MPs urge BBC to reassess war zone risks to journalists

BBC chiefs have been bluntly told to update their assessment of the risks facing journalists in war zones following the abduction and freeing of Alan Johnston.

A watchdog committee of MPs has called on them to satisfy themselves that freelancers, as well as staff correspondents, are ‘adequately trained for work which could involve risks to health and safety.”

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee called in director general Mark Thompson after examining how the BBC manages the multiplicity of risks it faces.

Edward Leigh, the Committee’s chairman, said: ‘From the very real threats to the lives of its correspondents in warzones, to the dangers of its reputation of failing to deal fairly with its viewers and listeners, the BBC faces a multiplicity of risks. But the corporation and its managers at all levels are simply not doing enough to manage and anticipate those risks.”

The committee found the BBC ‘had identified the safety of staff around the world as a key risk it faced was not reflected explicitly in the BBC’s top risk themes”.

The MPs told Parliament ‘people working in television and radio are often freelancers employed on short term contracts”.

The BBC assured the MPs no distinction was made between the training of freelance and permanent employees, but the MPs concluded it was not clear how the BBC satisfied itself that all freelancers were adequately trained in the management of risk.

When he gave evidence in June, before Johnston was freed in July, the director general promised the BBC would learn from any lessons drawn from the episode.

He said throughout the period when Johnston was working in Gaza security experts had made regular visits to maximise security precautions,

‘The fact that abduction of westerners was a very real risk in Gaza was self evident and was well known to us. What we did not foresee was that, unlike the many many other abductions of westerners, most of which we resolved in a matter of hours, the longest in 14 days, this was going to be different.”

Thompson told the MPs at the time ‘this is becoming in some parts of the world a very dangerous place to be a journalist for the BBC.”

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