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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June 2005, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
BBC overhauls BBC policy guidelines
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

In the five years since the BBC published the last new edition of its editorial guidelines, the media world has changed radically.

News 24
Viewers now have access to 24 hour news coverage
Over half the homes in Britain can now receive 24-hour news channels, and when big stories break - such as the 11 September attack on the Twin Towers or the school siege at Beslan - BBC One, ITV1 and other major channels can switch instantly to live coverage.

The web has become the first port of call for many who want to keep up with breaking news or sports events - whether through established media "brands" like the BBC or The Guardian or a host of new sites.

Broadband has meant people can watch and hear news bulletins whenever they choose and see other live footage on their computer screens.

Secret filming and recording has become much simpler through new technology, allowing exposes such as the BBC's The Secret Policeman and The Secret Agent, concerning allegations of racism in the police and the British National Party.

Easier to complain

More recently, Funny Money helped to bring two members of an international counterfeit gang to justice.

When viewers or listeners want to complain about a programme, they can do so in their tens of thousands via e-mail - as they did with Jerry Springer - The Opera.
Aside from news, programmes such as Big Brother, I'm A Celebrity and Fame Academy have lured viewers into watching hour after hour of around-the-clock coverage on digital channels or the web.

The BBC's online Radio Player gives listeners the chance to hear almost all the previous week's radio programmes, whenever they choose.

And when viewers or listeners want to complain about a programme, they can do so in their tens of thousands via e-mail - as they did with Jerry Springer - The Opera.

All this change is reflected in two newly-published "codes of ethics" for programme-makers and other content providers - the BBC Editorial Guidelines and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

Ofcom - the communications regulator which deals with all broadcasters, including the BBC - published its code in May.

It relaxed some of the rules imposed by earlier regulators, saying that with multi-channel television now in half of UK homes, audiences must take greater responsibility for what they and their families watched and listened to.

It told broadcasters that, for their part, they must do more to label programmes and tell listeners and viewers what to expect, particularly when children are around.

Cameras showed bloodied hostages, many of them children, fleeing the school, and there was criticism that some footage had been too intrusive.
The BBC has also responded to the multimedia world in its new guidelines, which come into effect on 25 July, replacing its old Producers' Guidelines.

It is to introduce a time-delay when broadcasting live coverage of sensitive events such as the Beslan siege.

All the major news outlets reported live from the scene of the hostage crisis last September, which led to the deaths of more than 300 people.

Cameras showed bloodied hostages - many of them children - fleeing the school, and there was criticism that some footage had been too intrusive.

In another change reflecting the growing influence of 24-hour news, the guidelines say the BBC regards "accuracy as more important than speed".

Though this is a long-established principle, it's the first time the BBC has made such an explicit commitment.

Mark Daly
Journalist Mark Daly went undercover in The Secret Policeman

It's an acknowledgment that in the race to report news ahead of their rivals, broadcasters sometimes make mistakes.

Some TV channels and websites adhere to a different principle - "never wrong for long" - reflecting the ability of 24-hour news outlets to correct mistakes quickly.

The BBC is making it clear that, in its case, this is not good enough.

The guidelines also suggest that all programme contributors should be asked to sign contracts, disclosing any conflicts of interest or criminal records - to try to root out fake guests in daytime talk shows.

In investigative programmes, such as The Secret Policeman, they say the use of secret recordings must be kept under constant review - and no-one with a criminal record must be employed without the personal approval of the BBC's head of editorial policy.

The guidelines were updated last year to take account of lessons learned after the Hutton Inquiry into the Gilligan-Kelly affair, and these changes are also incorporated in the new edition.

BBC outlines post-Hutton reforms
23 Jun 04 |  Entertainment
How Ofcom will affect the BBC
06 Jan 04 |  Entertainment


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