Trust impartiality report: network news and current affairs coverage of the four UK nations

Date: 11.06.2008     Last updated: 24.11.2016 at 10.33

The BBC Trust has today published its impartiality report on the BBC's network news and current affairs coverage of how the UK is governed in its four nations.

The report includes an independent assessment by Professor Anthony King and research from Cardiff University and the market research analysts, BMRB.

In its report, the Trust concludes that the BBC needs to improve the range, clarity and precision of its network news coverage of what is happening in the different UK nations and regions.

Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust said:

"The BBC's reporting of the United Kingdom is – on the face of it – much better than what is provided by other broadcasters. But the resounding message from this review is the BBC is falling short of its own high standards and is not meeting properly its core purpose of helping to inform democracy.

"The problem is not about impartiality, but about clarity, precision and the balance of reporting from around the UK. The good news is that the public have told us that they want to learn about other parts of the UK. This should inspire the BBC to meet this challenge and search for opportunities to make what is happening in different parts of the UK relevant and interesting to all audiences. From now on, those watching or listening to BBC News should consistently be able to learn not just what's happening, but whether it's unique to where they live, and how it compares to what might be happening elsewhere in the UK."

The BMRB research shows that 82% of the UK population are interested in news about other parts of the UK, and 62% think it important to understand the different politics and policies within each nation.

The report highlights the major changes in the governance of the United Kingdom since devolution of power from Westminster began ten years ago and the complexities this has created for reporting public policy. Research from both Cardiff and BMRB shows that the BBC's performance in this area is "consistently superior" to that of other broadcasters. Professor King remarks as "striking" that almost no-one (including politicians) in any of the four nations he met whilst undertaking his review accused the BBC of bias and indeed went out of their way to praise the BBC's impartiality. The Trust welcomes the clear conclusion that BBC network coverage of politics and policy across the UK is impartial.

However, in commissioning this review, the Trust sought to answer whether in recent years the BBC's UK-wide network news, current affairs and factual programming had kept pace with – and responded adequately and appropriately to – the UK's changing political, social economic and cultural architecture. Professor King's conclusion is that the BBC has not.

The BMRB research shows that 37% of people believe that BBC reports are often not relevant to where they live. Analysis of BBC network news and current affairs programmes over a four week period in 2007 by Cardiff University found that 19% of stories involving or relating to devolution to be vague and confusing and of 136 stories about health and education, all 136 dealt with England alone. In its coverage of UK public policies, the majority – 75% of the UK population – do not believe the BBC often makes factual errors, but a sizeable minority – 17% - believe the BBC sometimes does.

Sir Michael Lyons added:

"We know from our wider work that affection for the BBC drops the further people live from London and this is in part because they do not see their lives adequately reflected on the BBC. We are encouraged by the initial response from BBC Management to the findings of this review. They have said clearly that they can do better and that they are determined to get this right. The BBC understands that it has got to work harder to meet the needs of all licence fee payers, not least because the BBC is paid for in equal measure by people wherever they live in the UK."

The Trust is publishing the Management's initial response to the report today, and will do the same once their final action plan is approved in the summer.

The Trust has committed to repeating the research within 18 months to provide a clear assessment of whether performance is improving.

Sir Michael concluded:

"The Trust is very grateful to all members of the Audience Councils who have highlighted concerns in their own Nation and from all parts of England and to the members of the public who have participated in consultations and research which led the Trust to commission this review."


Notes to editors

The following documents are available on the Nations impartiality page:

Report: BBC network news and current affairs coverage of the four UK nations

Including: The Trust's Conclusions

Initial response from BBC Management

Independent assessment by Professor Anthony King

Appendix A: University of Cardiff research

Appendix B: BMRB research

Appendix C: BBC Management submission to the review

Appendix D: A list of individuals and organisations who have made written submissions to the review

Appendix E: List of individuals with whom meetings were held

Appendix F: Terms of Reference