BBC under fresh fire over its coverage of the tsunami

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* With the annus horribilis of 2004 still fresh in the mind, BBC News finds itself starting the New Year on the verge of yet another crisis.

* With the annus horribilis of 2004 still fresh in the mind, BBC News finds itself starting the New Year on the verge of yet another crisis.

There are growing concerns about its coverage of the tsunami in south Asia, after it emerged that many of its key staff had remained on holiday during the crucial early days of the disaster.

Although Sky had Jeremy Thompson in the region by 27 December, the BBC failed to put any high-profile "anchors" on the scene - commentators have suggested that Huw Edwards would have been suitable - until earlier this week.

In addition, it took until this Tuesday for a "big name" reporter (George Alagiah, himself Sri Lankan) to arrive in the field.

John Simpson the world affairs editor, remains conspicuously absent from the region.

Much personal criticism is now being directed at Helen Boaden, the BBC director of news, who was appointed in response to the Hutton report. She was not seen in the office until at least two days after the story broke.

Rival channels are already crowing about the affair. "We made a strategic decision that this had to be presented from the field, and got large numbers of people moving very quickly," says Nick Pollard, the editor of Sky News, who sent four anchormen to the region.

"The BBC should have been able to do this too; something's gone wrong."

* As if Oliver Stone wasn't already feeling bruised following the critical failure of Alexander in the US, he's now got to contend with the rampaging egos of his own cast.

The epic film originally ran to four and a half hours, but was reduced to three before its release. As a result, several supporting actors had their roles slashed, and they are starting to complain.

"What's this editing process that shredded the film?", begins an e-mail to Pandora from one of the stars' agents.

"Many characters were deliberately weakened, or cut right down, so as not to overshadow Colin Farrell."

Speaking prior to the film's UK premiere last night, Gary Stretch, who plays Alexander's best friend Cleitus, told me: "It's a shame the film's been cut.

"It could have been better, because it could have been longer, but I'm hoping the DVD will offer the four-and-a- half-hour version."

*You'd have thought Jude Law's engagement to Sienna Miller would silence the cynics who reckon their relationship is an elaborate publicity stunt.

Apparently not. "It's all a bit too convenient," says one such meanie. "On Monday, the press 'discovers' they are engaged, and on Tuesday the couple are all over the papers. How strange that this should happen as Jude is about to launch a new film, Closer , which requires a bit of free publicity."

The headline-prone couple, above, have yet to say when they intend to marry. They'll have to actually name the date if they want to silence remaining conspiracy theorists.

* Tony Blair was asked on yesterday's Today programme if his decision to stay in Egypt for so long was a result of doctor's orders.

"Well there's also a suggestion this morning that I went away to have plastic surgery, and as you can see ... er ... I'm looking exactly the same as I ever did," went his response.

Since this doesn't actually answer the question, Westminster was yesterday alive with speculation about the PM's health.

"That answer was classic Blair," reckons an expert in such matters.

"He took the sting out of an inconvenient question by knocking down an entirely different one. For my money, his dicky heart was at the epicentre of this."

* And so to the latest in what Pandora is tempted to identify as a new celebrity trend: comedians who are "handy" with a racquet.

Following my discovery that Martin Freeman - Tim from The Office - used to be in the British junior squash team, and that Jack Dee is fond of real tennis, Jimmy Carr e-mails me to lay out his sporting credentials.

Apparently, he's a competitive tennis player, and recently played a set against Boris Becker, which he lost, dismally.

"Obviously, the old pros toy with celebs like cats with injured mice, but we managed to have a laugh," he says. "I play regularly, pretty much at any place that'll let me in. Do you have any recommendations of good clubs in north London?"

pandora@independent.co.uk

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