BBC launches its school on how to avoid scandal in journalism

The BBC’s most seasoned journalists will be expected to take part in a training programme the corporation began rolling out this week following criticisms in the Neil Report.

The launch of the “editorial policy online course” will be followed by workshops that around 8,000 news journalists and factual staff will be expected to attend by March next year.

BBC heavyweights such as World Affairs correspondent John Simpson, Radio 4 Today programme presenter John Humphrys and Newsnight ‘s Jeremy Paxman would be asked to attend the workshops called “BBC Journalism: Sources, Scoops and Stories”. They will be held around the country and will require journalists to work through issues raised by a hypothetical health story.

All BBC staff responsible for programme content will also be expected to do the two-part online course and take part in discussion groups afterwards.

“People aren’t going to be forced to do it, but if like health and safety, it’s an area of training that is absolutely critical, then everyone should do it,” said Alex Gerlis, of the BBC’s training board. “There may well be some people who are going to be resentful but some senior people are also quite excited by the idea.”

Journalistic standards came under intense scrutiny during the Hutton Inquiry, which closely examined Andrew Gilligan’s reporting of Dr David Kelly’s claims about the “sexed up dossier” for the Today Programme.

Ron Neil’s report highlighted the need for training in dealing with sources and allegations, live broadcasts and note-taking.

Gerlis insisted the training “wasn’t directed at anyone in particular” and is not intended to rein in its journalists.

“It’s about enabling journalists not constraining them,” he said. “We’ve found that since Hutton people have been very cautious and because they are not very sure they are taking fewer risks with stories,” added Gerlis.

“It’s about how, operating within the guidelines, we can be good journalists.”

The training courses are a forerunner to the BBC Journalism Training College, which is still in the planning stage.

By Julie Tomlin

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