BBC News


Newsreader: The Queen has been meeting stars
from the world of culture and entertainment
tonight. She’s at the Royal Academy of Arts
to give Diamond Jubilee awards to exceptional
up-and-coming artists. Sir Paul McCartney,
David Hockney and Joan Collins are among the
guests, and our arts editor, Will Gompertz,
was there.
Will Gompertz: The great, the good and the
glamorous of the arts arrived in London at
the Royal Academy of the Arts for a party
to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Dame Judi Dench, Actress: It’s a great occasion.
It’s a great year of celebration and, um,
it’s lovely to be part of it all.
Gompertz: Some of those attending once rocked
the establishment but are now pillars of the
community.
Dame Vivienne Westwood, Fashion designer:
My viewpoint is 180 degrees opposed to what
it was. But I think she’s absolutely great
– the Queen. At one time it was like – you
too can be a punk – because we put a safety
pin in her mouth, but we’re much more respectful
now.
Gompertz: Her majesty was the guest of honour.
Once inside, she mingled To give you a sense
of the breadth and depth of talent) gathered
here tonight, think about the reign of another
queen – Queen Victoria – and who she might
have assembled:
Hardy, Dickens, Turner, the Bronte sisters,
Oscar Wilde – quite a crowd. Well, the 2012
school is pretty impressive, too. There’s
composers, designers, actors and writers.
Alan Bennett, Playwright: There’re all sorts
of people who, er, you’re just very happy
to see. I don’t like parties, so, er, I’m
rather surprised at my reaction. But anyway,
it’s a very good party.
Gompertz: So what is it that gives Britain
this artistic edge?
Charlotte Rampling, Actress: There’s a vitality
and a, a movement that, that, that clashes,
that creates, that, that annoys, that destabilises,
that does things, that, maybe, maybe it will
become something, or maybe it won’t, but
at least it’s moving.
Gompertz: One of the highlights of the evening
was an official photograph of over 20 dames
from the world of arts and entertainment.
Dame Shirley Bassey, Singer: The most extraordinary
was the group picture of the dames. Her Majesty’s
dames of the realm. And then I felt like,
oh, one of the family.
Gompertz: The Queen has been patron of the
Royal Academies of Art, Music, Drama and Dance
for 60 years. Tonight was their chance to
say thank you. Will Gompertz, BBC News.
Newsreader: Now, their pride in their own
cuisine is world-renowned and their disdain
for UK grub has been equally well documented.
But now, it seems French opinion is changing.
Out go the Brie and the Chardonnay, and now
British cheese and wine is firmly on the Parisian
shopping list, as food exports to France have
doubled in ten years. Our Paris correspondent,
Christian Fraser, has been taking the taste
test.
Christian Fraser: If you’re serving traditional
British fare in the gourmet capital of the
world, you’d better be good at it. The Rose
Bakery has proved so successful there are
now three of these cafes in Paris, drawing
the lunch crowd towards the best of British.
Man: We serve bacon and eggs, salmon, scrambled
eggs, egg Benedict. People were a bit dubious
but very quick, people understood that we
were really talking about quality. . . and
quality – it’s the same language all over
the world.
Fraser: Britain has been through a food revolution
and the French are beginning to sit up and
notice. At today’s food fair in Paris, it
was the high value, premium products in demand,
which France finds surprisingly good. The
former French President, Jacques Chirac, once
said of the UK,“ You can’t trust a country
with such bad food”. Well, the French have
grown an appetite. These days they even buy
our cheese – that’s right. Stilton and
Cheddar in the land of Roquefort and Camembert.
Since 2001 British food exports to France
have doubled. Last year the French bought
half a billion pounds worth of whisky. Cheese
sales have soared from 19 to 68 million pounds,
and after the disaster of BSE British meat
is welcome again. Last year 59 million pounds
worth of beef and veal crossed the channel.
