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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: BBC News

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BBC News, formerly BBC News and Current Affairs,[1] is the department led by Helen Boaden within the BBC responsible for the corporation’s news-gathering and production of news programmes on BBC television, radio and online. Producing 120 hours of output daily,[2] the organisation is the largest broadcasting news gatherer in the world[3] while carrying out the key objective of the BBC’s Royal Charter to “collect news and information in any part of the world and in any manner that may be thought fit”.[4][5]

The department is based at the News Centre within BBC Television Centre in West London, W12, and is represented by regional centres across the United Kingdom together with 44 news-gathering bureaux based around the world; only three are based within the UK.[3] Political coverage is based at the Millbank Studios in 4 Millbank in Westminster. With an annual budget of £350 million, BBC News consists of 3,500 staff, 2,000 of whom are journalists.[3]

Competition within the UK comes mainly from rolling news channel Sky News, but also from ITN, a major independent provider of news services to commercial networks.

Around the world the BBC complements other news providers services, although some regimes have restricted broadcasts and BBC journalists’ movements.



The early years

A BBC produced newsreel.

A BBC produced newsreel.

The British Broadcasting Company broadcast its first radio bulletin from 2LO on 14 November 1922.[6] Televised bulletins came later on 5 July 1954, broadcast from leased studios within Alexandra Palace in London.[7] However newsreels had been in use for some time – shown at cinemas and other places of public gathering – and these had been adapted as Television Newsreel programmes, which before the advent of news coverage proper had run on the BBC since 1948. A weekly Children’s Newsreel was inaugurated on 23 April 1950.[8]

The public’s interest in television and live events was stimulated by Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. It is estimated that up to 27 million people[9] viewed the programme in the UK – overtaking radio’s audience of 12 million for the first time[10] – and those live pictures were fed from 21 cameras in central London to Alexandra Palace for transmission, and then on to other UK transmitters opened in time for the event.[11]


Television news, although physically separate from its radio counterpart, was still firmly under its control — with correspondents providing reports for both outlets — and that first bulletin, shown in 1954 on the then BBC television service and presented by Richard Baker, involved him providing narration off-screen while stills were shown — and this was then followed by the customary Television Newsreel with a recorded commentary by John Snagge (and on other occasions by Andrew Timothy).

It was revealed that this had been due to producers fearing a newsreader with their facial movements could distract the viewer from the story in question. On-screen newsreaders were finally introduced a year later, in 1955 — Kenneth Kendall (the first to appear in vision), Robert Dougall and Richard Baker — just three weeks before ITN’s launch date of 22 September.

Mainstream television production had started to move out of Alexandra Palace in 1950[12] to larger premises — mainly at Lime Grove Studios in west London — taking Current Affairs department with it, and it was here that the topical early-evening programme Tonight, hosted by Cliff Michelmore and designed to fill the airtime provided by the abolition of the Toddlers’ Truce, started on 18 February 1957. Prior to this, in the same Shepherd’s Bush studios, the first Panorama had been transmitted on 11 November 1953, with Richard Dimbleby taking over as anchor in 1955.

Later in 1957, on 28 October in central London, radio launched its morning programme Today on the Home Service.

In 1958 Hugh Carleton Greene became head of News and Current Affairs, and set up a BBC study group whose findings, published in 1959, were critical of what the television news operation had become under Greene’s predecessor Tahu Hole. The solution proposed was that the head of television news should take control (away from radio), and that the television service should have a proper newsroom of its own, with an editor-of-the-day.


On 1 January 1960, Greene became Director General and under him big changes were afoot not only for BBC Television, but also for BBC Television News – a separate news department, formed in 1955 as a response to the founding of ITN – the aim was to make BBC reporting a little more like ITN, which had been praised by Greene’s study group.

