Journalists' fury over leaked plans for BBC's Panorama

Confronted: Peter Horrocks had to face “livid” colleagues after he circulated the document

Furious Panorama journalists confronted the BBC’s head of current affairs Peter Horrocks this week after a briefing document proposing changes to the flagship current affairs programme was leaked.

Horrocks addressed the Panorama team at a “heated” meeting on Tuesday, after details of a briefing paper written by the BBC’s head of development Colin Savage were leaked to The Guardian.

Senior executives and journalists were said to be “livid” that Horrocks had circulated the eight-page document to around 15 senior people involved with the programme when it was, said one source, “screaming out to be leaked”.

The paper describes the 50-year-old current affairs programme as “too distant, demanding, difficult and didactic” and suggests ways that the programme could be adapted in order to succeed during peak time. Some of the ideas floated were the inclusion of “warmer” faces, such as Fiona Bruce, and picking up EastEnders’ storylines to give the programme a more popular appeal.

While the paper was one of a number drawn up as a move away from the programme’s current Sunday night slot is being considered, the programme’s editor, Mike Robinson, is said to have “gone ballistic” that Savage’s paper had been circulated, and demanded that it be withdrawn.

“That paper was going nowhere. It was biased, it was badly written, it was crass in places and it didn’t have any real standing,” said one senior source.

“It didn’t have anything good to say about the programme, and then it gets circulated and people are very upset by it.”

In an attempt to diffuse the row, the BBC director-general Mark Thompson sent an email to staff saying that the BBC remained committed to a Panorama based on serious journalism.

Since the new chair of governors Michael Grade said in June that the BBC should “restore current affairs to its proper place and prominence”, a number of papers have been prepared for Horrocks, himself a former Panorama editor, looking at how the programme would need to change if it moved to the peak-time schedule.

The move would require a change to the programme’s current 40-minute format, as in peak-time it would have to fit into a 30 or 60-minute slot.

The plans will be discussed in a meeting with Thompson later this month.

By Julie Tomlin

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