BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for June 2012

BBC Sport launches Facebook App

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:44 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

BBC Sport has launched a Facebook application offering audiences live streams of Wimbledon and up to 24 streams of Olympics coverage. More details from our colleagues in BBC Sport here and a blog post from Aaron Scullion in BBC Future Media, who is seeking feedback from people who have tried it out.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

New audience figures for BBC Global News

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Recent times have not been the easiest for the BBC's international news services.

New Broadcasting House

New Broadcasting House

The challenges our journalists face have never been so severe or varied, from increased harassment and intimidation to persistent efforts to censor BBC content.

With global competition only intensifying, the BBC World Service has also had to face significant cuts to its funding, undergoing disrupting and painful change.

In this context, we're announcing today that the BBC's global weekly audience estimate has seen a steady rise by 14 million to 239 million in 2012, up 6% from last year.

This has been driven primarily by the performance of our BBC Arabic and BBC Persian services. As tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa unfolded, audiences increasingly turned to the BBC for independent news they could trust.

The figures are cause for cautious confidence but certainly not complacency. We still have significant challenges ahead, including the need for BBC World Service to make additional savings and the integration of our domestic and international news operations in state-of-the-art new facilities in New Broadcasting House.

And while BBC World Service has managed to increase its overall audience to 180 million from 166 million in 2011 (an 8% increase) by delivering distinctive, high quality journalism, this should not mask that the BBC no longer serves audiences in some individual countries in the way we did previously.

Funding cuts from the Foreign Office have lessened the BBC's ability to take our journalism into some countries, and the overall figures would have been even higher still without these reductions.

With the Chinese, Russian and Iranian governments all pumping money into journalism designed to give their own perspective on the world, there's no room for complacency.

But the figures do underline the lasting importance of our international mission.

The combined increase across all our international news services is first and foremost a credit to the dedication, bravery and professionalism of our journalists. In today's world, theirs is a tough calling.

In the past year, the BBC's Arabic Service has seen a record rise in audiences with 25 million adults weekly tuning in. BBC Persian TV has doubled its reach in Iran, with an audience of 6 million people, despite facing a campaign of censorship and intimidation by the Iranian authorities.

Our English language radio programming on the BBC World Service has also performed well with audiences holding firm at about 44 million overall. Journalists have consistently delivered high-quality international coverage ranging from the global economic crisis, Afghanistan, the deaths of Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden and famine in the Horn of Africa to South Sudan's independence and the horrific killings in Norway.

But while our mission endures, how we deliver it must evolve.

This rise in our reach shows the BBC's global strategy, increasing access to our content on new platforms, is working. We must continue to respond to the changing needs of our audiences to stay relevant.

The global audiences for BBC World Service, BBC World News and were 145 million for radio (down 1% this year), 97 million for television (up 13% including a 45% increase in BBC World Service TV platforms) and 30 million for online (including a 20% increase for BBC World Service online). This includes a strong year for the BBC's international mobile services. The mobile site reached 2.7 million unique users per week, a 30% increase from 2011.

None of this is cause for us to rest on our laurels.

But these figures are a step in the right direction as they underline the international desire for the sort of independent journalism that the BBC provides. Globally, there remains a dire need for journalism that isn't slanted towards any one country, political or commercial viewpoint.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

User generated content and 'Arab Spring' coverage

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:37 UK time, Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A BBC Trust report on the BBC's coverage of the Arab Spring has highlighted, among other things, the BBC's use of user-generated content to shed light on those events as they have unfolded.

Protesters in Tunis burn a photo of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 and soon spread to other regions

In its executive summary the report says: "The great new challenge of the 'Arab Spring', as a media phenomenon, has been the explosion of 'user generated content' (UGC) combined with the need to rely on this because direct access to the story is so often denied or impeded.

"On the whole the BBC handled this well, drawing on its impressive reserves of regional expertise in the Arabic section and the Monitoring service."

The report also says the BBC "made efforts to alert listeners and viewers when such material could not be definitely authenticated, but this should perhaps be done on a more systematic basis."

And a summary of the report's conclusions recommends that "the BBC should consider how it might better share more effectively with the audience the rigorous vetting process to which all user-generated content (UGC) is subjected."