A newsroom was created at AP, television reporters recruited, and given the opportunity to write and voice their own scripts – without the “impossible burden”[13] of having to cover stories for radio too. Almost thirty years later John Birt would resurrect this practice of correspondents working for both TV and radio with the introduction of bi-media journalism.[14]

Also in 1960, Nan Winton the first female BBC network newsreader appeared in vision on 20 June,[15] and 19 September saw the start of the radio news and current affairs programme The Ten O’clock News.[16]

Greene was the great innovator and (on a lighter note) asked Ned Sherrin, the then producer of Tonight to “prick the pomposity of public figures”[17] with a weekly television show. So on 24 November 1962 That Was The Week That Was, hosted by David Frost, was born at Lime Grove Studios and is mentioned here because (of Greene’s actions) it was a product of Current Affairs department rather than Light Entertainment.

BBC 2 started transmission on 20 April 1964, and with it came a new news programme for that channel – Newsroom.

Newsroom launched in 1964 - in 1968 it became the UK's first colour television news programme.

Newsroom launched in 1964 – in 1968 it became the UK’s first colour television news programme.

The World at One (WATO) began on 4 October 1965 on the then, Home Service, and the year before News Review had started on television.

News Review was a roundup of the weeks news, first broadcast on Sunday 26 April, 1964[18] on BBC 2 and harking back to the weekly Newsreel Review of the Week (produced from 1951) to open programming on Sunday evenings – the difference being that this incarnation had subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. As this was the decade before electronic caption generation, each “super” (superimposition) had to be produced on paper or card, synchronised manually to studio and news footage, committed to tape during the afternoon and broadcast early evening – thus Sundays were no longer a quiet day for news at AP. The programme ran until the 1980s[19] – by then using electronic captions, known as Anchor – to be superseded by Ceefax subtitling (a similar format), and the signing of such programmes as See Hear (from 1981).

On Sunday 17 September 1967 The World This Weekend launched on the then, Home Service, but soon-to-be Radio 4.

Preparations for colour began in the autumn of 1967 and on Thursday 7 March 1968 Newsroom on BBC 2, moved to an early evening slot, became the first UK news programme to be transmitted in colour[20] – from Studio A at Alexandra Palace – News Review and Westminster (the latter a weekly review of Parliamentary happenings) were “colourised” shortly after.

Much of the insert material was still in black and white however, as initially only a part of the film coverage shot in and around London was on colour reversal film stock – and all regional and many international contributions were still in black and white too. Colour facilities were also technically very limited for the next eighteen months at AP, as it had only one RCA colour videotape machine and, eventually two, Pye colour telecines – although the news colour service started with just one.

Black and white national bulletins on BBC 1 continued to originate from Studio B on weekdays, along with Town and Around – the London regional “opt out” programme broadcast throughout the 1960s (and the BBC’s first regional news programme for the South East) – until it started to be replaced by Nationwide on Tuesday to Thursday from Lime Grove Studios early in September 1969. After this time it became London This Week and transmitted on Mondays and Fridays only.[21]

Television News moves to Television Centre

The final news programme to come from Alexandra Palace was a late night news on BBC 2 on Friday 19 September 1969 in colour. BBC Television News resumed operations the next day with a lunchtime bulletin on BBC 1 (in black and white) from Television Centre, where it has remained ever since.

This move to better technical facilities, but smaller studios, allowed Newsroom and News Review to replace back projection with CSO.

And it also allowed all news output to be produced in PAL colour, in preparation for the “colourisation” of BBC 1 from 15 November 1969 – the studios were capable of operating in NTSC too for the US, Canada and Japan as the BBC sometimes provided facilities for overseas broadcasters. During the 1960s satellite communication had become not only possible, but popular,[22] however colour field-store standards converters were still in their infancy in 1968[23] and we would have to wait until the 1970s for line-store conversion to do the job seamlessly.[24]


The Nine O'Clock News first broadcast on 14 September 1970...

The Nine O’Clock News first broadcast on 14 September 1970…

On 14 September 1970 the first Nine O’Clock News was broadcast on television with Robert Dougall presenting it from studio N1[25] – described by The Guardian[26] as “a sort of polystyrene padded cell”[27] – the bulletin having been moved from the earlier time of 8:50pm as a response to the ratings achieved by ITNs News at Ten introduced three years earlier. The Nine made history again in 1975 with the appointment of Angela Rippon as the first female presenter. Her work outside the news was controversial for the time, appearing on the Morecambe and Wise show singing and dancing.[25]

The early evening news on BBC 1 remained at its regular time of 5:40pm – there would be another fourteen years before it got a similar makeover to become the Six O’Clock News.

