Media: BBC: undeviating in its habits: Last week drove the papers wild, while the Corporation averted its eyes: Tony Hall goes back to basics

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The Independent Online
To read some of our critics, you'd think the BBC's news judgements owed everything to the original, unreformed Pravda. We stand accused of censorship, repression, and, it would appear, an inability to face up to the hard realities of the society we live in. Why? Because we refused to deal in the details of the sad, depressing end to the life of the MP Stephen Milligan.

A number of principles govern the coverage of any story. First, we broadcast what we know. That means what we know ourselves, the facts we establish beyond reasonable doubt. That is not as simple as it sounds. Over the past decade, the business of news has become faster and more frenetic. If we're not very careful, rumour or innuendo can masquerade as fact in minutes. We may all get caught up in the headlines of the moment on a major story; after all, journalism is an exciting profession.

But I remember during the Gulf War how rumour of an attack on Israel using chemical weapons became 'fact' for an hour. This puts an enormous responsibility on correspondents in the field and the editors of programmes to stick to the facts as we can verify them.

The second point is that even if we have information, we don't necessarily publish it. There is no censorship involved here. As with newspapers, journalists in broadcasting select the information they believe to be relevant. We choose the information and the stories we include according to the time available. But with broadcasting, it is also important to be sensitive to the audience. You can ignore some things in a newspaper and dwell on others. You can't do that if you are watching television.

When we think about what we put in our news programmes we have to recognise that children may be listening or watching, to understand that what you can say first thing in the morning may be different from what you can say later on in the day. This is not censorship; it is proper and sensitive editorial judgement.

For all those reasons, we kept the information of Stephen Milligan's death to the facts we could verify; and in terms of taste, to the minimum detail necessary to understand what had happened. I realise that there were some who wanted to hear more of the details, but there were many other places where that curiosity could be satisfied. Our job in the BBC is to be sensitive to the whole audience, who expect the BBC's coverage to be distinctive.

The BBC's news judgements and agenda are going to be different from other people's. That is what people expect of a public service broadcaster. We aim to provide more background, context and analysis of events around the world, as well as in this country. Those are the founding principles too for the news and sport network, Radio 5 Live, that starts next month.

It is also the case that we give different priorities to stories. For example, we were criticised last week for not leading the Nine O'Clock News on the death of Stephen Milligan. I make no apology for leading our news on the anguished events of Bosnia and reports that the West was moving closer to a decision to use air strikes.

Our job is to ensure that significant events and developments around the world find their proper place in our programmes.

This means that our coverage will often look and sound different. We believe such diversity is healthy. We must stick to our values, our priorities and our agenda. We don't mind being criticised for being different.

Tony Hall is Managing Director, BBC News and Current Affairs.

(Photograph omitted)

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