to stem "the tide".

Those who got in touch with Max's show on 1Xtra afterwards held a variety of views. Some said the Police "didn't care" - others claimed the government's new viral advertising on the web was a waste of money and likely to further glamorise knife crime. Others wanted more education at an earlier age of the hazards and dangers.

So whether you think there's too much crime on the news and it fuels an unjustified fear - or whether it's a real worry, perhaps triggered by personal experience - which leads some of our listeners to illegally carry knives for self defence - crime as an issue isn't going to go away and the media doesn't have the solution. Or does it?

Frank exchange

Peter Barron | 15:25 UK time, Monday, 2 June 2008

You may remember a row which developed in December last year between Newsnight and the influential centre-right think tank Policy Exchange following an investigation we did into their report called The Hijacking of British Islam (watch it here.)

Newsnight logoWe alleged that some of the receipts used to support their claim that extremist literature was widely available in British mosques had been fabricated. At that time Policy Exchange's chairman Charles Moore made an extraordinary attack upon us, but accepted the charges were serious and added: "It should be said at once that they need proper investigation."

So, six months on we thought it was time to go back and check if that proper investigation had been carried out. You can read Richard Watson's account of what happened next here.

The King and I

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 09:22 UK time, Monday, 2 June 2008

Much has been written in recent weeks of the difficulties the BBC has in reporting from places like Zimbabwe and Burma - much less about the situation across the border from Rangoon in Thailand. There, strict laws called "lese majeste", govern what can (and cannot) be said about the Thai royal family.

King Bhumibol appears at Bangkok's Grand Palace on 5 Decemebr 2007The political situation in Thailand is febrile - elections last year returned the country to civilian rule after a military coup in 2006. King Bhumibol - who is revered by the Thai people - is one of the few people able to command the respect of the entire country and is above politics. But it means that campaigners from all sides often "use" the institution of the monarchy to justify their actions.

So - just as the new civilian government finds itself fighting for it survival - our correspondent in Bangkok, Jonathan Head finds himself accused of breaking the country's strict "lese majeste" rules.

The complaint has been made by an opponent of the former Prime Minister Thaksin, prompting comment in the Thai press. The suggestion is that Jonathan's reporting has insulted the monarchy.

While we respect the Thai judicial process, the allegations made against Jonathan Head are completely unfounded. We understand that the police in Thailand are required to investigate all complaints of "lese majeste" and we will co-operate with that investigation. We look forward to it clearing Jonathan in due course.

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