BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for July 2008

Talking politics

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 14:35 UK time, Thursday, 31 July 2008

Grey clouds - strong winds - lashing rain - brilliant sunshine. The weather in Newquay on Tuesday was the usual varied English seaside mix that leaves us wondering whether to go for the shorts or the brolly.

Radio 1 logoBut as David Cameron strolled into the beachside bar on Fistral Beach to meet a panel of Radio 1 and 1Xtra listeners - the sunshine burst through, apparently matching his mood as Labour's leadership woes dominate the headlines.

But this encounter was about real people - with real problems and questions: not the tea room plotting and chatter of Westminster. That can dampen anyone's mood.

David Cameron being interviewed by Radio 1 listernersWe've always found in the years that we've been doing political interviews, getting real people to ask the questions puts the politicians on the spot in a way professional interviewers and journalists often can't.

Was he "borderline smug" as 29-year-old single mum Lauren Evans wondered? What's he going to do about underage drinking? - wondered 14-year-old Laura Barritt. Polish immigration in the building trade was what was on the mind of 26-year-old labourer Ross McKay while Shevell Bachelor was worried about urban knife crime.

You can read his answers and read our political reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan's account account.

There's also a film to watch. You may also have seen Rajini's film on Wednesday night's Newsnight on BBC2.

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When it was all over - our panel - and some of our millions of listeners had their say via interview, text or online comment.

After reading them I was left with two clear observations. Those who were present thought Cameron was likeable and impressive, but had work to do to convince people to vote positively for the Conservatives.

My second impression from listeners who weren't there was that our listener panel nailed the key issues facing young Britain but not yet all the answers they expect to hear.

Winning over the politically sceptical or disengaged is a mountain for the Conservatives -and, to be fair, all parties - to climb.

Talking Turkey

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 11:30 UK time, Thursday, 31 July 2008

It's been an eventful week for Turkey. On Sunday, 17 people were killed in bomb attacks in Istanbul and on Wednesday the Constitutional Court narrowly decided not to ban the governing AK party - which has been accused of being an Islamist party in violation of Turkey's secular constitution.

The World TonightThe World Tonight has given prominence to Turkey this week. We sent our reporter, Paul Moss, to cover the court decision - though in the event he landed a couple of hours after Sunday's bomb attacks and was on hand to report on that story for BBC Radio 5 Live and the Today programme as well The World Tonight.

Having our own reporter there enabled us to get access to interviews with Turkish politicians and people which we wouldn't normally get.

I have been asked why I decided to invest in this story by sending a reporter and devoting so much airtime to it.

The answer is simple - and I hope this came out in our coverage. Turkey is central to two major issues facing the world today - the relationship between Islam and democracy and the future development of the European Union, which Turkey wants to join.

Turkey and EU flagsThe country is a majority Muslim country that is also a democracy at a time when other Muslim countries in the region are not democratic in the sense that they have competitive elections that lead to a change of government. (There are Asian countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran that have a history of various models of electoral politics punctuated by military and authoritarian rule).

The Turkish republic was founded by an army officer, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, as the Ottoman Empire collapsed after the First World War. He established a secular state where before the Ottoman Empire had been an Islamic state in the sense that it claimed to be the successor of the original Caliphate.

He and his successor ruled the country until the first democratic election in 1950, but periods of democratic rule have been punctuated since by coups by the army which regards itself as the guardian of the secular state founded by Ataturk.

The country has been governed by the AK (Justice and Development) Party for the past six years which was returned to power last year with a big majority. AK describes itself as a moderate conservative pro-Western party, its critics say it is a closet Islamist party trying to introduce an Islamic state by stealth.

So you have a tension between a democratic system that returns a government that many in the secularist establishment of the country regard as unconstitutional. What happens in Turkey will have an impact on the evolution of democracy in Muslim states. Our presenter, Robin Lustig, has also blogged on this.

Turkey also wants to join the EU - something opposed by many politicians in France and Germany but supported by governments such as the UK. A large Muslim country much of which is situated in Asia, rather than Europe, would inevitably change the nature of the EU.

The AK party is a strong supporter of EU membership so its future is important to that ambition - even if this ambition is now in jeopardy by apparent enlargement fatigue in the EU.

I believe Turkey is worth the coverage, but let me know if you agree.

Farewell

Peter Barron | 17:07 UK time, Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Ok then, I'm off.

Newsnight logoAfter four years at Newsnight this is my final editor's blog. I'm off to Google, which has provoked some head scratching in the blogosphere.