The first edition of John Craven’s Newsround – initially intended only as a short series and later renamed just Newsround – came from studio N3 on 4 April 1972.

Afternoon television news bulletins during the mid to late 1970s were broadcast from the BBC newsroom itself, rather than one of the three news studios. The newsreader would present to camera while sitting on the edge of a desk; behind him staff would be seen working busily at their desks. This period corresponded with when the Nine O’Clock News got its next makeover, and would use a CSO background of the newsroom from that very same camera each weekday evening.

.... and went through several changes in its 30 year run. (1973)

…. and went through several changes in its 30 year run. (1973)

Also in the mid seventies, the late night news on BBC 2 was briefly renamed Newsnight,[28] but this wasn’t to last, or be the same programme as we know today – that would be launched in 1980 – and it soon reverted to being just a news summary with the early evening BBC 2 news expanded to become Newsday.

News on radio was to change in the 1970s, and on Radio 4 in particular, brought about by the arrival of new editor Peter Woon from television news and the implementation of the Broadcasting in the Seventies report. These included the introduction of correspondents into news bulletins where previously only a newsreader would present, as well as the inclusion of content gathered in the preparation process. New programmes were also added to the daily schedule, PM and The World Tonight as part of the plan for the station to become a “wholly speech network”.[26] Newsbeat launched as the news service on Radio 1 on 10 September 1973.[29]

The 23 September 1974 saw the launch of the Ceefax teletext system, developed to bring news content on television screens using text only. Engineers originally began developing such a system as a form of communicating news for deaf viewers but the system was expanded. The service is now much more diverse, listing details such as weather, flight times and film reviews.

The decline in shooting film for news broadcasts became more prevalent, as ENG equipment became less cumbersome – the BBC’s first attempts had been using a Philips colour camera with backpack base station and separate portable Sony U-matic recorder in the latter half of the decade.


By 1982 ENG technology had become so stable that an Ikegami camera was used by Bernard Hesketh to cover the Falklands War – winning him the RTS TV Cameraman of the Year award[30] and a BAFTA nomination for his “footage”[31] – the first time that the electronic camera had been relied upon in a conflict zone by BBC News, rather than film. BBC News won the BAFTA for its actuality coverage,[32] however the event has become remembered in television terms for Brian Hanrahan’s reporting where he coined the phrase “I counted them all out and I counted them all back”[33] to circumvent restrictions, and which has become cited as an example of good reporting under pressure.[34]

Two years prior to this the Iranian Embassy siege had been shot electronically by the BBC Television News OB team with Kate Adie reporting, again nominated for BAFTA actuality coverage,[35] but this time beaten by ITN for the 1980 award.

Newsnight, the news and current affairs programme still running to this day, was due to go on air on 23 January 1980, although trade union disagreements meant that its launch from Lime Grove was postponed by a week”.[14]

On 27 August 1981 Moira Stuart became the first Afro-Caribbean female newsreader to appear on British television.

The first BBC breakfast television programme, Breakfast Time also launched during the 1980s, on 17 January 1983 from Lime Grove Studio E and two weeks before its ITV rival TV-am. Presenters including Frank Bough, Selina Scott and Nick Ross helped to wake viewers with a relaxed style of presenting.[36]

1980s computer generated titles.

1980s computer generated titles.

The Six O’Clock News first aired on 3 September 1984, eventually becoming the most watched news programme in the UK (however, since 2006 it has been overtaken by the Ten O’Clock News on tv).

Starting in 1981, the BBC gave a common theme to the main news bulletins, with a set of animated computerised “stripes” forming a circle[37] on a red background with a “BBC News” typescript appearing below the circle graphics, and a theme tune comprised of brass and keyboards. The red background was replaced by a blue from 1985 until 1987. The Nine used a similar (stripey) number 9.

By 1987, the BBC had decided to re-brand its bulletins and established individual styles again for each one with differing titles and music, the weekend and holiday bulletins branded in a similar style to the Nine, although the “stripes” introduction continued to be used until 1989 on occasions where a news bulletin was screened out of the running order of the schedule.[38]


Nine O'Clock News titles from 1999.

