BRITAIN: BBC bars reporters from writing current affairs columns

The British Broadcasting Corp said on Tuesday that in order to preserve its reputation for objectivity it is barring its journalists from writing newspaper and magazine columns on current affairs

The Straits Times
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

LONDON -- The British Broadcasting Corp said on Tuesday that in order to preserve its reputation for objectivity it is barring its journalists from writing newspaper and magazine columns on current affairs.

'Impartiality is an essential element to the BBC's reputation and to our journalism,' said director of news Richard Sambrook.

The move follows widespread criticism of the broadcaster for its part in a political dispute that preceded to the apparent suicide of a government arms expert. The row grew out of a BBC report alleging the government exaggerated the threat from Iraqi arms in making its case for war against Saddam Hussein's regime. Officials denied the allegations.

The BBC journalist responsible for the story later acknowledged errors in his reporting. Some of his claims appeared in a newspaper article.

'When our journalists write in papers, it is seen as an extension of their work for the BBC - yet columns and newspaper articles on controversial issues depend on expressing opinions to an extent which is often incompatible with the BBC's impartiality,' Mr Sambrook said.

'The audience's trust in the independence of the BBC's journalism on all subjects is something we cannot afford to compromise.'

Many senior BBC journalists make extra money by writing analytical pieces on news events for newspapers and journals.

They will be allowed to complete current contracts, many of which run into next year.

The BBC said staff will still be allowed to write columns on 'non-contentious issues' including food, film and music reviews, but all must be approved by a senior manager.

Freelance journalists whose main profile and income is not linked to the BBC will be unaffected by the new rules.