My reasoning was pretty straightforward - I was looking for something at least as interesting, eventful and as much fun as Newsnight. That leaves a short list of options.

Experimenting with new media has been one of the joys of running Newsnight. There have been new products and possibilities almost every week. We've piled into many of them although so far, unlike Downing Street, we've resisted Twitter.

Some of our wheezes proved controversial but four years on I don't think anyone - and certainly not Jeremy - would argue that Newsnight should be simply a TV programme shown once at 10.30pm.

The digital revolution means I've been the first Newsnight editor to look after a programme which can be accessed at any time of the day or night anywhere in the world. You can engage us in conversation and we can - and should - explain our inner thinking.

So I'd like to take this chance to thank publicly the brilliant, creative and committed team who put together Newsnight five nights a week. To thank the six million or so viewers who stick with Newsnight week in week out despite the proliferation of competing demands for their eyeballs.

And to say thanks and farewell to those diehard Newsnight fans who subscribe to the e-mail, read blogs like this one and visit the website every day to catch up on the programme and have fun picking holes in it.

From Friday I'll be joining your number.

US party season

Rome Hartman | 12:02 UK time, Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Much of the BBC is counting down to Beijing these days, and the opening of the Olympic Games. But here in Washington, we're counting down to Denver, and the beginning of the 2008 political convention season.

bbcwordnewsamerica140x100.jpgI covered my first US party convention 20 years ago. As I remember it, the emphasis was very much on that first word: party. It was the Republican Convention in 1988, and New Orleans was the host city.

Nominally, the business at hand was to install Vice President George HW Bush as the nominee, and to say goodbye to the man who even now remains the Republican hero, Ronald Reagan.

The GOP (Grand Old Party) managed that 'baton hand-off' reasonably well...well enough to launch Bush into the White House. But I honestly don't remember much of what happened at the podium that week. Instead, my memories are filled with music (I'm pretty sure I remember my wonderful CBS colleague Ed Bradley 'sitting in' with a band called Buckwheat Zydeco) and with food (shrimp 'po boys' from a place called Messina's...'debris' sandwiches from the legendary Mother's).

Don't get me wrong; we worked hard, but whether it was because of the Louisiana setting or simply being my first time, there has not been a convention since - and I've covered a bunch - that offered quite as much fun as that one.

Ronald ReaganIn less than a month, the BBC News contingent - including our World News America team - will be setting up shop in Denver, and then a week later in Minneapolis. Perhaps it's because the BBC deployment will be much more 'lean and mean' than in my old days at a US network, but I don't expect to do much partying or gourmet eating.

What I do expect is to have one hell of a story to cover - in both cities - and to work very hard to deliver a distinctive take on both party conventions to our audiences in American and around the world.

The media are much more focused on the Democratic convention at the moment, and it will be a fascinating thing to watch Barack Obama officially take the reins of his party.

But Minneapolis also offers a couple of fascinating storylines: what kind of a 'sendoff' will the GOP give to George W Bush?

And what kind of a reception will John McCain get from those in the Republican party who haven't always welcomed his maverick ways?

As always, what the BBC will be able to provide is not the most coverage...we can't compete with the endless hours the American cable news networks will offer...but hopefully the smartest coverage, from the perspective of what I like to call 'the friendly outsider with the slightly arched eyebrow.'

World News America will be led, as always, by Matt Frei and Katty Kay, who have been delivering incomparable political coverage all year long, and they'll be joined in Denver by Ted Koppel, one of the sharpest and most experienced journalists on the American scene.

We'll be working from sunup to well past sundown. But a guy's gotta eat, right? So if anyone knows where I can get a really good shrimp po' boy in Colorado or Minnesota, will you please drop me a line?

Right place, wrong time

Simon Waldman | 16:55 UK time, Monday, 28 July 2008

The spectacular fire on the pier at Weston-super-Mare caused a fair degree of early morning teeth-gnashing in the newsroom, swiftly followed by heartfelt and relieved thanks to our fantastically public-spirited and technically literate audience.

BBC News channel logoWe watched the fire raging - live - on a...err...rival news channel, who had the good fortune to have a cameraman/sat-truck operator living not far from the town. And boy, did they make the most of that stroke of luck! It was an uncomfortable hour, to be frank.

By the time our own team had hot-footed it to Weston, the fire was beginning to die down - but by then we had already received some fantastic "UGC" (User Generated Content) from scores of citizen journalists who were instrumental in helping us convey the drama and sheer scale of the fire.

In fact, by lunchtime BBC News had received almost 500 stills and dozens of video sequences from members of the public, either e-mailed or texted in to us. To everyone who contributed, a big thank you!