In light of this, it's worth mentioning, for anyone interested in knowing more about how this process of checking UGC material happens, that there's a good explanation here from one of the team working in the "UGC Hub" in the newsroom.

When we have done all we can to check but still cannot be 100% sure, we will sometimes still decide to use the material, whilst making these doubts clear, and the Trust is now asking us to be more consistent in the way we signpost and caveat this type of content. In those rare cases where we do get something wrong, we acknowledge and correct it as soon as we can.

It is significant that the Trust report recognises so clearly the great importance of UGC for our journalism.

We will continue to do everything we can to make best use of the accounts of people caught up in the stories themselves (such as this video, Syria activist: Homs situation 'so bad' and Egypt's Tahrir Square protesters tell their stories), making clear the origins of the material, as well as the first-hand reporting of our own correspondents.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Closing the News Multiscreen on Red Button

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:13 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

Interactive TV, in the form of the BBC's Red Button services, has been with us now for over a decade.

The BBC periodically reviews all its services, looking at whether they still deliver value for money, whether they are available on platforms our users can easily access and whether they continue to meet the changing needs of audiences.

For the Red Button video Multiscreen service in particular we also have to consider how it fits with the development of next-generation interactive TV (for example our new BBC News service on Connected TVs) as this starts to become more widely available.

A recent review, undertaken as part of a BBC strategy and consultation process called Delivering Quality First recommended changes to our existing Red Button services, specifically "a phased reduction of broadcast Red Button services, reducing the number of interactive streams to one across all platforms and exploring the longer-term transition to IPTV technologies".

As a result, we will soon be closing the remaining BBC News Multiscreen video service. The date scheduled for this is 20 June. Currently the service is still available to Sky and Virgin Media consumers - a Freeview version closed in October 2009.

A comprehensive News, Sport and Weather text service will continue to be offered via the Red Button, and other BBC News content will of course still be available on the Sky and Virgin Platforms, for example on the BBC News channel. And the BBC's News, Sport and Weather video content is obviously also available online.

Removing a service is always a difficult decision, but at the same time we are investing resources in brand new internet-connected TV services which we believe will allow us to offer far more than we've been able to before via Red Button, with more choice, more content, delivered in more appealing formats. More on these new developments before too long.

Update 15:25 BST, 26 June: The Red Button News Multiscreen video loops have now been closed, but if you are using Red Button you'll still get the full text service, which you can use in conjunction with the BBC News Channel. As I explained above, this decision was taken because we are now investing in a new internet-connected TV service which will, in effect, be the next generation of Red Button. Here are some answers to the questions posted below:

Craig - Facebook's an important platform and we have a page here but no current plans to integrate this into Red Button.

Skywatchman - there's a text version of the paper review which we publish every morning on the website which might be useful for you. The latest one is here and you can always find it by putting Newspaper review into the BBC News search engine.

Cping500, Aspiemum, David Godfrey and Skywatchman - the number of people with internet-connected TVs is indeed still small, but growing steadily, as manufacturers increasingly ship them as standard.

Sunny Isle of Wight - you should be able to watch BBC News video on iPad - clips do now work on the site, the News Channel stream works if you download the BBC News App, and you can also watch bulletins via iPlayer.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Burma: What's in a name?

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 08:37 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

Today, “The Lady” begins a 17-day visit to Europe. Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at an important moment in her country – but what should we call it?

Aung San Suu Kyi

Some news organisations refer to it as Myanmar, others, including the BBC choose to call it Burma. Over the next week, there will be lots of reporting about the country. So how do we decide which name to use?

The nation's military leaders changed the English language version of the country's name to Myanmar in 1989. The name change was opposed by pro-democracy campaigners and by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. They argue that the name was changed by a military junta that had no legitimacy - the NLD won elections in the country a year later, but the junta refused to recognise the result.

The decision to change the name of a country or a city is often politically sensitive, frequently the result of a nation shedding its colonial past, for example, Rhodesia's transition to Zimbabwe or India's commercial capital Bombay becoming Mumbai.

When Hillary Clinton visited the new capital Naypyidaw late last year, her advisors said she would not use either Myanmar or Burma, but would use phrases like "your country", "this land" and "what you call Myanmar". Officials said it was a sensitive issue for their hosts, but also for the US government.

