Birt condemns BBC's Hugh Grant coverage

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The Independent Online
John Birt, the director-general of the BBC, will tomorrowround on the corporation's recent news coverage of Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley, saying there was too much and it went too far.

Mr Birt will be speaking on Biteback, BBC Television's accountability programme, in which he discusses the corporation's responsibilities for standards of taste, decency and news reporting.

Answering questions about the extensive BBC coverage of Grant's arrest in Los Angeles a fortnight ago for "lewd" conduct with a prostitute, and of the impact on his relationship with Hurley, Mr Birt tells the programme: "I don't think it was right. I think we reported that particular matter in a way that we should not have done."

He adds: "I was unhappy that we were taking pictures of them in their garden. I was unhappy that we revealed where they lived. I was unhappy that we gave the amount of prominence to the story that we did, and so were many of my colleagues in News and Current Affairs. But these things happen in organisations, and when we stray outside our own guidelines, we try to learn the lessons."

The BBC was not the only news organisation that went into overdrive on a story that many might traditionally associate with the tabloid press - every broadsheet daily devoted space to the story.

Mr Birt defends the commissioning moratorium called in network television this year while mangement grappled with cashflow problems. "The BBC has set world standards in its programmes. It hasn't set world standards in the way it's been managed ... but we've made great strides over the last few years.

"The moratorium was a sign of the success of our finance systems."