Section 4: Impartiality

Controversial Subjects

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  1. Controversial Subjects and Linking
  2. Government Information


We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter.  However, there are particular requirements for 'controversial subjects', whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport.

A 'controversial subject' may be a matter of public policy or political or industrial controversy.  It may also be a controversy within religion, science, finance, culture, ethics and other matters entirely.



In determining whether subjects are controversial, we should take account of:

  • the level of public and political contention and debate
  • how topical the subjects are
  • sensitivity in terms of relevant audiences' beliefs and culture
  • whether the subjects are matters of intense debate or importance in a particular nation, region or discrete area likely to comprise at least a significant part of the audience
  • a reasonable view on whether the subjects are serious
  • the distinction between matters grounded in fact and those which are a matter of opinion.

Advice on whether subjects are 'controversial' is available from Editorial Policy.



When dealing with 'controversial subjects', we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.

(See Section 4 Impartiality:4.4.2)



Due impartiality normally allows for programmes and other output to explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed.  When dealing with 'controversial subjects' this should be clearly signposted, should acknowledge that a range of views exists and the weight of those views, and should not misrepresent them.

Consideration should be given to the appropriate timeframe for reflecting other perspectives and whether or not they need to be included in connected and signposted output.

If such output contains serious allegations, a right of reply may be required, either as part of the same output, or in a connected and clearly signposted alternative.

(See Section 4 Impartiality: 4.4.25 - 4.4.28 and Section 6 Fairness, Contributors and Consent: 6.4.25 - 6.4.28)



In addition, we must take particular care and achieve due impartiality when a 'controversial subject' may be considered to be a major matter.  'Major matters' are usually matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy that are of national or international importance, or of a similar significance within a smaller coverage area.  When dealing with 'major matters', or when the issues involved are highly controversial and/or a decisive moment in the controversy is expected, it will normally be necessary to ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views are reflected in a clearly linked 'series of programmes', a single programme or sometimes even a single item.

(See Section 4 Impartiality: 4.4.25 - 4.4.28)


Controversial Subjects and Linking


Where BBC online sites covering 'controversial subjects' offer links to external sites, we should ensure that the information on those external sites, taken together, represents a reasonable range of views about the subject.  We should normally try to ensure the external sites do not give strong grounds for concern that they breach the law or the BBC Editorial Guidelines on harm and offence.

(See Section 14 Editorial Integrity and Independence from External Interests 14.4.19 - 14.4.20)

(See Guidance: Links and Feeds)


Government Information


Any approach by a government department to relay official messages or information films which involve a degree of public policy or political controversy must be referred to Chief Adviser Politics.


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