Spokesperson: I can’t necessarily translate
it directly into jobs, but we do know that
the food and drinks sector is the largest
employer in the UK and that economy is . . . that
particular industry is growing, so, it’s
making a major contribution to reducing unemployment
in the country.
Fraser: One of the flag carriers for British
food is Marks & Spencer – quintessentially
British – and after their hurried departure
in 2001 they’re back in France, last week
opening their second store in a year.
Female shopper 1: Well, I like the, the sliced
ham. I like the Christmas cake. Now I see
that they’ve got some and I’m sending
a photo to my mum.
Female shopper 2: And then the little cakes
you have. Mmm . . . I love to . . . I love
it.
Fraser: “Simply Food” – it’s the M
& S slogan, but these days that’s the ethos
for many a British producer. Good quality,
good value and on recent evidence – good
enough for the ever fastidious French. Christian
Fraser, BBC News, Paris.
Newsreader: A Christian man who was demoted
and had his pay cut for posting his opposition
to gay marriage on Facebook has successfully
sued his employers. The High Court in London
ruled that Trafford Housing Trust had breached
its contract with Adrian Smith, as June Kelly
reports.
June Kelly: On social networking sites what
is public and what is private? When Adrian
Smith went on Facebook and shared his thoughts
on gay marriage in church, it was a posting
which was intended only for his friends. He
described it as “an equality too far”.
And he went on, “I don’t understand why
people who have no faith and don’t believe
in Christ want to get hitched in a church
. . .”, “the Bible is quite specific that
marriage is for men and women . . .”. Today
the courts ruled that his employers were wrong
to demote him for this. It was the Christian
Institute, who supported Adrian Smith, who
spoke for him.
Spokesperson, Christian Institute: “Something
has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain where
an honest man like me can be punished for
making perfectly polite remarks about the
importance of marriage.”
Kelly: Adrian Smith’s employers are Trafford
Housing Trust. After nearly 20 years with
them he
was demoted from manager to rent collector,
and his salary was cut by 40 per cent. In
a statement apologising, Trafford Housing
Trust said, “This case has highlighted the
challenges that businesses face with the increased
use of social media, and we have reviewed
our documentation and procedures to avoid
a similar situation arising in the future.”
So, once again the law is being tested in
relation to social networking sites. Sites
like Facebook and Twitter are becoming an
integral part of the modern legal landscape.
Amongst those on Adrian Smith’s side, gay
rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell.
Peter Tatchell: Free speech should only be
limited in the most extreme circumstances
such as when a person incites violence against
other human beings. That is not what Adrian
Smith did. He made his opinions clear in a
calm and reasoned manner.
Kelly: There has been no response yet from
Adrian Smith’s employers as to whether he
can have his old job back. June Kelly, BBC
News, at the High Court.
Newsreader: Work begins today on a new visitor
centre at Stonehenge, one of the UK’s most
popular tourist attractions. At the moment
visitors can park nearby and walk to the site.
But the new plan would see a nearby road closed
completely and a new centre built a mile and
a half away, which will tell the story of
the stone circle. Louise Hubball is there.
Louise.
Louise Hubball: Sian, more than a million
visitors come here every year. It’s a World
Heritage Site. But the criticism is the facilities
are far from world class. It’s one of the
world’s most instantly recognisable landmarks.
And for over 5,000 years the mystery of this
stone circle has drawn visitors in. But for
tourists today their experience begins here
– straight off a busy road and into basic
facilities. And once you’re at the site,
the A344 slices straight through what was
the ancient ceremonial route up to the stones.
Female tourist 1: Yes, very, er, surprised
at how close the roads are.
Male tourist: But at the end of the day people
do need, people do need access to the site.
But, um, I think the road noise maybe is a
bit detrimental to, to the, er, experience
of the site perhaps.
Female tourist 2: This has been here for a
long time. Why does it, why does it take as
long as 30 or 40 years to do something about
it?
Hubball: And so, English Heritage is unveiling
plans to turn back time – to close the road
to traffic and return the monument to a more
serene landscape. The question is why has
it taken so long? Change was promised in the
1980s when Stonehenge became a World Heritage
Site.
