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BBC calls halt to journalists writing newspaper columns

LONDON - The BBC today banned its journalists from writing newspaper columns on current affairs or other contentious issues after the damaging Rod Liddle row earlier this year.

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The BBC said the move was necessary to ensure the corporation's impartiality, which it said was an essential element to the BBC's reputation.

The ban followed a review of the BBC's guidelines announced in the wake of the row that saw Rod Liddle stand down from his job as editor of the BBC's flagship Radio 4 programme 'Today'.

Liddle departed the BBC following being asked to choose between writing a column for The Guardian and editing the 'Today' programme, after he was attacked for negative comments he made in the paper about countryside marchers.

The attack, led by the Daily Telegraph, accused the 'Today' programme under Liddle's editorship of failing to properly cover the Countryside Alliance story.

The changes announced today mean that no staff, nor regular freelance journalists whose main profile or income comes from the BBC, will be able to write columns.

The new arrangements have been approved by the BBC board of governors, although it allows for current contracts in place to run their course, meaning pieces will continue to appear into next spring.

Articles on specific BBC programmes will be allowed, as will columns on non-contentious issues such as food, film or music reviews, or syndicated articles that appear first on BBC News online.

However, all must still be approved by a senior manager and submitted to the relevant publication via the BBC Press Office.

Freelance journalists whose main profile and income is not through the BBC are exempt from the ban.

Richard Sambrook, director of news at the BBC, said that when the corporation's journalists write in papers it is an extension of their work for the BBC.

"Yet columns and newspaper articles on controversial issues depend on expressing opinions to an extent which is often incompatible with the BBC's impartiality. The audience's trust in the independence of the BBC's journalism on all subjects is something we can not afford to compromise," he said.

The BBC said it would now redraft its Producer Guidelines dealing with conflict of interest in line with the agreed changes.

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