Whilst lots of you were contacting BBC News in London direct, many were in touch with the Points West newsroom in Bristol, while others were delivering some amazing pictures direct to our satellite truck in Weston (Ray and Ralph, that's you!). You can see some of their fabulous footage here.

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Which just goes to show that you can strike lucky - or not - in having a camera crew on hand for unexpected news stories, but you can almost always count on someone with a camera being nearby. And that someone could be you!

Apple backlash?

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 12:58 UK time, Monday, 28 July 2008

At the risk of igniting yet another flurry of Apple v PC fervour, and with a heavy heart at returning to the subject so soon, Stephen Fry, who we love and admire, took a pop at the BBC over the weekend for not doing enough stories about Apple products.

It's a criticism I haven't heard before. He feels we are running scared of an anti-Apple community backlash. My colleague, online technology editor Darren Waters, has written this heartfelt response to Stephen who's clearly now a signed up member of the anti-anti Apple Community (if that's possible).

---

By Darren Waters

3G iPhoneI feel a little uneasy disagreeing with a national treasure, but I must take issue with Stephen Fry's comments about the BBC technology site in his latest Guardian Dork Talk column.

Stephen's an educated and interesting columnist on technology, but unless he's been popping into our editorial meetings each morning without my knowledge, I don't see how he would know how we decide which stories to cover.

As editor of the technology section, it is my job, with the help of my colleagues, to decide which stories we write about.

And even if Stephen had popped in to see us - and by the way, he's welcome any time - he wouldn't have seen or heard us discuss, debate, or even mention not doing any legitimate stories about Apple because we fear an anti-Apple community backlash.

The reality of writing about any subject which engenders passions - and technology is definitely one of those - is that no matter what one writes about, there is always someone who believes we should have written about something else, or written it differently. But this issue is not about Apple; it is about the editorial process itself. Every day, my colleagues and I on the technology section spend time questioning ourselves about the legitimacy of any story.

All serious journalists ask that question, each and every day. Sometimes that debate about legitimacy lasts a micro-second, sometimes it lasts a lot longer.

We are juggling finite resources covering a subject area with almost infinite scope and complexity. Sometimes I am asked why we haven't written about Subject A, and why we have written about Subject B. The answer most of the time is that we did not have enough resources to write about A and felt B was a more relevant story to the majority of our readers. A backlash from any quarter never enters into the discussion.

I sadly predict such a mundane answer wouldn't qualify as interesting enough to earn maximum points on Stephen's BBC Two show QI, but there we are.

Engaging the audience

Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 08:29 UK time, Wednesday, 23 July 2008

We tried something new the other day (Monday) on Have Your Say by revisiting an old idea from the early days of the web. We invited two contributors to Have Your Say to participate in a debate about the future of the Anglican Church and respond to questions and comments from the audience.

Have Your Say guest moderator MarieMarie and Sam had differing perspectives on the ongoing row over women bishops and homosexuality in the clergy and we wanted to give them and the HYS audience an opportunity to discuss those views online.

Although the debate was reactively moderated we tried to keep it away from the fairly predictable arguments about atheism and whether or not God existed. And we also chose to run it just for a couple of hours to focus the discussion.

It was an extended webchat by any other name and you can judge for yourself here if it was a success.

Have Your Say guest moderator SamWe certainly felt that the debate benefited from the involvement of Sam and Marie, the tone was robust but not abusive and it allowed for some genuine discussion about the issues. Quite a few contributors put straightforward questions to the pair, which they were able to answer directly. They both enjoyed the experience and would have continued for longer than the two-hour slot.

It was our first experiment in trying to find new ways of engaging the audience and evolving a more dynamic and more thoughtful approach to HYS. But it won't be our last.

To swear or not to swear

Post categories:

Peter Rippon | 15:21 UK time, Monday, 21 July 2008

BH logoThere have been complaints from listeners about swearing during Broadcasting House this weekend from the Latitude Festival in Suffolk. The programme was live and a guest used the F-word. I want to apologise to listeners offended by the use of the word - it was inappropriate at that time of the day and in that context. The guest who used it, Irvine Welsh, apologised on air as soon as he said it and he apologised again to the BH team afterwards.

There is always an element of risk in doing live programmes. The BBC's Editorial Guidelines recognise that judgements about the use of swear words are difficult because they depend on tone and context and there is no consensus about which words are acceptable. Radio 4 is aimed at an adult audience and, unlike television, there is no watershed. In general, I think Radio 4 listeners have a high tolerance for swearing. We had 20 or so complaints in this case. But we attract just as many when we bleep or edit out swearing. Listeners argue we are insulting their intelligence and censoring when we do it.

