Journalism.co.uk had been surprised to learn at last month’s Journalism in Crisis event that the BBC used only stringers to cover South America, according to director of news Helen Boaden.
The location of global bureaux ‘is something to do with your colonial past’ she said, adding to comments by BBC director-general Mark Thompson, when he was questioned by an irate audience member on the corporation’s lack of coverage in that part of the world (specifically Latin America).
Does the BBC really have no bureaux in Central and South America? Well, the BBC press office later told Journalism.co.uk, it depends how you define stringers and bureaux.
There is a distinction between ‘newsgathering hub’ bureaux and ‘non-hub’ regional bureaux the BBC spokesperson said. While there are no ‘newsgathering hub bureaux’ in South and Central Americas, there are four regional offices, located in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Havana. How many in each, Journalism.co.uk asked.
Two in each of the four cities: one producer and one local fixer, both on sponsored stringer contracts with retainers. Other individual stringers cover the rest of the continent other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with freelancers working from Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Jamaica.
It’s an interesting question: where are international news organisations’ bureaux and why? A particularly pertinent one to raise, given the difficulties in accessing material from Iran at the moment. The BBC office in Tehran remains open, but permanent correspondent Jon Leyne has been ordered to leave the country, the corporation reported yesterday.
While the BBC had two producers inside a Gaza office in 2008, it did not have any permanent crew on the ground and this affected its coverage of the crisis at the end of that year, and the early part of 2009.
It was helpful for Al Jazeera to have people already based in Gaza, as its two correspondents told Journalism.co.uk in a live-blog interview in April.
NB: Whether Al Jazeera were the ‘only’ English-language international broadcaster in the area for the 12-day media block is still a bone of contention: a journalist later reminded Journalism.co.uk that his employer, Iranian government-funded Press TV, was also reporting from the region during that period.