Spokesperson, English Heritage: The commitment
was made by the government then, um, to improve
the, this, the presentation and the setting
of Stonehenge. And yes, it has taken a long
time, but we have finally got there.
Hubball: And with these plans visitors for
generations to come can enjoy a mystical atmosphere,
without so many passing cars. Work will begin
here shortly and it’s expected to be completed
by the summer of 2014. And English Heritage
are hoping that any disruption will be outweighed
by the future benefits.
Newsreader: Muslims in European countries
who openly show their faith suffer widespread
discrimination according to Amnesty International.
In particular, it says Muslims face exclusion
from jobs and education for wearing traditional
forms of dress. The report comes just two
days after the French far right, which campaigns
against immigration, enjoyed record support
in the presidential election. Our special
correspondent, Razia Iqbal, reports now from
Paris.
Razia Iqbal: Like the majority of Europeans,
the day-to-day concerns of France’s six
million Muslims are to do with making ends
meet. That, though, is harder if you don’t
have a job. A major report from Amnesty International
on Muslims highlights discrimination in employment,
which it says is particularly bad for Muslim
women. Chamus Larisse is a nurse. She says
since deciding to wear a headscarf, or hijab
, she only gets daily contract work. It’s
against French law to wear religious symbols
in state institutions, so when at work she
covers her head with a bandana.
Chamus Larisse: I’m not seen as fully French
as I am referred to my origins. And since
I wear the headscarf, the, the feeling has
grown. It is unfair and I feel to be a second-class
citizen.
Iqbal: This woman works for a private company,
which means she’s legally allowed to wear
the headscarf. She wants to remain anonymous
because she’s fighting the discrimination
she says she experiences.
Woman: I’m here like any French citizen,
so I don’t have to change my name and I
don’t have to change my religion and I don’t
have no . . . I’m French, we are here and
we will stay here. We don’t have to accept
this injustice.
Iqbal: The popularity of the far right has
transformed the political landscape. What
it means to be French and how minorities are
affected is now a central debate. If being
a Muslim means you are less likely to get
a job or progress in your career if you have
one, then it is in these places – the mainly
Muslim banlieue of France’s cities – where
it is felt the most. The state acknowledges
that social deprivation and poor education
can make an impact on job prospects, but France’s
secular constitution rejects discrimination
on the grounds of religious belief.
Professor Gilles Kepel, French political scientist:
I do not think that the fact that they do
not have access to the job market is linked
to their religious faith because you have
this in, er, you know, people, who are from
French stock, if I may say so, and, er, who
live in semi-rural areas and who complain
from the same things or people who are, er,
from Caribbean descent and who are not Muslims.
Iqbal: France prides itself on its secular
ideals but Amnesty’s report underlines a
challenge facing whoever becomes the President.
Razia Iqbal, BBC News, Paris.
Newsreader: Now, earlier this month Fifty
Shades of Grey became the best selling book
in British history. Its publishers claim the
erotic novel has sold over five million copies.
That’s even more than The Highway Code . Although
it might seem that sales are thriving, writers
have gathered at the Edinburgh International
Book Festival to discuss their concerns about
the future of the novel. Our arts editor,
Will Gompertz, reports.
Will Gompertz: Books, books, everywhere and
plenty of time to think. The traditional reading
experience. And then there’s this more contemporary
approach – Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse
being turned into a multimedia, interactive,
immersive journey where the written word is
just one element of the storytelling. This
sort of technological embellishment is proving
popular, but does it mark the end of the novel
as we’ve known it?
Gompertz: Writers from around the world have
gathered here at the Edinburgh International
Book Festival to discuss the future of the
novel, to debate whether the book, which has
been popular throughout the 19th and 20th
centuries, has grown stale and is therefore
no longer the best way to tell stories. Ben
Okri, the Booker Prize winning novelist, was
among the delegates at the writers’ conference.
He, for one, is optimistic about the future
of his craft.