Moral panic?

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 13:50 UK time, Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The media's panic over knife crime isn't going away. Maybe there's a good reason.

Man holding knifeThe latest figures make it clear that the number of young men carrying and using knives is increasing sharply. Clearly there's something to be concerned about; it's not just the media's hyperbole nor does it seem like a self-correcting, short term aberration in the statistics.

But for journalists, that's only the start of it. There are other questions.

How should news organisations report the real surge in knife crime? How much does tone and prominence distort the real picture? Is some coverage self-fulfilling prophecy? Does it spread fear and anxiety way beyond the rational?

Because the truth still remains that most of us are very, very, very unlikely to be a victim of knife crime. Most young men don't carry knives; most young people are not components of what some politicians are calling the 'broken society'.

Actually, I think most of us citizens know this; we're more likely to base our understanding of the world on our own experiences of it rather than on what we read in free papers on the bus to and from work. What we do need, though, as citizens is a press that helps our civic discourse - the debates and arguments we have about problems and what needs to be done to solve them.

When I explored this in a recent edition of BBC R4's Analysis, I found a clear gap between the press we need as citizens and the press we get, driven by editors' intuition, impact and high octane attention grabbing.

It's clear that the current spate of knife crime - the reasons why young men carry knives and occasionally use them - has complex causes and will need complex solutions.

Think about it for a moment: the only explanation for the sudden rise in carrying knives is that young men who didn't use to carry them do so now. The least likely reason for that is that they have become 'evil'. The most likely is that some set of 'nudges' have persuaded otherwise balanced, law-abiding young men that it's OK to arm themselves.

Nudges?

The brainchild of two behavioural economists in Chicago - Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein - and an idea that's pretty trendy right now with some politicians.

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Crudely, 'nudges' are the tiny influences on our behaviour that we might not notice at the time but which make us act differently, usually to fit in with others around us: eat better, drink less or, in the case of the lavatories at Schipol airport... well, read about that for yourself.

Nudges, however, are morally neutral. And may explain why a young man who feels 1% more afraid or 5% more in need of being one-of-the-crowd changes his behaviour 100% from being unarmed to armed.

A proper public discourse to find ways of reversing this trend would be subtle and nuanced - it would think broadly about causes and possible solutions. And we know, from experiments like Today's Citizens Juries back in 2005, that if ordinary citizens are given the time and space, they have exactly the kind of subtle and nuanced discussions that we need.

But it's a debate that's inhibited, prevented even, by the tendency to polarise or simplify. According to your taste in newspapers, you learn that politicians' plans are "half-baked" or "not tough enough" or the work of a "softie softie"...and anyway, everyone knows "there's one choice - prison".

The real challenge to our media - and our press in particular - is not whether they can avoid misrepresenting or distorting knife crime: it's part of the purpose of our media to draw things to our attention, however crudely.

It's whether it is capable of reporting it in a way that helps us citizens really think hard about possible solutions; or whether it makes us feel the problem is insoluble.

In their own words

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 12:45 UK time, Tuesday, 15 July 2008

BBC News programmes are often at their most brilliant and vivid when we hear real stories from our audiences.

Radio 1 logoNo debate on knife crime and the government's response to it could be complete without the voices of young Britons. They include millions of Radio 1 listeners - some with dramatic first hand experience.

A half-hour edition of Newsbeat put the subject under the microscope. Scott Breslin was 16 when he was stabbed in the neck in Glasgow. Paralysed - he can move his head. That's about it. He needs 24/7 care and his two attackers are already out of jail, after a small handful of years inside while Scott lives with his own life sentence. He told Newsbeat's Briar Burley his story: moving, shocking - and one that made some of our audience very angry.

From the streets - a different story: "I'll die for my friends - I'll kill for my friends" - one young blade carrier told us.

Reporter Tulip Mazumdar was in Polmont Young Offenders' Institution near Falkirk - where many of Scotland's knife criminals end up. Of course, knife crime in the Glasgow area is a serious, long running problem and one which is often under-reported by London-based media.

We also heard from New Yorker Mike Tanelli in the Bronx - he told our US reporter Sima Kotecha that he'd been "...shot, stabbed, and hit with baseball bats for nothing but just for fun". But that in tough areas like this the NYPD's policy of flooding tough areas with cops had cut crime...high visibility policing is appealing to many of those who got in touch with us.

One policeman texted to say they barely have the manpower or equipment to defend themselves let lone the public - he thinks Tasers could be the answer.