That is not an option for the BBC. For us, the issue is about what is most helpful to our audiences. The BBC Burmese Service was founded in 1940. It has covered independence, uprisings and long years of military rule. It plays a vital role in bringing accurate, impartial news to the people of Burma, reaching an audience of many millions inside the country. In English - and in Burmese - our responsibility is to our audience. For now, most know the country as Burma, so, for now, that's what we continue to call it.

Others take a different view. The United Nations and the New York Times began calling the nation Myanmar in 1989, while the Associated Press adopted "Myanmar" in 2006. The BBC continues to keep names under review. Earlier this year we adopted the name "Chennai" for the Indian city of Madras - by contrast, we still refer to Bangalore rather than Bengaluru.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

'Stadiums of Hate': Legitimate and fair

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Tom Giles | 18:28 UK time, Friday, 8 June 2012

When an investigative current affairs programme like Panorama broadcasts a programme called Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate 11 days before a major football tournament and which reveals shocking images of racist abuse and violence in the host countries - controversy is to be expected.

Former England captain Sol Campbell's reaction to our footage showing Asian supporters being racially attacked inside a ground due to hold Euro 2012 matches was to urge fans and families to stay away "if you don't want to come back in a coffin". Again, a strong reaction - and at some volume - was expected.

The filmmakers accepted that there would be accusations of "scaremongering" or "sensationalism" from some quarters - particularly in Poland and Ukraine. We were ready and willing to defend this film, as we feel strongly that our reporting was both legitimate and fair.

This investigation was undertaken to assess whether Uefa, European football's governing body, was enforcing its own "zero tolerance" policy towards racism and anti-Semitism in the countries to which it had awarded such a prestigious tournament.

Both countries have had reasonably well-documented problems with racist and violent behaviour around domestic football matches, especially Poland, where a Uefa-funded report revealed that in 2010 there were 133 serious hate crimes inside Polish stadiums.

In Ukraine, a lack of official statistics for racist attacks made the situation harder to assess. But after filming at nine football matches in the two countries and recording violence and/or racism at all of them, and following other interviews, it was felt that there was enough evidence, within weeks of the tournament set to begin, to question whether Uefa's policy was not being properly enforced by the two countries' football associations.

We put our findings to both the Polish and Ukrainian FAs.

The Polish FA did not respond while the Ukrainians told us they couldn't help because they were having problems with their email and that our questions were too detailed for them to investigate.

We also put our findings to Uefa and to Michel Platini, its president. He declined to be interviewed but we received a general statement which we broadcast.

Panorama aired the film on 28 May because we felt that the images we had recorded in April and May would speak for themselves.

To date, as far as we are aware, there has been no public condemnation, criticism or expression of concern by any official in the host countries about the racism, racist violence and anti-Semitism we showed in our film. There has yet to be any expression of empathy for the experiences of either the black footballers or Asian fans featured in the programme.

Panorama has instead faced allegations of bias from both governments.

The programme made clear that we were investigating the behaviour of some football supporters and political hooligans - not the peoples of the countries themselves.

In the film we introduced our main Jewish interviewee who lives in Poland as someone who "believes most Poles happily accept other faiths, but that football hooligans are yet to catch up with wider Polish society".

The same contributor quoted above has since issued a statement saying he was "grossly misrepresented" and that we had "exaggerated" the scenes we had filmed. As you can read here Panorama rejects his accusations in the strongest possible terms. The contributor also said that our film had set back his ability to argue - as he did in the film - that anti-Semitism in football grounds in Poland "embarrasses the whole country". It's unclear how the film might do that when Poland is apparently talking widely about this issue for the first time in many years.

Officials in Poland have criticised Panorama for not speaking to "international security experts" instead of going to Sol Campbell, the black former senior England international, for his reactions. Mr Campbell was in turn labeled "insolent" by Ukraine's Foreign Minister.

Both governments have moved to reassure fans that they would all be safe for the tournament. In the case of Ukraine, this assurance was given without addressing what happened to the Asian fans we filmed being beaten up last month in one of Ukraine's own stadiums.