Nine O’Clock News titles from 1999.

During the 1990s, a wider range of services began to be offered by BBC News, with the split of BBC World Service Television to become BBC World (news and current affairs), and BBC Prime (light entertainment). Content for a 24 hour news channel was thus required, followed in 1997 with the launch of domestic equivalent BBC News 24. Rather than set bulletins, ongoing reports and coverage was needed to keep both channels functioning and meant a greater emphasis in budgeting for both was necessary.

In 1998 after 66 years at Broadcasting House, the BBC Radio News operation moved to Television Centre.[39]

New ‘Silicon Graphics’ technology came into use in 1993 for a relaunch of the main BBC One bulletins, creating a virtual set which appeared to be much larger than it was physically. The relaunch also brought all bulletins into the same style of set with only small changes in colouring, titles and music to differentiate each. A computer generated glass scultpure of the BBC coat of arms was the centrepiece of the programme titles until the largescale corporation rebranding of news services in 1999.

In 1999, the biggest relaunch occurred, with BBC One bulletins, BBC World, BBC News 24 and BBC News Online all adopting a common style. One of the most significant changes was the gradual adoption of the corporate image by the BBC regional news programmes, giving a common style across local, national and international BBC television news. This also included Newyddion, the main news programme of Welsh language channel S4C, produced by BBC News Wales. The introduction of regional headlines at the start of bulletins followed in 2000 though the English regions lost five minutes at the end of bulletins, due to a new headline round-up at 18:55.

It was also in 2000 that the Nine O’Clock News moved to the later time of 10pm. This was in response to ITN who had just moved their popular News at Ten programme to 11pm. ITN briefly returned News at Ten but following poor ratings when head to head against the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News, the ITN bulletin was moved to 10.30pm, where it remained until January 14, 2008.


The new 8pm BBC News summary.

The new 8pm BBC News summary.

Television news bulletins on BBC One saw a relaunch on Monday, 20 January, 2003, coinciding with a change in presenters of the evening bulletins. The new set was smaller than previous and square in design, initially using a projected image of a fictional newsroom as a background though this design was later changed in 2005. The titles introduced in 1999 remained until 16 February, 2004.

In December 2003, BBC News 24 introduced a brand new style of presentation. This was followed in February 2004, when the BBC One bulletins updated their titles to be based on the News 24 set. With the celebration of 50 years of BBC Television News on 5 July, 2004,[40] News 24 altered the colourings of the titles.

Editorial changes were announced for the main news bulletins on 8 November 2005 when it was announced that a new single daytime editor position would replace the role of two editors for the One and Six O’Clock News. The position of Controller of BBC News 24 was created as a replacement for the role of editor, and was awarded to Kevin Bakhurst, then editor of the Ten O’Clock News on 16 December. Amanda Farnsworth became daytime editor and Craig Oliver was later named editor of the Ten O’Clock News. A further step taken by Head of Television News, Peter Horrocks, was to begin simulcasting the main BBC One news bulletins with News 24, a move he explained would allow for the pooling of operations and “beef up” news operations.

The outgoing set design for BBC One bulletins was introduced on in May 2006, with programme titles slightly updated. This change was to allow for Breakfast to move into the same studio as the main bulletins for the first time since 1997. Barco videowall screens provide a backdrop for the set; a view of the London skyline for main news bulletins progressively darkening during the day, while Breakfast began with images of cirrus clouds against a blue sky but changed this following criticisms from viewers that it appeared ‘too cold’ for the time of day.[41] The studio bears similarities to changes made at ITV News in 2004, though ITN uses a CSO Virtual studio rather than the actual screens at BBC News.

A new graphics and playout system was introduced for production of television bulletins in January 2007. This coincided with a new structure to BBC World News bulletins, editors favouring a section devoted to analysing the news stories reported on.

The new BBC News graphics introduced in April 2008.

The new BBC News graphics introduced in April 2008.