But is it all the media's fault?

Display of knivesThe stats suggest that knife crime in London is down and overall knife crime is more or less the same as it's always been. In many parts of Britain - especially rural areas - young people simply don't carry knives. But we also know the official stats are probably flawed: they under-report under 16s and hospital information may be incomplete. With the audience the stats clearly lack credibility.

Jonathan Blake in Liverpool found huge scepticism among people there about the government's latest measures. A huge volume of texts gripped in our political reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan's hands, she fired a question at the prime minister's press conference. "Our listeners think you are out of touch". He said he wanted our audience to know: "If you carry a knife our intention is that you are punished."

Our texts kept coming in: "My boyfriend was stabbed and killed two-and-a-half years ago. I just don't believe sentences are harsh enough and neither is prison." Many, many others from victims, and others from those explaining why they carry blades "to protect myself - if I get attacked I want to defend myself: it's kill or be killed".

Our audience responded in huge volume to our special programme with a range of ideas, anger and frustration.

There was a similar story on our sister station 1Xtra which mounted a special programme too, fronted by Mike Anthony of the Rampage crew, himself a recent stab victim.

A 15-year-old girl holds her boyfriend after he's stabbed to death by a gang of teenagers. He dies in her arms. His best friend dreamt that one of them would be killed - he wasn't sure who it would be. Making it to 17 is a surprise to him anyway as he feels the good die young - so he's prepared.

You may think that this is a plotline from a movie or play - it's not. It's a real life story. In our documentary Street Diary, produced by Nicola Asamoa, we heard from young people directly affected by crime. They included the best mate and girlfriend of 16-year-old Kodjo Yenga who was stabbed to death by a gang of teenagers in London last year.

We also heard from a former gang member who joined a gang because he didn't have any brothers or sisters to look out for him. Artists Bashy and Dizzee Rascal also gave us their take on life on the streets.

Our range of voices and experiences demonstrated to us that whatever the official stats, whatever the politicians or journalists may say, out on the real streets of some parts of Britain, knife crime is a terrifying and real part of peoples lives.

Altered image

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:20 UK time, Friday, 11 July 2008

We seem to have been caught out, along with other media outlets, by an image handed out by the Iranians of its recent missile tests which had apparently been digitally altered.

We were alerted to it by an e-mail from a reader, though it appears that a blog, LGF, was the first to spot it. We removed the picture from our site while we checked it out, and then wrote a story about it (which you can read here).

The image had initially come to us via the AFP news agency, who later issued advice to news organisations that it had been "apparently digitally altered".

Various ideas were put forward as to why the image might have been altered, but basically we can only guess.

Blogs and accountability

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 19:45 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I've been invited to speak at a panel discussion about blogs and accountability next week. The discussion (called "Learning to talk") will be about how - and whether - blogs can help make media organisations, in particular, more accountable.

This Editors' blog is obviously an example of the kind of thing we'll be talking about, along with readers' or viewers' editor roles which exist in different forms in various media organisations. What is the value of these for the audience? How useful is it for editors or programme makers to talk about what they do on a blog? When does it work and when doesn't it, and who does it best?

It would be good to know your views and if you want to leave a comment please post it on the BBC Internet blog, where my colleague Nick Reynolds, who is organising the event, has written more about it.

Graphic footage

Host Host | 19:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The BBC has issued a statement about the footage shown on the BBC News at Ten O'Clock last week of the shooting of a man in Jerusalem following a bulldozer attack. You can read the statement here on the BBC Complaints website.

The R-word

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:15 UK time, Tuesday, 8 July 2008

There's lots of talk in the air right now about recession, what it is and how will we know we're in one?

Ten pound notesPart of my job is to try and steer coverage of the subject across the BBC in the right direction and to make sure we're being as precise as possible.

To that end I sent out an advisory note to all non-business specialists working on TV, radio and online today about how a recession can be defined, and how we should think about using the word in our coverage.

I've been asked to make that note public via this blog so here it is - with a couple of caveats. For economists and others experts out there I realise that this is a simplified view of the definitions and that there are many arguments to be voiced around the subject.

And for those of you who may already be struggling in the downturn this editorial advice may seem completely esoteric and as far as you're concerned a recession is probably already underway.

What is a recession? There's no completely straightforward answer!

A technical recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth (GDP being the total production of goods and services). That, for instance, is what the British Chambers of Commerce say we're in serious risk of in their survey today.

Sale sign in shopBut - it's perfectly possible to have two quarters of negative growth and another couple of quarters of decent growth meaning the economy actually grows year on year even though it's been through a technical recession.

