Post-Hutton BBC to set up college for training journalists

The BBC is to set up a college to train its journalists as part of a "sea change" in its approach to reporting the news after sweeping criticism of the corporation in the Hutton report. Wide-ranging editorial checks have been set up in a review to learn lessons from the BBC's hugely damaging row with Downing Street over Andrew Gilligan's
Today report accusing the Government of "sexing up" its dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC is to set up a college to train its journalists as part of a "sea change" in its approach to reporting the news after sweeping criticism of the corporation in the Hutton report. Wide-ranging editorial checks have been set up in a review to learn lessons from the BBC's hugely damaging row with Downing Street over Andrew Gilligan's Today report accusing the Government of "sexing up" its dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

In a report yesterday, Ron Neil, a former head of BBC news, said two-way conversations between presenters and reporters should no longer be used to break stories containing potentially serious allegations, as they were in the case of Mr Gilligan's infamous 6.07am broadcast on 29 May last year.

The report makes clear that the buck rests with editors, who have new powers to demand that journalists tell them the identity of their sources.

"Hopefully, the report will restore people's confidence that the BBC can properly deal with the issues highlighted by the Hutton report," Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, said. "It sets a new gold standard for BBC journalism."

Mr Neil's report was commissioned by Mark Byford, when he was acting director general after Lord Hutton's devastating verdict on the events leading to the death of the weapons expert David Kelly.

A review group headed by Mr Neil and including Helen Boaden, the Radio 4 controller, Adrian Van Klaveren, head of news gathering, Glenwyn Benson, factual television controller, Stephen Whittle, the controller of editorial policy, and Richard Tait, a former editor-in-chief of ITN, interviewed 40 senior BBC journalists and editors.

Mr Neil paid tribute to the "formidable professionalism" of BBC journalism, but added, "setting out to improve, strengthen and learn from the experience of life's events when they go wrong is a proper ambition. It is a stance of strength, not a weakness". He said the three-month process had not been about "establishing blame", but about "discovering what lessons the BBC might learn from the events of the past year".

The BBC's governors said the Neil report "will become required reading for all current and future BBC journalists". The report identifies the five core principles of BBC journalism as truth and accuracy, serving the public interest, impartiality, independence and accountability. Mr Sambrook said plans for the college of journalism - which will train existing staff as well as recruits - would be drawn up over the next year.

Under guidelines responding to Lord Hutton's criticisms, journalists must identify their sources where possible, keep rigorous notes of conversations with contacts, and ensure potentially serious or defamatory allegations are put to the parties concerned in good time before they are broadcast.

"Those people who were worried this was going to try to create a supine BBC have had their fears allayed," said the Labour MP Chris Bryant, who sits on the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. "What I'm still worried about is that the BBC still has a very competitive national newspaper style of journalism."

Julie Kirkbride, the Conservatives' media spokeswoman, said: "We remain to be convinced of the value of the proposed college of journalism. It sounds much like a further widening of the BBC's activities beyond its core remit, for which the licence payer will have to pick up the bill."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' culture spokesman, said: "Crucially, the report doesn't prevent the BBC from breaking exclusives. A strengthened college of journalism will further promote the fundamental role the BBC plays as a training ground for talent."

THE NEIL REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS

* "College of journalism" to be set up.

* BBC journalists can still report stories based on a single source, but only where it is in the public interest.

* Live "two ways" - a conversation between a presenter and a reporter - should not be used if a story is potentially defamatory.

* BBC's five core values are truth and accuracy; serving public interest; impartiality and diversity of opinion; independence; and accountability.

* Editors to have power to demand that journalists tell them the names of their sources.

* BBC journalists should try to tape conversations.

* Wherever possible journalists should identify their sources.

* Serious allegations must be put to the parties concerned in good time before they are broadcast.

* It should be made clear whether an allegation has been made by the BBC or by a third party.

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