My week: Sandy Smith

Another quiet week on BBC One’s Panorama. It starts with Channel 4 taking a pounding for its Diana doc, leaving us to finalise Jane Corbin’s investigation into Saudi/BAE arms deals in peace. But what’s this? A footnote to Channel 4’s press release claims some of the photos that have appalled the Princes have already appeared in a Panorama shortly after her death.

A quick check reveals that not to be true, but not before some of the media report it. Channel 4 issue a clarification, but it shows you can’t keep Panorama out of the news at the moment.

Our On a Wing and a Prayer programme goes out to an audience of 2.5 million; a little low by our recent standards, but we gain audience over the half-hour as we have done almost every week, and it’s a quietly impressive look at the Nimrod spy plane’s safety record, sourced heavily from inside the RoyalAir Force.

Astonishingly, our biggest audience age group is now 25 to 34 years, compared to over 65 years for the Sunday night slot, and we’ve done it without consciously trying to attract a younger profile, although some shows – Scientology and TV’s Dirty Secrets, which both hit four million – clearly broke through to a completely new audience for current affairs.

As we shoot the links with Jeremy for BAE, a group of 12 year-olds on bikes ask him for autographs and tell him the bits they liked best from John Sweeney’s film – the scene with Sweeney and the crew conferring in the toilet, since you ask.

We’ve scored more 80 and 80+A1s (that’s the measure of how the audience rates a show) since January than in the whole of 2006. We also know that the audience likes us best when we are investigative. So they should like Princes, Planes and Payoffs on Monday, then.

In the evenings I get the rare chance to meet two sources, which could lead to big hits down the road for us.

One is on an international story, and the access is tantalising. The other I’d better say nothing about; suffice to say there was a lot of looking over each others’ shoulders.

Then all hell breaks out on Wednesday evening. We pick up rumours that The Guardian, which has been working in parallel with us on the BAE story, is going to publish the next morning – not Monday as we’d hoped. A call to the editor, Alan Rusbridger, confirms it; he’s nervous about broadsheetrivals stealing his scoop.

I sympathise. But hang on, it’s our scoop too.

So it’s over to Television Centre to work up a news piece for the Ten O’Clock News, which of course leads to Newsnight, The World Tonight and then The Today Programme and Jeremy Vine Show the next day. This doesn’t go down too well at Farringdon Road, but the teams stay friendly, despite gossip to the contrary.

There’s respect on both sides and both we and The Guardian, which after all has ‘owned’the BAE tale, have had a good week.

We recommend David Leigh goes on Radio Four to give Jane a break, and we’ll be linking to its BAE pages from our website too

One advantage of The Guardian bringing publication forward is that Prince Bandar’s people confirm large parts of the story. Yes, payments were made – and made to the bank we alleged. The amount isn’t challenged, but both governments knew about it – which is rather the point of the story.

If there was nothing fishy going on, why was official Saudi expenditure being paid by funds diverted from an arms deal?

Then a question is thrown live on BBC News 24 to Bush and Blair about our Bandar allegations. Both know him well – the president quickly admits as much – and it drives Blair to ad lib about the threat to British jobs; but that wouldn’t be a justification for corruption under OECD guidelines, so that’s useful too.

Panorama interrupts the G8. Was this what Peter Fincham had in mind when he asked us to raise Panorama’s profile?

It’s come at a price. Stories about Panorama not performing on Sunday nights have been replaced by mutterings that the programme is making too many waves. Maybe people forget we are on air every week now, instead of just 30.

There may also be a genuine feeling that we have barged on to BBC News too much. The week ends with meetings with two indies; one on a project that’s coming along nicely, the other for films later in the year.

We’re attracting many more independents, which is a good sign and we need them – 48 half-hours a year and a minimum of four hour specials is some schedule.

In a normal year we’d be clocking off for a summer break now. Instead it’s just another (quiet) week in Panorama.

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