So, a full blown or severe recession is when there is an absolute decline in the economy year on year. That's what happened in the early 80's and early 90's.

But, there's an obvious complication here. It's impossible to call a recession officially until the numbers are in...In other words, until you're looking back at what has happened over the past couple of quarters (in a technical recession) or the past year (in the case of a full blown recession) we can't officially confirm we've had a recession.

So, how should the BBC report things if the point is reached when it feels as if the country is in the middle of a recession, eg if unemployment is rising and all the statistics and good sense suggest the economy is shrinking?

The answer is that we just have to be careful with our language. While we wouldn't be in a position to say we are officially in recession (as per above) we don't have to shy away from using the 'r' word when good sense suggests we should be.

For instance, if the figures are looking terrible we'd be able to say they suggest we're in the middle of a recession. But we should think about the wording of captions over TV pictures eg. "Recessionary Chill" might be better than saying definitively "Britain in Recession".

Finally, for international coverage it's worth noting that in the United States there is a quasi-official definition of recession which is different. And in the US the official decision about whether the country's had a recession can only be made by a committee of economists long afterwards. Defining a world recession...I'll leave that for another time.

Impossible conspiracies

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 15:27 UK time, Tuesday, 8 July 2008

President Bush's chief counter-terrorism adviser on 9/11, Richard Clarke, told The Conspiracy Files that there are two key reasons he thought the conspiracy theories about 9/11 are not possible - first competency, the alternative theories suggested are hugely complex and would have required a huge number of people; secondly, the difficulty of keeping secrets.

World Trade Center site.The more high profile and outrageous the act the more difficult to keep it secret. Richard Clarke added that in all the 30 years he'd had top level intelligence clearance nearly all the key secrets he'd seen had become public.

The former counter-terrorism adviser is adamant that the theories that a third tower, called World Trade Center Building 7, was brought down by a controlled demolition is not possible:

"Hundreds of people thousands of people would have had to have been involved and know about it and it most surely would have leaked out."

One of the comments on the blog raised the Iran Contra conspiracy as evidence that in fact you don't need hundreds or thousands of people to carry out a very complex conspiracy. Iran Contra is a good example because it shows clearly that conspiracies do happen. They can be complex.

But the Iran Contra conspiracy was exposed. And what's more, as it went on it necessarily began to drag in more and more people.

Richard Clarke also made the point that any conspiracy on 9/11 would have been unbelievably risky for Bush or Cheney:

"The risk to them would be personally, that they would go to jail for the rest of their lives. That they would have their name blackened throughout history, and that their political party would be destroyed. Everything that they had ever worked for their party for their family, for themselves, would be utterly smashed."

Other comments have suggested that it is wrong to mention that critics have suggested that the BBC and other sections of the media were allegedly involved in a conspiracy. If you read the many comments on this blog it is clear that people are suggesting just that.

Yet once again those suggestions draw in hundreds and thousands more people. Every time more people are drawn in it makes the chances of keeping anything secret even more difficult.

The long awaited final report on Tower 7 at the World Trade Center is due later this month and the American government hopes it will provide the answers to the questions that have been raised about that building.

This is likely to be the government's last word on 9/11. Those who continue to question the official explanation have still to set out what exactly the grand conspiracy was, how it was carried out, who carried it out and why they would do so.

The Conspiracy Files: 9/11 - The Third Tower repeated on Tuesday 8 July at 2320 BST BBC Two

Answer to the Amy dilemma

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 11:40 UK time, Monday, 7 July 2008

In my last blog Is Amy Porn? - I posed a question which I will now answer.

Radio 1 logoThere's no way we would cancel an interview with the prime minister at Downing Street for a vague hint by a music artist that she had something to tell us. Even Amy Winehouse. But thank goodness I have more than one reporter anyway. So I hope that puts your mind at rest. The assembled mass at the Radio Festival didn't entirely agree with those who responded to the blog with such vehemence on this issue. Some thought that for a music network with a reputation for strong entertainment news coverage, we'd be looking a gift horse in the mouth. One senior radio news executive from outside the BBC thought I was wrong.

I also don't agree with those who posted comments suggesting we don't cover politics or anything other than "trivia": I suspect many editors' blog readers may not be Radio 1 listeners, which is fine, so let me respectfully enlighten you. We have a dedicated political reporter in Rajini Vaidyanathan who's established a strong reputation for robustness in the corridors of power: it's our job to make political coverage relevant and accessible to our young audience from a wide demographic. She and her colleagues do this brilliantly. Newsbeat is, and will continue to be, committed to a serious and broad news agenda: from youth health to the US elections, from the economy to knife crime, Iraq, Afghanistan and so much more.