Ben Okri, Novelist: The novel is tremendously
adaptive. It’s, it’s, it will bend and
shape itself to whatever form there is that
accommodates its extensiveness. There will
be a lingering love, um, an abiding marriage
with, with the book. It has in its own way
become deeply ingrained in, in, in the human
psyche.
Gompertz: The sales of novels have been increasing
over the last decade. The drop in 2011 to
67 million being attributed largely to e-book
purchases, which are not published. The issue
though for many novelists is that, except
for best selling well-known authors, such
as David Nicholls, it is becoming increasingly
difficult to make a living from writing as
the market fragments and retailers take fewer
risks. And then there is the issue of readers
becoming authors – most dramatically illustrated
by the extraordinary success of E. L. James’
Fifty Shades of Grey – a book that started
life on a website for amateur writers responding
to their favourite novels.
Ewan Morrison, Novelist: What happens when
the reader becomes a writer is, is you end
up with, with an entire industry that’s,
that’s based on what fans like already.
We’re not having any new ideas, generating
any new content and that was really what we
needed novelists to do in the first place.
Gompertz: There was general agreement at Edinburgh
that the novel does have a future, but then
nobody quite knew what it was going to be
and who would be part of it. I guess that
is another story. Will Gompertz, BBC News,
Edinburgh.
Newsreader: Now, are you wondering where to
visit on your next holiday? Well, how about
sampling the delights of Londonderry? Well,
the Northern Ireland city has been named by
Lonely Planet as one of the world’s best
cities to visit next year, close behind San
Francisco and Amsterdam. Mark Simpson reports
from Derry on why it’s become such a must-see
destination.
Mark Simpson: It may be a small city on the
edge of Europe, but it looks like Derry is
going global. The Lonely Planet guide says
it’s one of the places to visit next year.
It used to be one of the cities to avoid.
During 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland,
Derry was scarred by death and destruction,
but rather than being known for terrorism,
there’s now an upsurge in tourism and even
a recommendation from an international travel
guide.
Sinead McLaughlin, Londonderry Chamber of
Commerce: We’re just absolutely delighted
with the news. It’s jus‘t wow’ that
Derry, Londonderry, is one of the four top
cities in 2013 to visit in the planet. We’re
over the moon.
Simpson: Derry recently won the race to become
the UK City of Culture for 2013. There were
visitors in the city today from England and
Germany. So what did they think?
Tourist 1: It’s a tough city on the outside.
People seem to be rough, you know when you,
when you talk to them first, because it’s
a tough accent, people are a little grim at
first, but when you talk to them, it’s . . . they
make you feel at home immediately.
Tourist 2: It’s truly remarkable. It is
so beautiful. I’ve loved being here. Er,
it’s history. Er, it presents itself all
around you. And it’s, er, it’s quite remarkable
to be here.
Simpson: In the travel guide top ten, Derry
finished behind San Francisco but above the
likes of Beijing and Montreal. It is a city
steeped in history – so much so that some
people might call i‘t legendary’. Mark
Simpson, BBC News, Derry.
Newsreader: Now the short-haired bumblebee,
which scientists thought had become extinct
when the species vanished from the UK more
than 20 years ago, is back. At a wildlife
reserve in Kent conservationists are releasing
bees that have been brought over from Scandinavia.
Our science reporter, Rebecca Morelle, reports.
Rebecca Morelle: Lost to the UK for a quarter
of a century – the short-haired bumblebee.
But today it’s making a comeback. At this
wildlife reserve, these queen bees are being
released so this species can flourish once
more. But it’s taken a lot of work to get
here. Last month, British conservationists
set out on a mission to Sweden where the species
is thriving. They collected dozens of bees
to start a new colony back home. For the last
two weeks they’ve been held here at this
lab at Royal Holloway in Surrey. These precious
bees were kept under the strictest quarantine
to make sure they were 100 per cent healthy
before being set free.
