BBC code curbs 'doorstepping': Document says technique should be used only as last resort

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THE BBC is cracking down on 'doorstepping', the technique of waiting outside someone's house or office with microphone and camera in order to question them. The new issue of its Producers' Guidelines, published today, says the technique should be used only as a 'last resort', not simply to add drama to a programme.

Doorstepping has, in the past, been used in investigative programmes such as Esther Rantzen's That's Life and The Cook Report (now on ITV). If the victims do not answer a reporter's questions, they are shown hurrying away as though they have something to hide.

In future, any proposal to use the technique without first having sought a conventional interview will have to be cleared with Richard Ayre, controller of editorial policy.

'This is a particular concern of mine and it's been done on my initiative,' Mr Ayre said. 'There is a tendency among some programme makers - and I don't have the BBC principally in mind - to use the doorstep approach as a dramatic device rather than a question of necessity to get important questions answered.

'I will give the go-ahead only if I'm satisfied that there is prima facie evidence of a crime or serious anti- social behaviour, and that any more open approach would be likely to result in the individual evading the consequences of his or her action.'

The same criteria will apply to the use of hidden cameras or secret recording devices.

The guidelines also instruct producers to be more cautious in their use of opinion polls, following the experience of last year's election.

'We've got significantly more prudent in the way we use polls,' Mr Ayre said. 'By broadcasting them, we add to their credibility and we have doubts about their credibility since 1992.

'Next spring, we'll have the results of the Market Research Society's investigation into what went wrong in 1992. In the meantime, we won't commission any polls that purport to sample national voting intention. Nor will we conduct our poll of polls.'

Exit polls are also on ice until the BBC's own investigation into the 1992 election has been completed. Although its first exit poll of the night correctly forecast a Conservative victory, it underestimated the margin.

The revised edition of the Producers' Guidelines also includes a new chapter called 'Portrayal'. In it, the BBC's policy on the depiction of women, minority groups, the disabled, and homosexuals is set out in detail for the first time.

'The BBC is not about being politically correct,' Mr Ayre - the book's main author - insisted. 'And we're certainly not into social engineering. It absolutely isn't our job to change the world, but to reflect the world as it is.'

All the same, the guidelines are certain to be seen as a textbook on broadcast etiquette for the mid- Nineties.