But by the same token we won't ignore entertainment news. It is important, too. Audiences, especially younger ones, are ever more demanding and have re-defined the parameters of what is news. We will continue to serve them with accessible and relevant journalism.

Grim decisions

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 13:13 UK time, Thursday, 3 July 2008

Yesterday a man drove a bulldozer through a street in Jerusalem with the aim of killing a number of Israeli Jews.

The incident happened near the BBC's bureau and our correspondent immediately ran to the scene. He caught on camera the man being shot dead.

The scene on Jaffa Road after the bulldozer knocked down a busThere have been a number of complaints from viewers about us showing on television the moment of death. I fully understand the concerns, but this is why I took the decision to show it.

After some discussion with colleagues I decided that on the Six O'Clock News we should freeze the images just before the man was shot - letting only the sound of the incident run on. I took the view that the images were too disturbing to show to an early evening audience because, pre-watershed, children would be watching.

I took a different view at Ten - deciding to run the pictures in full with a clear warning that the audience was about to see images of a man being shot dead. This was not an easy decision - we never want to shock for the sake of it, or to sensationalise the news.

However, equally we don't want to sanitise the news for what is a mature and thoughtful audience. It's also important to think about what the audience actually saw - the shot was not close-up, the action was slightly obscured because it was happening behind the bulldozer's windscreen, the men's faces were not visible, and no blood was seen.

The scene was disturbing, and it was a fine call, but I believe it is important and illuminating very occasionally to see the reality of violence.

The story also raised another difficult question: would it have gained quite so much coverage if it had not been caught on camera?

The answer is probably not - but we should not necessarily ignore the opportunity to show people what goes on when we are provided with it. We should however remind people that this is not the only violence, and set it in the context of other deaths - both Palestinian and Israeli - which we did last night.

Is Amy porn?

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 09:15 UK time, Thursday, 3 July 2008

This was the question posed by a senior colleague of mine at the Radio Festival in Glasgow this week. Jeff Zycinski, head of radio at BBC Scotland said he had been reduced to tears by newspaper coverage of the troubled singer - who has just made a much-talked about appearance at Glastonbury.

Radio 1 logoJeff explains: "the pictures of Amy Winehouse are a form of pornography...if we put these stories on air, if we read these stories, aren't we in some way complicit in this woman's destruction? I have wept over pictures of Amy Winehouse."

Jeff went on to argue, in front of a gathering of radio executives and staff from commercial and BBC sectors, that we should do more stories about 24-year-old women a mile east of the city centre, who are daily destroying themselves on drink and drugs and put that at the top of the news agenda.

Strong stuff. So are we in those areas of the BBC that have covered this story guilty of causing Amy's destruction and using her as a type of porn?

Well, no, I don't believe we are.

For younger audiences across Britain - like it or not - the lives of celebrities are a daily talking point: across offices and shops in Britain: these are water-cooler moments from which a modern BBC can no longer stay stuffily aloof.

Of course, different networks will take different views - not for a moment am I suggesting that this is the Today programme or the Ten O'Clock News fare. But for young facing networks like Radio 1 to ignore the off-stage antics of some of our biggest acts from Amy to Britney and beyond would be extremely odd, to say the least.

In January, we relaunched our website, with improved entertainment news coverage and watched our monthly page impressions jump from around 300,000 to more than 4 million in the space of 4 months - the bulk of these hits were for entertainment news coverage.

The trick is we mustn't do every story - we need to tackle those we select with the same editorial rigour as we would for any other news - and be mindful of the impact on individuals our coverage might have.

Amy WinehouseFor example, I gave to the festival an example of the sort of stuff we would never pick up from the red-tops. Wednesday's Sun had a no-holds-barred account of Amy's alleged recent activities which we wouldn't touch with a barge pole - even if we could stand it up.

Nor have we followed widespread newspaper speculation about the state of Madonna and Guy Ritchie's marriage - not a second of coverage, until today - when they issued a denial statement and we dutifully reported it.

As I told the festival, we are not remotely interested in doing bedroom or intrusive private life stuff: it's got to be in the public domain first, we've got to have done a proper journalistic job on investigating whatever the story is - and we must be responsible in our coverage.

It's also worth remembering that both broadcast and written media are frequently tipped off about celebrity activities and appearances by the stars' publicity people themselves: I'm keen not to get drawn into this "game". Nor do we collude with press officers to agree safe "questions" in advance of interviews that won't embarrass the celebs themselves as part of a deal.