Dr Nikki Gammans, Ecologist: It’s a really
exciting new scientific procedure – something
that hasn’t been attempted before with bumblebees.
Obviously we’ve reintroduced the large blue,
the red kite, um, which have really had tremendous
success and they were all brought over from
Scandinavia, but it’s very exciting for
this bee species to get a second chance.
Morelle: Intensive farming and declines in
wildflowers were to blame for the loss of
the bees but conservationists don’t want
to make the same mistake again. Here in Dungeness,
they’ve spent the last three years preparing
this land for the bumblebees’ return.
Mike Randall, RSPB Dungeness Reserve: The
most important thing we’ve had to do to
get this ready for the bees are encourage
wildflowers, er, especially things like clovers
and vetches. Er, so the first thing we did
is we collected locally grown clover seed
and we spread it across the grasslands. When
you come here already on, er, still days,
this is just buzzing with bees and we’re
hoping that the short-haired bumblebee will
join that group as well.
Morelle: Fifty queen bees like this one are
being released here in Dungeness today. The
hope is that they’ll start new nests. Over
recent years many bee species around the country
have been in serious decline. The hope is
the success of this project could mark a turning
point in the plight of the bumblebee. Rebecca
Morelle, BBC News, Dungeness.
Newsreader: The government is planning changes
to the test taken by foreign nationals who
wish to become British citizens. The revised
version will require greater knowledge
of British achievements and history, testing
candidates on figures such as William
Shakespeare and the Duke of Wellington. Ben
Geoghegan has more details.
Ben Geoghegan: Sultana Razia came to the UK
from Bangladesh five years ago. She’s been
allowed to stay but to become a British citizen
she needs to pass a test about life in the
UK. She’s already had one go but her first
attempt was unsuccessful.
Sultana Razia: If you want to live here, you
have to know all the informations, all the,
um,
rules and the way of living here, the way
of . . . the, the culture here. It’s important.
It’s hard – quite hard – but it’s
important.
Geoghegan: This is the handbook to life in
the UK which people who want to in this country
can be asked to learn. There are sections
on British history as well as human rights
and there’s advice too on claiming some
benefits. The government wants to change this,
though, so there’s more focus on British
culture and on people’s responsibilities.
Alp Mehmet, Vice Chairman of the Migration
Watch Think Tank: People are almost encouraged
to see what they can get out of the country
rather than what they can contribute. Now,
I think that the emphasis – moving towards,
really, people having an understanding of
the country that they are joining effectively,
that they’re becoming citizens of – is
absolutely right.
Geoghegan: The new guide will include key
figures and events from British history like
Shakespeare, the Battle of Trafalgar and Florence
Nightingale. In this jubilee year we’ve
heard a lot of the national anthem. In future,
people could be tested on the words of the
first verse. Habib Mirza runs citizenship
courses in east London. He says that’s an
idea which may not go down well in some communities.
Habib Mirza: Bearing in mind the vast majority
of people are bound to be someone who may
not be from a Christian background, in which
case for them it might be against their religious
beliefs, it could be against their personal
beliefs so, the national anthem itself, I
think, is a little bit too . . . um, maybe
biased or unfair to these people.
Geoghegan: The government hopes its new guide
will help migrants become better citizens.
Critics say the changes will put up unnecessary
barriers for people who want to live in the
UK. Ben Geoghegan, BBC News.
Newsreader: Parking at work will come at a
price in Nottingham from this weekend when
it becomes the first city in the UK to introduce
a charge for companies with more than ten
parking spaces. Businesses argue that the
288 pound payment is an unfair tax on jobs.
But the city council says it’ll invest the
money to cut congestion.
Anthony Bartram: Tackling congestion’s an
expensive business. Workers in Nottingham
can testify to that when it becomes the UK’s
first city to charge people to park at work.
Print 4 will foot the 5,000 pound bill for
its 19 spaces and its 30 staff.
Robin Ringham, Founder, Print 4: In this current
climate, 5,000 pounds represents a significant
amount of turnover and we, we would have to,
er, get at least another 150,000 pounds worth
of business to stand still.
