BBC's Interim Director of News Requests Social Media Silence (Report)

11:01 AM PST 11/13/2012 by Stuart Kemp

Fran Unsworth sends an internal memo to embattled staffers requesting they lay off airing "problems" via Twitter and other platforms.

LONDON – The BBC's acting head of news Fran Unsworth, put in place after Helen Boaden stepped aside amid internal probes into BBC editorial processes Monday, urged staff on Tuesday not to take to Twitter and other social media to talk about "problems" at the embattled public broadcaster.

Unsworth told BBC staffers in an internal email that "it would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publicly across social media and in the pages of the national press," according to a report in The Guardian.

Unsworth replaced Boaden after management blood spilled following the latest editorial misstep taken by Newsnight, which aired a mistaken report that a British politician – unnamed by the flagship news show at the time -- was involved in child abuse.

STORY: BBC Director of News, Deputy Step Down Amid Internal Probe

Part of the issue with the Newsnight report was escalated by speculation on the internet and particularly social media such as Twitter on the unnamed politician's identity.

Unsworth's attempt to reassure staff came after what she described as the "tumultuous and very sad" events of the past few days; the outcome of an internal inquiry into Newsnight's shelved Jimmy Savile sex abuse investigation remains pending.

Unsworth memo noted that the BBC and the news team need to restore some equilibrium to the organization.

"It would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publicly across social media and in the pages of the national press. We need a collective and collegiate sense of all pulling together to restore trust in the BBC's news output," her memo said.

She also stressed that the new BBC News senior lineup – which has so far seen three executives stepping aside from their jobs until the inquiries are concluded – was a temporary one.

The BBC had issued a statement following Boaden and other senior editorial figures' sidesteps: "The BBC wants to make it absolutely clear that neither Helen Boaden nor [her deputy] Stephen Mitchell had anything at all to do with the failed Newsnight investigation. ... In the circumstances, Helen and Stephen will be stepping aside from their normal roles until the [internal] review reports, and they expect to then return to their positions."

Unsworth added: "This is a tough time for everyone in the organization – in particular for those of us in BBC News. And, of course, for some individuals most of all. Both Helen and Steve are outstanding leaders of BBC News whose experience and ability will be much missed in the coming weeks. Many of you have today shown a great deal of support for them and they wanted me to let you know how grateful they are for that."

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