BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for October 2012

Goodbye Ceefax

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Screenshot of Ceefax


Ceefax - the BBC's teletext service - finally ends its long career tonight when it is due to be switched off at 23:30 BST. There is more on this, and the history of the service, in our news story today and linked coverage.

As each part of the UK has in turn gone through the switchover to digital and lost the Ceefax service in the process, it has been a long farewell, which I have written about here before.

Now, with the analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland being switched off, the last stage in the process has arrived, and the service will come to an end.

The BBC Red Button services will carry on the Ceefax tradition of providing clear and concise news from around the UK and the world, on demand, on your TV.

Indeed the Red Button service is in the process of being reinvented for internet-enabled TV sets, and this “Connected Red Button” service will combine the simplicity of traditional Red Button with the flexibility and depth of online. My colleague Daniel Danker has written about this work here and there is already a BBC News app for connected TVs which I wrote about here and here when it launched.

At its peak, Ceefax had an audience of some 20 million viewers a week, and as the end of the service has approached, it has received several thousand letters and emails of thanks from viewers.

In a tribute to the clarity of Ceefax’s simple, concise format and news stories, and to mark Ceefax's last day, the Plain English Campaign - which campaigns for clear, concise language in public information - has given Ceefax a lifetime achievement award.

It's an honour to have received so many tributes from Ceefax viewers, and to get this award, and both are a recognition of the skill and dedication of all the journalists who have worked on the service over the years, and the care they have taken in writing every story.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News on your mobile

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 08:38 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Screenshot BBCNews on a mobile


Earlier this year we launched a new version of the BBC News mobile site, making it easier and quicker to use. This week we've begun the process of directing all mobile users automatically to that site. This means that anyone who visits BBC News on their mobile will be taken to the version of the site best suited to the type of phone they are using.

Many of you already visit the mobile site regularly but, up until now, people looking for BBC News on their phone will often have found themselves on the desktop version of the site, which is designed for desktop PCs, macs and laptops - all with much bigger screens. If you are using this desktop version on your phone it can be awkward to pinch, zoom and scan the stories on a small mobile screen.

This image shows how the mobile site displays on a smartphone - compared with the desktop version:

Screenshot of BBC News mobile on a smartphone


To tackle this, we've been working over the past six months to improve and add to the mobile site, taking on board your feedback about how you'd like to see it develop.

We've recently added video clips for iPhone and Android users, and made it easier to navigate the site. (We hope to extend this video service to other types of mobile in the future.) We've also added easier ways of getting to local news and weather services, something many of you asked for. You can read more about those changes here.

So, we're confident that the mobile site now has the wide range of content you are looking for and that it offers a better experience on a small screen than the desktop site, which is why we are taking the step of automatically redirecting mobile users there.

Of course, you may be happy to keep visiting the desktop site on your mobile and if you want to continue doing so just scroll to the bottom of the page and tap on the link for the desktop site. Your choice will be remembered for the next time you visit.

Similarly, if you use a mobile and find that you're not redirected to the new site, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and select the mobile site.

This is the latest stage in the ongoing work by our News product team on responsive design - a way of presenting our content to you in the most suitable way by detecting the type of device you are using and displaying the format best adapted for it. We are doing similar work to optimise the site for tablet users too.

The number of people coming to BBC News on mobile continues to grow. In an average week, 13.3m users worldwide use their mobile or tablet to visit the BBC News site and apps - around one-third of total users to BBC News Online.

If you are one of them, our aim is to offer you the full range and depth of BBC News content, whatever device you are using, whilst also making best use of the screen size.

We hope you'll like using the new mobile site, and if you'd like to leave comments and feedback about it, or have questions, please post them below. Or you can tweet your views using the hashtags #bbcnews #responsive

Update: Thanks for your comments. Here are some answers to the questions posted below:

John Walsh – Kindle: As a tablet device, albeit with a smaller screen than some makes, Kindles currently default to the desktop site. Users of any device including Kindles are certainly free to use the mobile version if they prefer by clicking the link at the bottom of the screen. Our aim is to further improve the experience for progressively larger screen sizes over time.

Jesse Moore - HTC: We know there are some devices that are incorrectly classified by our systems, often due to the fact that some devices have different identifiers dependent on the mobile network they are on. In any case we will certainly be doing everything we can to correct errors and ensure the redirection behaves as it should. In the meantime, please use the “Mobile Site” link at the foot of the page should you wish to use the mobile site – the selection will be remembered as long as cookies are not cleared. At this time the redirect only applies to the BBC Homepage and the News site.

Cogito Ergo Sum - Windows phone: This change applies to the browser experience, which is already designed to work for Windows Phone although at present we are unable to provide video for those devices.

Costmeabob - We take accessibility for our services seriously so, for example, our browser and applications are designed to work with Voiceover on iOS. 

Tim Stey - If you do still prefer the desktop version you can select the link at the bottom of the page and you’ll be taken to it. Your choice will be remembered next time you visit the site. We are working on enhancing the mobile site still further to include more content where the technology allows it - but with navigation more suited to a smaller screen size. 

 Josh Tumath - This blog post might be of interest, about our overall approach to responsive design published in March by Chris Russell, head of product for BBC News Online.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Jimmy Savile and Newsnight: A correction

Host Host | 10:48 UK time, Monday, 22 October 2012

The following is a statement issued by the BBC

The BBC has launched an independent review, led by former Head of Sky News Nick Pollard, to determine whether there were any failings in the BBC's management of the Newsnight investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of children by Jimmy Savile.

However, on the basis of material available now, it is apparent from information supplied by the Newsnight editor and programme team - that the explanation in a blog by the editor of his decision to drop the programme's investigation is inaccurate or incomplete in some respects.

