Simpson criticises 'purist' BBC on restrictions

Criticism of the BBC’s new guidelines on the freelance activities of its highprofile staff surfaced this week after John Simpson accused the corporation of being “too purist”.

World affairs editor Simpson claimed the broadcaster had gone too far with the restrictions introduced in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry.

Writing at the weekend in his soon to be axed column in The Sunday Telegraph, Simpson said he thought “the BBC was being a bit too purist” in its guidelines after it vetoed his application to become honorary part-time chairman of the British Council in December.

“The BBC asked me not to [apply] on the grounds that it might tie in the BBC too closely with the Foreign Office and represent a conflict of interest,” Simpson said. “Over what, for God’s sake? Whether Shakespeare wrote The Two Noble Kinsmen? Whether Tracey Emin is art?” “However, I accept that there have to be sacrifices if we are to regain full public trust, and with gritted teeth I’m prepared to do my bit,” he added.

BBC business editor Jeff Randall also writes a column for the newspaper, and it is understood that both journalists have now renegotiated their BBC contracts to compensate for the drop in income once their work with The Sunday Telegraph ends this spring.

However, Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson made it clear this week that he, along with Simpson and Randall, would like their working relationship to continue and that discussions are ongoing.

“I have some hope that the BBC and the Telegraph Group together will be able to find a solution to this,” he said.

The BBC’s tightening up of freelancing guidelines was sparked off after Today defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan’s article in The Mail on Sunday on 1 June said Alastair Campbell, then Downing Street communications director, had “sexed-up” the dossier on Iraqi weapons.

BBC news arts correspondent Rosie Millard was seen as the first casualty of the new rules after she quit the broadcaster in December to pursue her writing for The Sunday Times and New Statesman. She told the Evening Standard that as she was earning more as a freelance writer, than from the BBC, giving it up “wasn’t attractive”.

By Wale Azeez

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