The first new BBC News bulletin to be introduced since the Six O’Clock News was announced in July 2007 after a successful trial in the Midlands.[42] The summary lasting 90 seconds has broadcast at 8pm on weekdays since December 2007 and follows a similar style to 60 Seconds on BBC Three, but also includes headlines from the various BBC regions.

BBC News Television bulletins underwent a major revamp of set design and onscreen graphics on Monday 21st April 2008 – three years since the last major rebranding exercise, and only a year since its last re-brand of idents and graphics – with both BBC One bulletins and rolling news channel output now being presented from the same set in studio N6, at BBC Television Centre.[43][44]. Rolling news channel BBC News 24 was renamed the BBC News Channel and sister channel BBC World was renamed BBC World News. All of these changes follow the BBC News website’s change in look, taking on the new style earlier in the year [45].

Future relocation

The entire News Operation is due to move from Television Centre to new facilities at Broadcasting House at Portland Place, Central London. Refurbishment and extension work was scheduled for completion in 2008 though delays have seen the deadline extended until 2010. The new building will also become home to the BBC World Service once the lease on Bush House expires.[46]

New structure

BBC News became part of the new BBC Journalism group in November 2006 as part of a major restructuring of the BBC. Helen Boaden remains Director of BBC News, reporting to Mark Byford, head of the new group and Deputy Director-General.

It was announced on 18 October, 2007 as part of Mark Thompson’s new six year plan, Delivering Creative Future,[47] that there would no longer be a television Current Affairs department in its own right — it would become a unit within the new News Programmes department.[48] The Director General’s announcement, in response to a £2billion shortfall in funding, would deliver “a smaller, but fitter, BBC” in the digital age[49] — along with imminent job cuts and the sale of Television Centre in 2013.

The various newsrooms of the BBC: television, radio and online, were merged together to create a multimedia newsroom — programme making within the newsrooms was brought together to form the multimedia programme making departments. Peter Horrocks, referring to the changes, stated that the move would bring about a greater efficiency — particularly at a time of cost-cutting at the BBC. He highlighted the dilemma faced with such a change in his blog: that by using the same resources across the various broadcasting mediums means fewer stories can be covered — or by following more stories, there would be fewer ways to broadcast them.[50]

Broadcasting media


News operations have been based at the News Centre in Television Centre since 1997.

News operations have been based at the News Centre in Television Centre since 1997.

BBC News is responsible for the main news bulletins on BBC One as well as other programmes on BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, and the provision of 22 hours of programming for BBC World News. Production of BBC Parliament is carried out on behalf on the BBC by Millbank Studios though BBC News provides editorial and journalistic content.

BBC News content is also output onto the BBC’s digital interactive television services under the BBCi brand, and the legacy analogue CEEFAX teletext system.

The distinctive music on all BBC television news programmes was introduced in 1999 and composed by David Lowe. It was part of the extensive rebranding which commenced in 1999 and features the classic ‘BBC Pips’ The general theme was used not only on bulletins on BBC One but News 24, BBC World and local news programmes in the BBC’s Nations and Regions. Lowe was also responsible for the music on Radio One’s Newsbeat. The theme has had several changes since 1999.

The new BBC Arabic TV news channel launched in early 2008, with a Persian language channel set to follow; both will include news, analysis, interviews, sports and highly cultural programmes.[6]


BBC Radio News produces bulletins for the BBC’s national radio stations and provides content for local BBC radio stations via the General News Service (GNS). BBC News does not produce the BBC’s regional news bulletins, which are produced individually by the BBC nations and regions themselves. The BBC World Service broadcasts to some 150 million people in English as well as 32 languages across the globe.[51]


Main article: BBC News Online

BBC News Online is the BBC’s news website. Launched in November 1997, it is one of the most popular news websites in the UK reaching over a quarter of the UK’s internet users, and worldwide, with around 4 million global readers every month.[52] The website contains exhaustive international news coverage as well as entertainment, sport, science, and political news.[53] Many reports are accompanied by audio and video from the BBC’s television and radio news services within the BBC News player.[54]

Television and radio bulletins are also available to view on the site, together with current affairs programmes including Newsnight and Question Time are available to view on the site after they have been broadcast, while BBC News 24 is available to view 24 hours a day. Certain radio and television broadcasts are available for download as podcasts as part of the BBC’s download trial.


