Beslan massacre coverage prompts changes at BBC

LONDON - The BBC is to introduce a delay when broadcasting live coverage of sensitive and challenging events such as the Beslan massacre in Russia, where 330 people, mainly children, died in the terrorist seige.

Last September, the BBC and most other TV news networks reported live from the scene of the Beslan siege in Russia, in which more than 330 people lost their lives.

The time delay is part of the BBC's new editorial guidelines to comply with Ofcom's broadcasting code in which the BBC has said that all editorial staff should put accuracy before speed and serious investigations should be editorially justified.

The BBC said that the time delay will be no longer than a few seconds, but would give editors enough time to cut any scenes that are considered too gruelling to broadcast.

The time delay is also likely to affect how the BBC broadcasts images from war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The move was prompted by the massacre by Islamist terrorists in Russia at Beslan in which 330 mostly children were killed when a school was seized and a bloody seige ensued.

The world's media gathered in larger numbers to report every grisly detail, giving rise to a debate about what should and should not be shown.

Earlier this year, Russia accused Channel 4 of "supporting terrorists" by broadcasting an interview with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist behind the Moscow theatre siege and the Beslan school massacre.

"The purpose is to avoid really distressing, upsetting images that our viewers might not want to see going straight out," a BBC spokeswoman said.

For the first time, the corporation has made an explicit comment for all staff that "accuracy is more important than speed", which represents a major shift in attitude for a broadcast news organisation.  

Stephen Whittle, BBC controller of editorial policy, said: "These guidelines are part of our contract with audiences. These are our editorial ethics and the values and standards we set for ourselves. We intend to live and be judged by them."

Other parts of the new guidelines deal with crime and editorial sources. All editorial staff will have to clearly justify investigations into crime and serious anti-social behavior and secret recordings during the course of a investigation must be constantly under review.

In addition, editoral staff including all new BBC contributors will be thoroughly checked before employment, signing contracts including a declaration of personal information.

The controller of the BBC's editorial department will have to personally approve an employee known to have a criminal record or background of illegal activity. 

The new guidelines replaces the Producer's Guidelines, last updated in 2000, and come into effect on July 25.

The guidelines applies to everyone involved in creating BBC editorial content across radio, television, new media and magazines.

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