Bartram: Nottingham City Council says it’s
up to employers how they implement the levy.
Its staff will have to pay one pound twenty-five
to two fifty a day depending on how much they
earn. Business leaders fear the workplace
parking levy will drive out investment, but
council leaders say its 14 million pounds
a year contribution to expand Nottingham’s
tram network is a vital investment for the
future.
Jane Urquhart, Nottingham City Council: What
we know is that investment in infrastructure
like two more lines of a tram is one of the
highest priorities that business have for
our local economy.
Bartram: April Fool’s may be day one for
Nottingham’s workplace parking levy but
more than half a dozen other cities are now
seriously considering it, too. Anthony Bartram,
BBC News.
Newsreader: Very
good evening from Edinburgh, where David Cameron
and Alex Salmond have approved plans for a
referendum on Scottish independence. It will
take place before the end of 2014 and will
ask voters to answer a single question. It’s
a straight yes or no. The deal also allows
16 and 17 year olds to take part in the ballot.
The Prime Minister and First Minister both
promise to respect the final result – a
result that could bring far-reaching consequences
for the rest of the United Kingdom, as our
political editor, Nick Robinson, reports.
Nick Robinson: Does today mark a new dawn
for Scotland – the day when this country
took a first important step towards independence?
Or, just the start of a long political battle,
which may change nothing? One man claims to
be in no doubt. Alex Salmond thinks fellow
Scots have nothing to fear from voting to
go it alone.
Alex Salmond: What a beautiful day! Now we’re
not scared.
Robinson: But David Cameron believes Scots
have plenty to be scared about. He came to
Rosyth to stand on top of a non-too subtle
symbol – a new aircraft carrier being built
for the Royal Navy, in a Scottish dockyard.
David Cameron: This is a success story that
the whole of the United Kingdom can take great
pride in.
Robinson: The one thing they do agree on is
the need for a vote which everyone on all
sides can respect. David Cameron and Alex
Salmond meet today as two leaders in one United
Kingdom. They both know they could in future
meet as leaders of two foreign nations. It
is the voters of Scotland who’ll decide,
thanks to an agreement which transfers the
legal power to hold a referendum from the
parliament in Westminster to the parliament
in Edinburgh. The two men have agreed on a
simple yes/no vote on independence. No other
question will be asked. And they’ve agreed
that it must be held before December 2014.
Scotland’s First Minister believes we’re
witnessing history in the making.
Salmond: And it paves the way of course for,
er, the most important decision that our country
of
Scotland has made in several hundred years.
Robinson: It’s a decision with major implications
for the people of Accrington as well as Aberdeen,
Cardiff as well as Cowdenbeath.
Robinson: This is the year in which Andy Murray
and Chris Hoy wrapped themselves up in the
Union Jack. Why do you want to rip it up?
Salmond: Well, I don’t want to rip anything
up. We’re not in the business of ripping
things up. We’re in the business of developing
a new relationship between the peoples of
these islands. I think a more beneficial and
independent, equal relationship. That’s
what we’re trying to build.
Robinson: People will not be able to vote
for what many say they want – more powers
for Scotland while staying within the UK.
Newsreader: Now, there’s been a significant
drop in the number of UK students applying
to start university this autumn. Overall it’s
fallen by nearly 9 per cent. That’s according
to UCAS – the organisation which manages
admissions. The drop is highest in England,
where tuition fees are due to reach up to
9,000 pounds this autumn. Well, here with
the details is our education correspondent,
Reeta Chakrabarti. Is there a link between
the higher fees and the number of applications,
Reeta?
Reeta Chakrabarti: Very good question, George.
Well, the overall figure has certainly dropped
sharply, but as with all statistics, there
are different interpretations as to the causes.
These figures are the first batch since changes
to tuition fees and they’ve gone from more
than 500,000 UK students applying last year
to just over 460,000 this year – that’s
a drop of 8.7 per cent.
