Rolling news plan attacked by BBC man

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Charles Wheeler, the distinguished BBC foreign correspondent, yesterday called the corporation's proposed new 24-hour rolling news service 'its worst idea yet'. He said that it would provide quantity at the expense of quality.

Mr Wheeler was speaking in a two-hour Radio 4 debate broadcast yesterday afternoon on the future of BBC.

He said that the workload from the BBC's Washington bureau, where he is currently stationed to prepare for Bill Clinton's inauguration, had doubled and then doubled again since the 1970s when he worked there permanently.

'Last week with the US bombing of Iraq, Gavin Esler (the BBC's Washington correspondent) appeared on the 6 o'clock news, the 9 o'clock and four World Service news progammes,' he said. Correspondents were forced to recycle news agency copy and official televised briefings for 90 per cent of their information and rarely had time to think or make telephone calls.

Sir Robin Day, the veteran broadcaster, said Mr Wheeler was talking rubbish. 'This is one of the few good ideas the BBC ever had.' He said the BBC's mistake was to take a public survey every time it wanted to innovate.

Jenny Abramski, the BBC news and current affairs executive responsible for devising 24-hour news, said that one of the reasons for seeking extra airtime was that some correspondents were not getting their stories on air. It also offered the BBC the chance to widen the agenda, for example, being able to broadcast the hearings on privacy being held by the Commons heritage committee.

Broadcaster Joan Bakewell said that the BBC should campaign for a much larger licence fee of about pounds 140 a year, compared with the current pounds 80, but should subsidise reduced fees for poorer people and pensioners.