Discontent at BBC over hijacking of news by Six O'Clock in-crowd

Four star correspondents on the Six O'Clock News are being given all the best stories at the expense of the BBC's team of general reporters, insiders at the corporation said yesterday.

Four star correspondents on the Six O'Clock News are being given all the best stories at the expense of the BBC's team of general reporters, insiders at the corporation said yesterday.

Fergus Walsh, the health and science correspondent, Denise Mahoney who covers consumer affairs, Sian Williams, the bulletin's special correspondent, and Aminatta Forna, who resigned last week as work and family correspondent, have - according to their colleagues - consistently been given special treatment.

The favoured four, along with presenters Huw Edwards and Fiona Bruce, are the key members of the "Six O'Clock Family" who are at the heart of the relaunched early evening news. "The structure of the revamped 'Six' means that general reporters and specialist correspondents lose out - and it's the cause of a lot of misery because they can end up working really hard for radio and other outlets but do not get to do their story for the main BBC news," said one insider.

In May, BBC bosses discarded the old-style Six O'Clock News on the grounds that the old set and style "radiated pomposity" and was "too cold". The evening bulletin's star team have, the corporation believes, brought in a "friendlier approach".

A BBC spokesman said yesterday that it was pleased with its new star system. "In September we had a review of the way the relaunched 'Six' is working,and we are very happy with it. A major plank is to have a family of faces. We know from research that the audience likes to see faces they know rather than have a whole host of characters. The Six O'Clock News is doing very well in audience terms, up 6 per cent from last year at around 5.5m. It has taken over from News at Ten as the country's most watched news bulletin."

The BBC points out that the Nine O'Clock News, with audiences above 5m, is also achieving better viewing figures than any ITV news programme. During the summer, ITV's early evening news programme averaged 4.8m viewers, while its new Nightly News at 11pm drew 3.2m, compared with the 5.7m average audience which News at Ten achieved last year.

ITV has also experienced a massive drop in audiences for its regional news programmes since it moved them to 5.30pm, when Neighbours is running on the BBC.

Sir Robin Biggam, chairman of the Independent Television Commission told ITV this week that it must reverse the situation.

* The BBC confirmed yesterday that BBC2's controller, Jane Root, is discussing the possibility of chat shows hosted by Jeremy Paxman. The shows, titled Jeremy Paxman meets..., follow the success of his recent interview with Bill Gates.

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