Staff working for BBC Online have been warned by new media editor-in-chief Mike Smartt against lifting copy verbatim from wire services.
In a memo, Smartt told them that news agency Reuters had complained to the BBC that "several stories" had been copied from its wire service.
Smartt told journalists who write for the BBC’s news service that "this is something we don’t – and mustn’t – do" as it breaks the terms of its contract with agencies such as AP and PA, as well as with Reuters.
"We treat all agencies as a source for news only – we must rewrite any agency copy and blend it in with that of other (rewritten) agency material, our own sources (correspondents, reporters, other BBC sources) and original work in News Online," said Smartt’s e-mail.
Reminding journalists that "the only words we may use untouched are direct quotes", Smartt warned that use of agency copy "in large slabs" would lead to agencies like Reuters charging the BBC more to use their services.
"Incidentally, we take considerable pride in the fact that, unlike the sites of all our major competitors who do legally cut and paste agency copy, every story on our site is either written by a BBC journalist or by someone commissioned by the BBC," Smartt said. The e-mail concludes: "Trans-gressions will not be looked upon favourably."
A spokesman for Reuters declined to comment on whether the agency had expressed concerns about the BBC’s use of its wire service.
A spokesman from the BBC said Smartt’s remarks had followed "informal" talks with Reuters staff and that Online "has a very proud boast" that its material is written by journalists. "It’s important to make regular reminders of that fact," he said.
By Julie Tomlin