Until 6 June, Uefa had not commented on the issues raised in the programme.

England Fans, the official England Supporters' Club, travelling to Euro 2012 called the programme unhelpful and some Poles in the UK have expressed concern that they have been labelled as racist.

But amid all of these accusations against Panorama and the BBC, there is a real fear that the key issue has been missed - the overt and frightening racist and anti-Semitic abuse and violence of the kind broadcast by Panorama is both wrong and deeply upsetting to those on its receiving end.

That was the point of the programme. We set out to highlight a wrong.

Were the beatings that the students from India sustained in Ukraine's Metalist stadium somehow "exaggerated"?

Was the fact that they said the police were of "no use" as they walked off bruised and alone into the Ukrainian night somehow "made up"? Were the monkey chants hurled at the black players we filmed in Poland somehow "sensationalised"?

In Britain, we have been through a long and difficult process of trying to ensure that these practices would be stopped at football games. As someone who went to matches in the 1970s and 1980s and who has long-time membership of a Premiership club, I know that the sort of mass, racist chanting which happened back then is largely unthinkable now in English grounds. But we had to go through a lot of soul-searching and some concerted campaigning by the likes of "Kick it Out" before it did.

I am confident now that if any of the racist incidents we recorded in Poland or Ukraine had occurred here there would have been a massive national outcry. The authorities would have asked for our footage and would look to prosecute those responsible.

Uefa President Michel Platini waited 10 days before saying he was "shocked" by what he had heard of our film, but added that there was nothing he could be expected to do.

He said that despite widespread reporting of our findings on the eve of the tournament, he had not seen the disturbing scenes from our programme. Amid the furore, Uefa has not even asked us for a copy.

Despite this, I am hopeful that Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate will turn out to be positive for the game in the future - and will help contribute towards stamping out racism inside football, perhaps even at Euro 2012 itself - though the complaints of monkey chants against the Dutch squad training in Krakow aren't a great omen.

It's certainly much harder right now for Poland and Ukraine to look the other way when such things happen.

Tom Giles is the editor of Panorama

Reporting conflict in Syria

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 16:23 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2012

Some months ago, I reflected on the difficulties of reporting from Syria. The deaths of Marie Colvin and a dozen other journalists in the country so far this year has given us cause to think long and hard about the very real dangers there. But so too does the complexity of the situation on the ground in Syria, and the need to try to separate fact from fiction.

Damascus prides itself on being the oldest, continually inhabited city in the world. It also has the longest history of rumours passing for fact.

I spent three days in Syria earlier this week, talking to all sides involved in the current conflict. Waking up on my first morning, social media was alive with reports that the mobile phone network was down. True enough, I could access the hotel wi-fi but not place a call. On Twitter and Facebook, people claimed the phones had been turned off as the precursor to a major military assault. The truth it seems was more prosaic. It's the high school exam season in Syria - diplomats claimed the real reason was the phone network had been turned off to prevent students cheating. Even in a conflict zone, good grades count for a lot.

In the aftermath of the massacre at Houla last month, initial reports said some of the 49 children and 34 women killed had their throats cut. In Damascus, Western officials told me the subsequent investigation revealed none of those found dead had been killed in such a brutal manner. Moreover, while Syrian forces had shelled the area shortly before the massacre, the details of exactly who carried out the attacks, how and why were still unclear. Whatever the cause, officials fear the attack marks the beginning of the sectarian aspect of the conflict.

In such circumstances, it's more important than ever that we report what we don't know, not merely what we do. In Houla, and now in Qubair, the finger has been pointed at the shabiha, pro-government militia. But tragic death toll aside, the facts are few: it's not clear who ordered the killings - or why.

Given the difficulties of reporting inside Syria, video filed by the opposition on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube may provide some insight into the story on the ground. But stories are never black and white - often shades of grey. Those opposed to President Assad have an agenda. One senior Western official went as far as to describe their YouTube communications strategy as "brilliant". But he also likened it to so-called "psy-ops", brainwashing techniques used by the US and other military to convince people of things that may not necessarily be true.

A healthy scepticism is one of the essential qualities of any journalist - never more so than in reporting conflict. The stakes are high - all may not always be as it seems.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

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