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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
What does the Neil Report mean?

By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

The BBC has published the Neil Report - an internal review into how to learn the lessons of the Hutton Inquiry.

Andrew Gilligan
The Hutton Report said an Andrew Gilligan report was "unfounded"
The changes recommended in the Neil Report are the BBC's latest response - and the last, it must hope - to the events that began when Andrew Gilligan made an unscripted broadcast at 6.07am on the Today programme, suggesting the government probably knew that claims in its Iraq dossier were wrong.

Since then, the BBC has lost a chairman and director general.

It has announced a shake-up of its complaints and compliance procedures and stopped its journalists writing columns in national newspapers.

Now it has produced detailed guidelines on a series of journalistic issues and practices.

It says live interviews between the presenter and a correspondent - such as the 6.07 Gilligan broadcast - can still be broadcast - but should not normally be used to break serious allegations.

It calls for accurate and reliable note-taking and says the BBC should root its journalism in accuracy and fairness.

It is the most considered analysis of how the BBC's journalism should develop and adapt in the digital age
It should also improve its complaints procedure and correct mistakes quickly.

It says serious allegations must always be put to those concerned in time for a considered response before transmission.

Lawyers should be based in newsrooms, rather than at the end of a telephone, and the BBC should also set up a college of journalism, led by an academic, to improve training and standards.

It reinforces the role of programme editors as "the custodians of the BBC's editorial values", saying presenters must be answerable to them and must themselves embody those values.

But the Neil Report recommendations - which have been accepted in full by the BBC board of governors - represent more than just a response to what Mark Thompson, the new director general, called "the biggest crisis in BBC journalism's 80-year history".

It is the most considered analysis of how the BBC's journalism should develop and adapt in the digital age of multiple 24-hour news services on radio, television and online.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson has said he wants to strengthen BBC journalism
The BBC's journalistic output has grown like Topsy in recent years.

Ten years ago, it was neatly corralled into half-hour bulletins or more discursive programmes like The World At One and Today on radio, and Panorama and Newsnight on TV.

Then came the launch of Radio Five Live, the rise of the BBC's online news service and the launch of the TV channel News 24.

On top of those, there are the BBC's global news services - BBC World on television, the radio World Service and the 43 language services of bbc.co.uk.

Within the UK, dozens of different programmes serve the nations and regions.

Many experienced BBC journalists have welcomed the changes, saying they will help re-establish high editorial standards
And outside the main areas of news and current affairs, lots of journalists contribute to other BBC programmes - whether the Jeremy Vine Show, Woman's Hour or Front Row on radio or, on television, Watchdog, Crimewatch or Imagine.

The review team led by Ron Neil, former director of BBC News and Current Affairs, included senior executives with experience of all these areas - such as the controller of BBC Radio 4 Helen Boaden and the former ITN editor-in-chief Richard Tait.

So when people ask why they have recommended greater investment in training and skills, including a college of journalism, they point out that 7,000 people work in BBC journalism.

In some of those departments, there is 10% staff turnover every year.

"At the heart of strong journalism," the report says, "is a confident, well-trained journalistic force, who have a real knowledge and experience of the essential craft skills and disciplines."

Mark Daly
BBC reporter Mark Daly exposed racism in The Secret Policeman
Many experienced BBC journalists have welcomed the changes, saying they will help re-establish high editorial standards which they believe have slipped in the era of 24-hour live news broadcasting.

But others fear the new guidelines could lead to the BBC "playing safe", reluctant to challenge the government and others on contentious issues.

Time will tell, but the BBC's top news executives - including the new director-general, who is a former editor of Panorama and the Nine O'Clock News - insist the BBC is not going soft.

To show the importance of adhering to the highest journalistic principles, they point to The Secret Policeman, the TV documentary that unmasked racism in the police.

It came under ferocious attack from the government and senior police officers before transmission, but had been scrupulously researched, filmed, scripted and checked, with the full input of the BBC's lawyers.

It is not just the Hutton affair that can teach the BBC lessons.


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