Birt revolution begins to be dismantled at BBC counter-reformation

BBC news is to climb down from John Birt's policy of requiring all news staff to work both for radio and television, it emerged yesterday. A gradual U-turn will begin with a management reshuffle to be announced within weeks.

BBC news is to climb down from John Birt's policy of requiring all news staff to work both for radio and television, it emerged yesterday. A gradual U-turn will begin with a management reshuffle to be announced within weeks.

The BBC has spent millions implementing the bi-media policy, introduced five years ago. Staff say it has serious limitations. "It was obvious from the start that some people are better suited to radio and others to television; anyone could have seen that," said a news producer. Another said: "Full bi-media has never become a reality. For any big story we need to send one person for television, another for radio and a third for News 24. One person simply could not do everything."

A change of personnel at the top of BBC News is expected to result in the appointment of a separate Head of Television News and Head of Radio News. Under bi-media the two jobs were combined in the single post of Head of News Programmes, symbolising the bringing together of all television and radio output.

The reshuffle will start this month when Tony Hall, the chief executive of BBC News, announces a replacement for his deputy, Richard Ayre, who retires at the end of the year. The new deputy will be put in charge of an internal review of "production processes", which is widely expected to recommend the controversial reintroduction of the two posts. The process, being gradual, is designed to avert the publicity that would surround a sudden U-turn, news insiders said.

While a large number of reporters and correspondents will continue to work both for radio and television, the change in management structure will, it is hoped, correct some of the negative consequences of bi-media working and formally recognise its limitations.

The system, according to its critics, tends to favour television to the detriment of radio and has resulted in both television and radio producers being too busy to stay at the cutting edge of production skills.

The BBC admits that it is running television and radio production workshops to try to improve employees' craft skills.

Foreign correspondents such as John Simpson have described how bi-media working and the expansion of BBC news outlets have required them to file more than a hundred reports from the field during one day. However, the restructuring is not expected to have any impact on their workload.

Other BBC reporters say there is an increasing emphasis on "pretty faces" for television news, a policy which is fundamentally at odds with a bi-media approach. However, the overall increased flexibility of staff is recognised as a benefit, and will remain.

The new heads of television and radio news may eventually question the need for BBC News' three "executive editors", insiders added.

The creation of the executive editor post sparked a public furore two years ago, when presenters John Humphrys, James Naughtie and Anna Ford complained publicly that the new structure would lead to "homogenised" news output.

At the time, the BBC implemented a partial backdown, which would be complete if the current review process gets rid of the posts altogether. However, the move is not expected imminently.

* Bureaux are to be opened in Shanghai, Tehran and Seattle, Mr Hall said. It is part of a move to establish the BBC as "a major global news player".

The Shanghai announcement follows recent difficulties between the BBC and Peking over the way it reports news about China, while the Tehran bureau is being opened at a time of greater tolerance of Western influences.

"Shanghai and Seattle reflect the importance of those cities in terms of business stories," a BBC spokesman said, referring to Seattle's significance as a centre for the computing industry and the home of Microsoft. "And Tehran is politically important."

The new bureaux will help address recent criticism that the British media has cut back foreign coverage, and follows a declaration by the BBC that it is determined to seek quality rather than ratings in its output.

BBC news will, said Mr Hall, also soon be available on mobile telephones. "On the next generation of mobile phones you'll get most, if not all, of what you currently get on the Internet through a modem.

"I want our news to be wherever people want it . That is why, in the near future, we will be announcing a number of strategic partnerships with mobile-phone operators and technology providers throughout the world."

The developments were presented to a conference of international news broadcasters, as BBC News' strategy for "the third age of broadcasting", in which news on the Internet will be particularly important.

"We're finding that on those days when really big stories break," Mr Hall said, "more and more people are turning to our online site either as the first source of news or to get more up-to-date information.

"For day one of Kosovo last March we had 2.3 million page impressions. For our last major story, the Paddington rail crash, we had 3.7 million in a day - a record."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk