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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
BBC editor steps down
Rod Liddle
The Today programme enjoys strong ratings
The editor of BBC Radio 4's Today, one of the corporation's flagship current affairs shows, has stepped down after a row over impartiality in a newspaper column.

The decision that Rod Liddle would leave the Today programme follows meetings with senior BBC management.

Mr Liddle will remain with the corporation, intially working on a new politics programme for young people.

He was taken to task by the corporation over his regular column in the Guardian, which he used to attack a recent Countryside Alliance march in London.

The march saw hundreds of thousands of protesters rally in the capital over rural issues.

Countryside Alliance march
The march attracted thousands
Mr Liddle attacked public schools who reportedly encouraged their pupils to go to the rally, and the capital's members' clubs for opening their doors to protesters.

"You may have forgotten why you voted Labour in 1997," he wrote.

"But then you catch a glimpse of the forces supporting the Countryside Alliance... and suddenly, rather gloriously, it might be that you remember once again."

Judgement error

The BBC recently changed its guidelines for journalists, saying they must not write articles which could undermine the corporation's perceived impartiality.

The BBC said the piece was "not acceptable" and "does not square with the BBC's obligation to be impartial and to be seen to be impartial".

It added that Mr Liddle had accepted the column was a "significant error of judgement", but the Guardian announced on Monday that the column would continue.

A spokeswoman said: "We are very pleased that one of the most talked about columns of the moment is continuing in the Guardian."

BBC director of news Richard Sambrook said he had been talking to Mr Liddle for several weeks about a possible move and the decision had been mutual.

It will be greeted with some relief

Countryside Alliance
Paying tribute to Mr Liddle's tenure, Mr Sambrook said: "We both agreed this is a good time for him to move on from Today.

"Rod is one of our strongest editors and... under his editorship, Today has been extraordinarily successful.

"The programme has produced a succession of investigative scoops and listening to the Today programme has increased to its highest levels ever, with 7 million tuning in each week.

"In addition the programme has sustained its position at the centre of national political debate and continually demonstrated its impartiality across all issues".

Close scrutiny

The BBC will be advertising for a new editor in the next couple of weeks.

With seven million listeners, the influence of the Today programme leads to close scrutiny from politicians and activists for evidence of bias.

But the corporation stoutly defended allegations printed in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the march was not properly covered.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance told BBC News Online many rural people would be glad to see Mr Liddle go.


"It is going to be helpful in giving rural people confidence that the Today programme is going to be more impartial in the way it handles rural issues," he said.

"We do not want to say that Rod Liddle's outspoken personal views have ever affected his editing, but clearly there is the suspicion among many people in the rural community that it has.

"[Among those people] it will be greeted with some relief."

The spokesman said the group had received countless complaints in the past about bias on the Today programme.

"It is one thing to hold those personal views privately. It is another thing to write the sort of stuff he did in his Guardian piece last week."

It has already been reported that Mr Liddle will present a new BBC Two politics programme for younger viewers along with Radio Five Live's Fi Glover, although the show is still at the pilot stage.

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