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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 20:28 GMT
Change shows a year after Hutton

By Torin Douglas
BBC Media correspondent

One year on from Lord Hutton's report, much has changed in the BBC.

A new chairman, Michael Grade, and director-general, Mark Thompson, are leading a radical overhaul of the way the BBC is run and governed, partly - but only partly - as a result of the Hutton Report into the events that led up to the death of Dr David Kelly.

Lord Hutton
The BBC's impartiality reputation stands high a year on from Hutton

New complaints procedures and journalists' guidelines have been introduced. And the potential conflicts arising from the governors' dual role as the BBC's champion and its regulator are being addressed.

The governors are distancing themselves from the management, taking on their own advisers, moving into separate offices, and issuing service licences for each BBC network, which channel controllers must comply with.

Yet much has stayed the same.

Despite Lord Hutton's criticisms, the BBC's reputation for impartiality stands as high - if not higher - than at the time of his report.

A year on, many people believe the BBC Radio 4's Today programme reporter Andrew Gilligan got it right over the "sexing up" of the government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction, even if the BBC's own verdict is that he did not get it right enough.

The BBC has continued to produce challenging journalism on a wide range of issues.

'Trusted source'

And this week, in a lecture on journalism, Michael Grade said: "It's encouraging to note that in survey after survey - most recently a poll in last week's UK Press Gazette - the BBC remains Britain's most trusted source of news."

Grade was reflecting on the events of the last year and the changes that resulted in his appointment as BBC chairman: "Twelve months ago, the BBC endured one of the gravest crises in its history.

"Lord Hutton reported. The BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies, resigned. The next day the DG, Greg Dyke, also went.

"This crisis originated in a failure in the BBC's journalism. In a way, it's a measure of the weight and significance attached to BBC journalism that a single mistake, in a single report, broadcast very early one morning, should be able to precipitate such a cataclysm."

The complaints handling system is being changed to make it speedier, fairer and more accountable
Torin Douglas

In the wake of Hutton, the BBC set up a committee chaired by Ron Neil, a former editor of BBC News and Current Affairs, to look at the lessons for its journalism.

Its report concluded that the BBC should improve its complaints procedure and correct mistakes quickly and, as far as possible, publicly.

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, to improve training and standards.

All those changes are now in train.

The BBC has introduced an online training programme about its editorial policies, which all its journalists must complete within the next few weeks.

Virtual college

It takes users through a series of editorial dilemmas based on real examples from BBC output. Interactive courses like this - plus workshops on the full implications of the Hutton and Neil reports - could lead to a "virtual" college of journalism, rather than one built of bricks and mortar.

The complaints handling system is being changed to make it speedier, fairer and more accountable.

And the BBC now has a feedback programme dedicated to its news and current affairs output - NewsWatch on News 24, presented by the media journalist Ray Snoddy.

Director of News Helen Boaden
Helen Boaden explained her view on a feedback programme

There is also a NewsWatch website with a notes and corrections section, so if the BBC gets things wrong, corrections can be posted there.

In his lecture, Grade said the BBC also needed to change its culture and become better at acknowledging its errors.

He cited the example of a BBC correspondent in the Middle East who made a personal remark about the death of Yasser Arafat on BBC Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent. programme

The BBC received many complaints and in a press statement it publicly defended the remark.

"That was the wrong response," said Grade. "It reflected the instincts of the old culture.

"The new Director of News, Helen Boaden, was surprised because it did not reflect her expressed view or that of her senior team.

"So she changed it, to make clear that aspects of the broadcast had been misjudged.

"And knowing that would raise eyebrows, she went on Radio 4's Feedback programme to explain herself."

Now, a year after Hutton, another report has been published which strongly criticises the BBC's journalism - this time on the subject of the European Union.

But this report was commissioned by the BBC governors themselves, entirely independently of the BBC's management, who must now respond to its criticisms in detail.

It's another sign of change at the BBC.


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