We should be fair dealers - most of all to our audience. If our audiences hear it, they have a right to believe it's more than second hand gossip or tittle tattle copped off the tabloids.

It's also true that some of the issues raised by the Britney and Amy stories have proved useful ways in to discuss in a wider way issues such as drug-taking, binge drinking and eating disorders. Online and on-air we've been able to supply fact boxes, credible advice and helpline information for people who feel they may in a similar dilemma - especially to those without the deep pockets to opt for the Priory option.

On a lighter note - we staged a fictional scenario at the Radio Festival: you can try our editorial dilemma. I won't tell you which way I voted, but please tell me what you could do if you were in my shoes. I'll post a blog later to let you know what I said.

We have an interview with Gordon Brown at Downing Street - it's one to one - pre-arranged and ready to be done. Suddenly, the newsdesk gets a call from Amy Winehouse saying she has a "very important" announcement to make but that we must send a reporter immediately to her home. Our only available reporter is at Downing Street...so do we cancel Brown for Winehouse?

Controversy and conspiracies III

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 2 July 2008

After the huge response to Richard Porter's blogs last year about 9/11 Part of the conspiracy? I was very keen to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.

For the latest Conspiracy Files programme, on 9/11 - The Third Tower (Sunday 6 July at 2100 BST on BBC Two), I've been looking in detail at allegations that there was a conspiracy to deliberately demolish a third tower at the World Trade Center.

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This third skyscraper was never hit by an aeroplane. There is little photographic evidence of extensive damage. Yet seven hours after the Twin Towers collapsed, this 47-storey building collapsed in a few seconds.

Afterwards the thousands of tonnes of steel from the building were taken away to be melted down in the Far East. The official explanation is that this third huge tower at the World Trade Center collapsed because of ordinary fires - but that makes this the first and only skyscraper in the world to have collapsed because of fire. Nearly seven years on the final official report on the building has still not been published. The report is now promised this month.

World Trade Center Building 7 has become the subject of heated speculation and a host of conspiracy theories suggesting it was brought down by a controlled demolition. And some people suggest it was not just the government and foreign intelligence, but the police, the fire service, first responders and even the media that were involved.

It is certainly true that on 9/11 the BBC broadcast that WTC7 had collapsed when it was still standing. Then the satellite transmission seemed to cut out mysteriously when the correspondent was still talking. Then Richard Porter admitted in his blog last year that the BBC had lost those key tapes of BBC World News output from the day.

So is that proof that we at the BBC are part of a huge sinister conspiracy or is there a simpler explanation?

The mystery of the missing tapes didn't last that long. One very experienced film librarian kindly agreed to have another look for us one night. There are more than a quarter of a million tapes just in the Fast Store basement at Television Centre. The next morning I got a call to say the tapes had been found. They'd just been put back on the wrong shelf - 2002 rather than 2001. Not so sinister after all.

What about the incorrect reporting of the collapse of Tower 7? Having talked to key eyewitnesses who were actually at Ground Zero that day it is clear that, as early as midday, the fire service feared that Tower 7 might collapse. This information then reached reporters on the scene and was eventually picked up by the international media.

The internet movie Loose Change has been viewed by more than 100 million people according to its makers and it asks this question in the latest film release: "Where did CNN and the BBC get their information especially considering the building was still standing directly behind their reporters?"

It turns out that the respected news agency Reuters picked up an incorrect report and passed it on. They have issued this statement:

"On 11 September 2001 Reuters incorrectly reported that one of the buildings at the New York World Trade Center, 7WTC, had collapsed before it actually did. The report was picked up from a local news story and was withdrawn as soon as it emerged that the building had not fallen."

I put this to the writer and director of Loose Change, Dylan Avery. I asked whether he believed the BBC was part of the conspiracy. Given the question his film had posed about the BBC I was surprised by Dylan's response: "Of course not, that's ludicrous. Why would the BBC be part of it?"

He added candidly: "I didn't really want to put that line in the movie."

And the reason the interview with the BBC correspondent, Jane Standley, ended so abruptly? The satellite feed had an electronic timer, which cut out at 1715 exactly.

We've done our best to tackle many of the other questions raised about Tower 7. I interviewed the lead official investigators, scientists and eyewitnesses who support the official explanation; but also architects, engineers and others who now question that account.

The final report on 9/11 should be with us soon. The official investigators are confident they will be able to solve the final mystery of 9/11. But I doubt they will ever convince their harshest critics, who believe there was a home-grown conspiracy at work that day.

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