Main articles: BBC controversies and Criticism of the BBC

Political and commercial independence

The BBC is required by its charter to be free from both political and commercial influence and answers only to its viewers and listeners. Nevertheless, the BBC’s political objectivity is sometimes questioned. For instance, The Daily Telegraph (3 August 2005) carried a letter from the KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, referring to it as “The Red Service”. Books have been written on the subject, although rarely from people writing neutrally themselves, including anti-BBC works like Truth Betrayed by W J West and The Truth Twisters by Richard Deacon.

The BBC is regularly accused by the government of the day of bias in favour of the opposition and, by the opposition, of bias in favour of the government. Similarly, during times of war, the BBC is often accused by the UK government, or by strong supporters of British military campaigns, of being overly sympathetic to the view of the enemy. This gave rise, in 1991 during the first Gulf War, to the satirical name “Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation”.[55] During the Kosovo War, the BBC were labeled the “Belgrade Broadcasting Corporation” by British ministers,[55] although Slobodan Milosevic later complained that the BBC’s coverage had been biased against the Serbs.[56] Conversely, some of those who style themselves anti-establishment in the United Kingdom or who oppose foreign wars have accused the BBC of pro-establishment bias or of refusing to give an outlet to “anti-war” voices. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq a study, by the Cardiff University School of Journalism, of the reporting of the war, found that nine out of 10 references to weapons of mass destruction during the war assumed that Iraq possessed them, and only one in 10 questioned this assumption. It also found that out of the main British broadcasters covering the war the BBC was the most likely to use the British government and military as its source. It was also the least likely to use independent sources, like the Red Cross, who were more critical of the war. When it came to reporting Iraqi casualties the study found fewer reports on the BBC than on the other three main channels. The report’s author, Justin Lewis, wrote of his findings: “Far from revealing an anti-war BBC, our findings tend to give credence to those who criticised the BBC for being too sympathetic to the government in its war coverage. Either way, it is clear that the accusation of BBC anti-war bias fails to stand up to any serious or sustained analysis.”

Some have argued that a current of anti-BBC thinking exists in many parts of the political spectrum and that, since the BBC’s theoretical impartiality[57] means they will broadcast many views and opinions, people will see the bias they wish to see. This argument is buttressed by the fact that the BBC is frequently accused of bias from all directions.

Prominent BBC appointments are constantly assessed by the British media and political establishment for signs of political bias. The appointment of Greg Dyke as Director-General was highlighted by press sources because Dyke was a Labour Party member and former activist, as well as a friend of Tony Blair. The BBC’s current Political Editor, Nick Robinson, was some years ago a chairman of the Young Conservatives and has, as a result, attracted informal criticism from the current Labour government, but his predecessor Andrew Marr faced similar claims from the right because he was editor of the liberal leaning Independent newspaper before his own appointment in 2000.

Hutton Inquiry

Main article: Hutton Inquiry

BBC News was at the centre of one the largest political controversies in recent years. Three BBC News reports (Andrew Gilligan’s on Today, Gavin Hewitt’s on The Ten O’Clock News and another on Newsnight) quoted an anonymous source that stated the British government (particularly the Prime Minister’s office) had embellished the September Dossier with misleading exaggerations of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities. The government denounced the reports and accused the corporation of poor journalism.

In subsequent weeks the corporation stood by the report, saying that it had a reliable source. Following intense media speculation, David Kelly was named in the press as the source for Gilligan’s story on 9 July 2003. Kelly was found dead, by suicide, in a field close to his home early on 18 July. An inquiry led by Lord Hutton was announced by the British government the following day to investigate the circumstances leading to Kelly’s death, concluding that “Dr. Kelly took his own life.”

In his report on 28 January 2004, Lord Hutton concluded that Gilligan’s original accusation was “unfounded” and the BBC’s editorial and management processes were “defective”. In particular, it specifically criticised the chain of management that caused the BBC to defend its story. The BBC Director of News, Richard Sambrook, the report said, had accepted Gilligan’s word that his story was accurate in spite of his notes being incomplete. Davies had then told the BBC Board of Governors that he was happy with the story and told the Prime Minister that a satisfactory internal inquiry had taken place. The Board of Governors, under BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies’ guidance, accepted that further investigation of the Government’s complaints were unnecessary.