Chakrabarti: Here at the University of the
West of England, numbers are down by over
13 per cent, although they are offering fewer
courses than last year, and most popular are
courses likely to lead to a job.
Professor Steve West, University of the West
of England: Engineering is up, er, the vocationally
orientated programmes are up. So it seems
to be the arts that we’re, er, struggling
with.
Chakrabarti: Across the UK there’s a marked
falling off in the number of mature students
applying. But ministers are heartened at the
figures for 18 year olds in England, which
have only gone down slightly when you take
a demographic dip in their numbers into account.
It’s proof they say that teenagers have
understood they don’t pay back their tuition
fee loans until they’re in employment.
David Willetts MP: You take a big decision
in your life aged 18, when you’re leaving
school or university, and we have concentrated
our effort in the past year in explaining
the facts of the system to young people, and
as we’ve only had a 1 per cent fall in the
application rate amongst them, that shows
that the message has got across and young
people understand they don’t have to pay
up front to go to university.
Chakrabarti: What’s fascinating is looking
at the national variations because devolution
has meant students from different nations
face different fee levels. So the number of
applicants from England, where tuition fees
could reach 9,000 pounds, has gone down by
9.9 per cent compared to last year. The number
from Northern Ireland is down 4.4 per cent.
In Wales, where Welsh students are subsidised,
that figure is down 1.9 per cent. In Scotland,
where Scottish students pay no tuition fees,
it’s down just 1.5 per cent.
Chakrabarti: Here at Edinburgh University,
unsurprisingly, the application figures are
up – most prominently from within Scotland
itself – up by 14 per cent.
Professor Nigel Brown, University of Edinburgh:
Well, I think part of it is the, um, er, the
fact that Scottish students can study in Scotland,
um, er, with no, er, large fee and, er, in
the UK they would – the rest of the UK – they
would have to, er, eventually, pay 9,000 pounds
a year for their education.
Newsreader: Scientists have unveiled a new
technique for decoding human brain waves and
then converting them into speech. The technique
may one day make it possible to communicate
with patients who are unable to talk. Our
medical correspondent, Fergus. What is it?
It sounds like a case of reading the mind,
Fergus.
Fergus Walsh: Well, they are reading brain
waves, George. But this is not about stealing
our private thoughts. Let me explain. When
we hear speech, the sound waves entering our
ears are converted into electrical impulses
which are sent to the brain. Now the part
of the brain crucial in processing speech
and sound is here – the superior temporal
gyrus. Now, the team took 15 patients having
brain surgery for which they needed to be
awake and attached electrodes directly onto
this area. They then asked them to listen
to a series of words. Their brain waves were
recorded and then converted in a computer
back into sound. Let’s listen to some of
the words, starting with Waldo. Each time
you’ll hear what the patients heard, followed
by the computer reconstruction of their brain
waves.“Waldo . . . Doubt . . . Town . . .”Well,
they’re pretty hard to decipher but nonetheless
have got scientists very excited.
Professor Sophie Scott: This here is, um,
primary auditory cortex . . .
Walsh: Professor Sophie Scott from University
College London said the researchers in California
had not actually captured people’s secret
thoughts but had rebuilt words that their
brains were processing.
Professor Sophie Scott: I think it’s really
striking that you could go from electrical
patterns
of activity recorded from the surface of someone’s
brain into getting some insight into what
that person is experiencing, and to be able
to gain a lot of information about the speech
they’re hearing simply by looking at what
neural activity is going on in the brain.
It is really quite dramatic and very exciting.
Walsh: Researchers hope it will be possible
one day to create a device – a computer
brain interface – which could allow patients
who can’t speak – say, following a stroke,
or motor neuron disease or those with locked-in
syndrome – to communicate in real time.
Walsh: So let’s be clear. This is not about
mind reading or stealing people’s thoughts
but it’s still
impressive research that might in the long
term) help a scientist develop techniques
to communicate with patients unable to speak.
George.
Newsreader: Fergus, thank you.

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