Why the Beeb rules the waves

Far from being strangled by red tape, writes John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor, Auntie has gone from old boys' network to cutting-edge corporation

Journalists are among the most conservative workers on earth. By comparison, a Fifties London docker was a techno-enthusiast. At the BBC, whenever our working pattern changes, we erupt in moral fury and someone on a newspaper hears about it. The result is one of the articles which, quoting unnamed "BBC insiders", forecasts the collapse of everything the BBC stands for.

A piece in last Monday's Independent - "The reporters with a hundred bosses" - was a standard example. I felt sorry for these sad characters swathed in red tape who have so many editors to please. But it wasn't true.

Like Martin Bell's famous complaint about the danger of doing too much live broadcasting, the claims were about what might happen in the worst of all possible worlds. In fact, Bell's fears that we might spend all our time in front of a camera and have none left to find out what's going on have proved groundless.

If you take the stated principle and say every BBC news correspondent can theoretically work on every single BBC outlet, and then add together all the possible programmes, local, national and worldwide, there would indeed be more than 100 programme editors for whom, in theory, we work. But it isn't remotely like that in practice. Programmes have designated correspondents to rely on. Of course, if you are on your own with a big story, everyone from the Nine O'Clock News to Radio Norfolk will want something from you; but that's always been the case.

What's different now is that many more producers work with correspondents, and they increasingly share the broadcasting burden.

As for the mountain of paperwork that we are alleged to be shouldering, it dwindles away on examination to an electronic assignment-sheet that takes a couple of minutes to fill out.

It is rare, too, for a correspondent to have to work out the costs of a shoot, though the request is scarcely outrageous.

It is true that we are now asked to account for stories that don't require major resources. The trouble was, radio correspondents in particular used to have large numbers of reporting assignments which cost less than pounds 50 to produce, and until recently these went completely untracked.

I have worked for BBC News for 32 years. It used to be a charming, ramshackle outfit which never quite knew where the money had gone, but which struggled along anyway with the old boys' network. Now it is properly managed, and we know what we're spending.

Of course there is a trade-off between having the largest number of correspondents of any newsgathering organisation in the world, and finding a core of familiar faces the audience can relate to; but it is an enviable position to be in. No one really needs to feel sorry for us.

Here are 10 things you probably didn't know about the BBC News operation.

l BBC News has the largest newsgathering operation in the world - with 450 staff, most of whom are journalists.

l BBC News serves 12 networks across radio, television, text and multimedia (Internet).

l BBC News can deliver specialism unparalleled by any other broadcaster - BBC News alone has 63 specialist correspondents based in the UK.

l Newsgathering has more foreign bureaux (42) than any other broadcaster, with 66 foreign correspondents.

l BBC News reported from more than 90 countries in the past year.

l In an average week, 73 per cent of the population watch or listen to BBC News programmes.

l BBC World, the international news channel, is available in more than 50 million homes in 187 countries and territories.

l BBC World Service has a weekly audience of 124 million.

l BBC World Service broadcasts news in 45 languages.

l BBC News broadcasts 37,000 hours per year.

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