BBC presenters face curbs on freelance work

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The Independent Online
STEVE BOGGAN

A parliamentary style register of interests is among measures being considered by the BBC in a review of rules governing lucrative work carried out by some of its top journalists.

The review was ordered in secret last month by John Birt, the Director- General of the BBC, following growing concern over the potential for conflicts of interest arising from presenters working for outside companies and being paid up to pounds 5,000 a day.

Last night, senior sources within the BBC said they were confident they could implement the review with little disruption.

However, one household name said yesterday: "If they try to stop us doing our freelance work, they'll lose us. There is plenty of other work out there."

Among the top names who could be affected are John Humphrys, anchorman of Radio 4's Today programme, who has worked for many of the country's largest companies, Andrew Harvey, an evening and morning newsreader on BBC1, who conducts media training for ICI, and others including Peter Sissons, Martyn Lewis and Nick Ross.

Most of the BBC's broadcasters sell their services to the corporation on a freelance basis, leaving them free to host business conferences, appear in internal company videos and chair meetings.

Their personal contracts allow them to do such work so long as it does not compromise the integrity of the corporation.

But Mr Birt is understood to have become concerned that many of the activities, including media training, may breach guidelines laid down for BBC producers.

The Producers' Guidelines acknowledge that senior broadcasters are likely to be asked to become involved in promotional activities, corporate videos or "commercial events".

But they continue: "All such activity associates the individual with the product or service ... Any of these activities is unacceptable for BBC editorial people (including presenters and freelances) when they might compromise public trust in the integrity of our programmes or of those who make them."

Inquiries by the Independent have established that Mr Humphrys, who is thought to be paid more than pounds 150,000 by the BBC, is among the most prolific outside earners.

Among the companies he has conducted work for - in a non-promotional capacity - are ICI, IBM, Glaxo, British Telecom, Mercury, British Airways, Boots the Chemist, the Nat ional Westminster Bank and the Department of Trade and Industry.

He told the Independent that it would be "inconceivable" that accepting sums of money from these companies could in anyway lead to a conflict of interest.

"When I consider accepting work, I ask myself whether I would be absolutely satisfied with it being broadcast on the Today programme or on television, and if I would, then I will accept it," he said.

Andrew Harvey conducts media training courses through a company called Intermedia Training. However, part of this work - the coaching of executives on how to handle interviews - is supposedly banned by the corporation.

Roger Gale, Conservative MP for Thanet North and a former BBC producer, welcomed the BBC's review of its guidelines. "I wrote to John Birt about this some time ago, not necessarily complaining that the BBC's freelance journalists do outside work, but about the hypocrisy they display in tackling MPs about their outside interests," he said.

"I don't think I would ask for a formal register like the one MPs complete, but I do think a degree of integrity and transparency is necessary."

The BBC confirmed that it was reviewing its guidelines and added: "We believe it is important that the public can continue to trust that our standards are high.

"Last month, in the light of heightened concern in many areas of public life over potential conflicts of interest, we began a review of procedures and a process of consultation to see if the guidelines on presenters' outside interests need to be further clarified."

A BBC spokeswoman said the possibility of introducing new-style contracts, revised guidelines and a register of interests would all be examined. Mr Humphrys said he would be "quite happy" to comply with such a register.

Freelance interests, page 2

Leading article, page 14

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