Because of the criticism in the Hutton report, Davies resigned on the day of publication. BBC News faced an important test, reporting on itself with the publication of the report, but by common consent (of the Board of Governors) managed this “independently, impartially and honestly”.[58] Davies’ resignation was followed by the resignation of Director General Greg Dyke the following day, and the resignation of Gilligan on 30 January. While doubtless a traumatic experience for the corporation, an ICM poll in April 2003 indicated that it had sustained its position as the best and most trusted provider of news.[59]

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The BBC has faced accusations of holding both anti-Arab and anti-Israel biases, and being anti-semitic.

For example, Douglas Davis, the London correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, has described the BBC’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict as “a relentless, one-dimensional portrayal of Israel as a demonic, criminal state and Israelis as brutal oppressors [which] bears all the hallmarks of a concerted campaign of vilification that, wittingly or not, has the effect of delegitimizing the Jewish state and pumping oxygen into a dark old European hatred that dared not speak its name for the past half-century.”[60]

Noam Chomsky, and David Edwards of tend to criticize the BBC through differences in terminology sometimes used to describe Israeli and Palestinian actions. Israeli shootings are usually described as “security sweeps” or “incursions”, while Palestinian shootings are described as “terrorist killings” committed by “gunmen”. Such differences are said to indicate the common institutional bias typical of Western thinking, which is neutral, so seen by racists and fanatics as biased against their side.

An independent panel was set up in 2006 to review the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[61] The panel’s assessment was that “apart from individual lapses, there was little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias.” While noting a “commitment to be fair accurate and impartial” and praising much of the BBC’s coverage the independent panel concluded “that BBC output does not consistently give a full and fair account of the conflict. In some ways the picture is incomplete and, in that sense, misleading.”

Writing in the FT, Philip Stephens, one of the panelists, later accused the BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson, of misrepresenting the panel’s conclusions. He further opined “My sense is that BBC news reporting has also lost a once iron-clad commitment to objectivity and a necessary respect for the democratic process. If I am right, the BBC, too, is lost”.[62] Mark Thompson published a rebuttal in the FT the next day.[63]

The report listed examples of how the BBC could be said to be biased in favour of Israel[64][65] in section 4.7. The Guardian too has noted that “The BBC has had a difficult time over its coverage of Israel, with regular accusations of bias coming from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides”.[66]

The description by one BBC correspondent reporting on the funeral of Yassir Arafat that she had been left with tears in her eyes led to other questions of impartiality, particularly from Martin Walker'”[67] in a guest opinion piece in The Times, who picked out the apparent case of Fayad Abu Shamala, the BBC Arabic Service correspondent, who told a Hamas rally on 6 May, 2001, that journalists in Gaza were “waging the campaign shoulder to shoulder together with the Palestinian people.”[67]

Walker argues that the independent inquiry was flawed for two reasons. Firstly, because the time period over which it was conducted (August 2005 to January 2006) surrounded the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Ariel Sharon’s stroke, which produced more positive coverage than usual. Furthermore, he wrote, the inquiry only looked at the BBC’s domestic coverage, and excluded output on the BBC World Service and BBC World.[67]

The view of foreign governments

BBC News reporters and broadcasts are now and have in the past been banned in several countries primarily for reporting which has been unfavourable to the ruling government. For example, correspondents were banned by the former apartheid régime of South Africa. The BBC is currently banned in Zimbabwe, whose government has proscribed it as a terrorist organisation.[68] The BBC has been banned in Myanmar (Burma) since the anti-government protests there in September 2007. Other cases have included Uzbekistan,[69] China,[70] and Pakistan.[71] The BBC online news site’s Persian version was recently blocked from the Iranian internet.[72]

See also

BBC Portal
  • BBC television news programmes
  • BBC newsreaders and journalists
  • List of BBC television newsreaders
  • Former BBC newsreaders and journalists
  • BBC News Special
  • Toddlers’ Truce
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