BBC has 'lost its way with news', warns Wheeler

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The Independent Online

The veteran BBC reporter Charles Wheeler yesterday fuelled the row over dumbing down of television news as he declared that the corporation had "lost its way with news".

The veteran BBC reporter Charles Wheeler yesterday fuelled the row over dumbing down of television news as he declared that the corporation had "lost its way with news".

The distinguished foreign correspondent told the Edinburgh Television Festival that the 6 o'clock news anchorman Huw Edwards should have resigned rather than submit to the BBC giving him a makeover.

A further blow was dealt to the BBC when it emerged that newscaster Michael Buerk is critical of the decision by the director general, Greg Dyke, to move the 9 o'clock news to 10 o'clock next year. It is an embarrassment for Mr Dyke, who said only a couple of days ago that Mr Buerk would be presenting the 10 o'clock news alongside Peter Sissons.

Mr Wheeler, speaking at a session entitled "Can News Be Sexy?" said that the BBC had "lost its way with news" and that Channel 4 News was now his favourite news programme.

He added: "The BBC is worried about being too tabloid and worried about being like Channel 5 and ITV. It doesn't know where it is right now. I think television has reached the point where it is going down some curious corridors. There is some dumbing down going on."

Mr Wheeler then referred to Huw Edwards being given a makeover and said: "They have started to import these funny ideas to the BBC. The guy should have resigned. He should have gone to ITN. They were telling him how to do his hair."

The cult of personality among BBC correspondents was also condemned by Mr Wheeler, who started his career in 1946. He said there was no reason why reporters had to talk to camera so much.

Mr Buerk, who reportedly recently signed a £400,000-a-year contract with the BBC, told a Sunday newspaper: "The 9 o'clock news has been a trademark for grown-up news for many, many years. So I'm personally very sad. I also want to know, if it is switched to 10, what the BBC can put on between 9 o'clock and 10 o'clock to justify the move."

He said that ITV "didn't have good enough programmes in the 10 to 11 slot to keep viewers interested, so not as many have watched the news at 11."

The BBC, he said, must ensure that there are good enough programmes to keep people interested in viewing until the news comes on.

The TV Festival, sponsored by The Guardian, itself gave ammunition to those who accuse television of dumbing down. The festival released a survey, commissioned by Channel 5, in which viewers were asked which newsreader had "the most sex appeal".

The 946 adults surveyed put ITV's Kirsty Young top in the female section, ITV's Katy Derham second with Channel 4's Tanya Sillem at the bottom of the top 10. Among the men, Channel 5's Rob Butler was top, ITV's Dermot Murnaghan second and Channel 5's Charlie Stayt 10th.

Last night, the BBC came under predictable attack from James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the Asian satellite network Star TV, and one of the heirs apparent to the Murdoch empire.

In a lecture at the festival James Murdoch said: "To illustrate the muddle that the BBC has found itself in, one need only look as far as the

"One can search the site for a considerable time and find absolutely nothing about public service broadcasting.

"Instead, I learned that is my 'home for shopping on the web', offering me goods and services such as flowers, music and DVDs. The top 10 videos sold on the, according to the site, were entirely American Hollywood productions, including The Exorcist, American Pie, The X Files, and not one but three separate Friends videos. A special offers £5 off Indiana Jones movies.

"It's not British, it's not broadcasting, and it has nothing to do with public service but it is today's BBC"