By way of correction and clarification:

1.The blog says that Newsnight had no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations. In fact some allegations were made (mostly in general terms) that some of the Duncroft staff knew or may have known about the abuse.

2. The blog says that Newsnight had no evidence against the BBC. No allegation was made to the programme that BBC staff were aware of Mr Savile's alleged activities, but there were some allegations of abusive conduct on BBC premises.

3. The blog says that all the women spoken to by the programme had contacted the police independently already and that Newsnight had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police. It appears that in some cases women had not spoken to the police and that the police were not aware of all the allegations.

The BBC regrets these errors and will work with the Pollard review to assemble all relevant evidence to enable the review to determine the full facts.

Update 23 October 2012: The BBC has published an additional statement which it issued to Panorama on 22 October 2012. You can read it here.

Malala Yousafzai and the BBC

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 16:27 UK time, Friday, 19 October 2012

In recent days, much has been written about Malala Yousafzai - the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban. But in 2008, when the Taliban imposed a ban on girls' education in Pakistan's Swat Valley, no-one had heard of the schoolgirl from Mingora.

Candlelight vigil for Malala Yousafzai


Often in conflicts, news coverage focuses on bombing and killings. The stories of those caught up in violence are lost. So our colleagues at BBC Urdu set out to capture the impact the conflict in Swat was having on the pupils involved - their thoughts about their future, and how they were dealing with their day-to-day life.

BBC Urdu reporters made contact with teachers at a number of schools, including Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousufzai. He ran a school in Mingora, and suggested that his own daughter could write a regular diary. But in order to reduce the risk to Malala, we agreed she would write under a pseudonym, Gul Makai.

Her weekly blog started in late 2008. It proved to be such a hit, the blog was translated into English.

Her writings were non-political, but clearly reflected her desire for female education. They mostly talked about her school, studies, life at home and friends. Neither she, nor her father was paid.

In a January 2009, she wrote:

"I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it."

Malala's diaries were published for 10 weeks. The diaries stopped when Malala and her family left the Swat valley before the launch of a military operation in May 2009. That was end of her association with the BBC.

After the Pakistani army regained control of Swat, Malala was able to return to Mingora later in 2009. Her father decided to disclose her real name when he nominated her for an international peace prize.

Malala began appearing on Pakistani TV news channels under her real identity, named as the girl behind the BBC Urdu blog. She was awarded a national peace prize by the Pakistani government, nominated for an international award and made several public appearances as a campaigner for girls' rights to education. Her fame spread far beyond Pakistan, as she stared in a documentary filmed by the The New York Times.

The BBC is incredibly proud of its association with Pakistan. BBC Urdu began broadcasting in April 1949, less than two years after the country's independence. Today, the BBC is still one of the most trusted news sources in Pakistan - precisely because we're committed to telling all sides of any story. Malala's is an important voice in the debate about Pakistan's future.

Jon Williams is the BBC world news editor.

Newsnight and Jimmy Savile

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Peter Rippon | 17:05 UK time, Tuesday, 2 October 2012

There has been a lot written about why I took the decision not to run a story into allegations of sex abuse by the former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. It has been suggested I was ordered to do it by my bosses as part of a BBC cover-up. It has also been suggested that we deliberately withheld information from the police. Both these allegations are totally untrue and despite consistent strong denials keep getting repeated. I felt it would be useful to share more about what really happened.

The BBC has the highest editorial standards and with any story an editor has to weigh many things before putting something to air. BBC editors have a lot of power and responsibility and I have never, in the many years I have done this job, ever been told by one of my superiors not to do a story against my will. I would not still be working here if they had.

Why did I pursue this story about Jimmy Savile and why did I drop it?

I decided we should pursue the story because of the nature of the allegations and because the key witness told us the police had investigated the claims but the case had been dropped on the grounds he was too old. This made the public interest case from a Newsnight point of view potentially strong. If we could establish some sort of institutional failure we would have a much stronger story.

Some of the factors on the other side were: Newsnight is not normally interested in celebrity expose. Savile was unable to defend himself. What was the public interest served by reporting it given he is dead? The nature of the allegations and the level of proof required. The fact the incidents were 40 years ago.

We had no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations. We had no evidence against the BBC. In her original statement our key witness said she was "perfectly certain the BBC had no idea whatsoever of the goings on". However, I felt if we could prove the police or the CPS had let the women down in some way we should go ahead.

We did establish the police had investigated the allegations in 2007. However, as the police would be obliged to investigate I wanted to check how they would respond to the allegation that it was not pursued because Jimmy Savile was too old. The CPS told us:
"The CPS reviewing lawyer advised the police that no further action should be taken due to lack of evidence." The additional guidance noted stated. "As this is the case, it would not be correct to say that his age and frailty was the reason for no further action being taken."

This statement specifically denied the allegation that the investigation was dropped because of his age. I felt it was significant the guidance was included and we had not established any institutional failure and I judged it weakened the story from a Newsnight perspective. I took the decision not to publish. There were some of my team who disagreed strongly with my judgement, and others who agreed equally strongly.

However, those who disagreed accepted my decision. There were no rows of any kind as has been reported.

Did we withhold evidence from the police? No. We are confident that all the women we spoke to had contacted the police independently already. We also had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police.

Did my bosses order me to do anything? No. I did discuss it with my bosses in News in the same way I do any contentious story we are working on. I was told in the strongest terms that I must be guided by editorial considerations only and that I must not let any wider considerations about the BBC affect my judgement.

The fact that the BBC has the capacity to do this may feel odd to other organisations but it is fundamental to the trust we share with our audience.

Peter Rippon is the editor of Newsnight

Note: On 22 October 2012 the BBC issued a correction to the above post. You can read it here.

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