BUSHLOG photo archive World Service Newsroom 16
"Telling the world the world news" booklet, published by BBC External Services, Summer 1978
Our aim: to give news accurately, factually, impartially

EVERY WEEKDAY morning at half-past ten almost a score of people meet in Bush House, the headquarters of the BBC External Services near Fleet Street, London, to assess the news and current affairs output of that day. They represent the 39 different services, in English and 38 other languages, in which the BBC broadcasts to the world, as well as the News and other specialist departments. Each person has behind him professional experience of the newspapers, news agencies, broadcasting or information services of the part of the world for which he is responsible. He and his staff - many of whom were born and brought up in the countries to which they are broadcasting - travel frequently in those countries and have met the leading statesmen, diplomats, and public servants there. They are as familiar with the press and books of those countries as they are with those of Britain, and it is their job not merely to understand the endless flow of events in those countries, but to forecast the likely developments.

Freedom of information requires constant vigilance. In many countries, the media is controlled, directly or indirectly. For 40 years now millions of people all over the world have tuned into the BBC External Services, either in English or their own language, to hear the facts as they are and not as someone, somewhere, would like them to be.

Ken Brazier, Editor, BBC External Services NewsOur aim is to give news as accurately, factually and impartially, as we can. We also aim to make it interesting. Because a subject is important it is no reason to make it dull.

Every journalist joining the BBC External Services News is handed a booklet giving a brief insight into his or her new job and its problems. Perhaps we can not do better than quote from it. It says:

"Accuracy is obviously of first importance. If we get things wrong, if we are careless or slipshod or ignorant or naive, our credibility is damaged. And it can be damaged even by little mistakes that might seem unimportant: a wrong name; a wrong title, a wrong spelling (that leads to a wrong pronunciation). If you doubt it, think of the effect in reverse: how does it strike us if we hear a foreign radio talking about the British Gallery and the National Museum; or about a building in the Piccadilly or in Strand; or about Duke Edinburgh or Sir Wilson.

"It strikes us as ridiculous; and once you invite ridicule you lose credibility. Yet it is quite easy to make such errors - and graver ones - without constant vigilance, checking and cross-checking at every Stage. That is why we put every story through a process of briefing, scrutiny and revision. Accuracy is so vital that though we like to be fast, if possible first, with the news, if there is any conflict between accuracy and speed, accuracy must always come first.

"Giving the news factually means we take great care to avoid comment. Constitutionally, the BBC is forbidden to express any opinion of its own. Therefore we make sure that all opinions are attributed and that anything we say is a fact, or at least a reported fact. Of course every journalist knows that the dividing line is not always clear and the task is certainly not easy.

"As with accuracy, it needs continuous vigilance, and again it is the little points that have to be watched most closely. For example, certain adjectives ('the heroic defenders') may unwittingly suggest that we favour one side. So may certain verbs like 'refute' or 'claim' (when we mean 'deny' or 'say'). So may an adverb like 'only' ('The Opposition gained only 5 seats'). In many cases such 'comment' words are superfluous embellishments.

"Impartiality needs the same care and attention to detail. In reporting any conflict or dispute we always try to give the views of both sides; to attribute them to their sources; to give a fair balance - if possible within each story, if not, over a period. We do this whether Britain is involved or not; and if it is a domestic dispute, whether the Government is involved or not.

"In selecting news items our guiding formula is that we aim to produce a bulletin of world news as seen from London. That means, looking at the world as a whole, we select what we in London consider to be the most significant, important and interesting events of the day. And we apply this formula to all bulletins (except two or three specialist ones) in all languages. It follows that in most cases our lead story and other major stories will be the same whether we are broadcasting to Pakistan or to Peru. When there is no strong lead and a wide choice of other stories, there are likely to be variations in the make-up of the bulletins. And of course there will always be very considerable variations in the length, for example, of stories for different regions and countries.

"Regional stories naturally give more local details. In a Chinese bulletin it is no good talking about an un-named Chinese Minister or about an earthquake so many miles from Peking. We need names of people and places. If the Chinese bulletin is not carrying a regional story, we have to add such details to the central story. Sometimes we have to subtract: obviously, descriptive labels for people or organisations which are necessary in a central story are superfluous for an audience which knows them well.

"Regional stories are often expanded versions of central ones. Then we must take care that there is no conflict between them: not only no discrepancies but no difference in emphasis. There is a good deal of cross-listening to our bulletins and we soon get complaints if listeners think we are saying one thing in English for Israel and another thing in Arabic for the Arab countries.

"The extent of regionalisation will vary. Partly it depends on the strength of the local media. Where they are highly developed we do not try to compete with them for all local news. But we do give important items. Even in Japan, for example, which is saturated with news, listeners value our coverage of big local stories comparing it (usually favourably) with their own.

"There are many other parts of the world where we give local news on a far wider scale. We know that we may be the only reliable source. In those cases we have to guard against the danger of over-regionalisation. In fact, in all cases we have to satisfy the interests of all our widely different audiences without distorting the balance of a world news bulletin. To get the balance right requires judgment an experience It is one of our main tasks."

In the following pages we are taking a further look at various aspects of the news - and the many people who work in front of the microphone, and behind the scenes, too.