BBC's Simpson joins attack on 6pm news

Simpson: "foreign news-freezone"

John Simpson has thrown his weight behind criticism of the BBC’s Six O’Clock News, claiming it has become a "foreign news-free zone".

He has told BBC news chiefs that he is concerned about a decline in the amount of foreign news on the early-evening bulletin.

Speaking at a private seminar aimed at improving working relationships between correspondents and producers, the world affairs editor is understood to have said there was "little point" in him approaching the Six O’Clock News’s editors for funding for foreign news stories.

Following the recent dumbing- down charges levelled by former correspondent Martin Bell, Simpson’s criticism will fuel the debate inside the BBC about the bulletin’s news agenda.

Lorraine Heggessey, controller of BBC1, is said to want the programme to be more popular in style and reflect the character of the channel.

This week she announced the dropping of BBC1’s globe symbol in favour of eight more "inclusive" links.

"There’s no doubt that the programme is doing less and less foreign news," one senior source said. "Even during Afghanistan a lot of the stuff they did was in the studio in London, using the video screen. The style is very American and it is more accessible, but a lot of people are uncomfortable with its domestic agenda."

BBC assistant director of news Mark Damazer, who attended the seminar, defended the achievements of the bulletin’s editor Jay Hunt, but admitted "there was a debate to be had" about its content, the source said.

Bell has cited the Six O’Clock News  as an example of the "dumbing down" of news with its focus on graphics and video screens and an increase in live reporting and two-ways with correspondents.

The BBC’s deputy head of newsgathering, Vin Ray, defended the programme in an internal newspaper, claiming it included just as much foreign news as in the past but used new techniques to improve understanding.

By Julie Tomlin

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