Trust sets out planned approach for review of BBC's "breadth of opinion"

Date: 10.10.2012     Last updated: 08.12.2014 at 14.47

The Trust has today published the terms of reference and planned approach for its impartiality review of the BBC's breadth of opinion.

Breadth of opinion means reflecting a range of voices and viewpoints in BBC output and the BBC has a unique commitment to it included in its Editorial Guidelines.

The review, which will be led by former broadcasting executive Stuart Prebble, will focus on the BBC's news, current affairs and factual output.

It is the latest in a rolling programme of impartiality reviews looking at different aspects of the BBC's output, in line with the Trust's responsibility set out in the BBC Charter to "do all it can" to ensure the impartiality of the BBC.

Through content analysis, audience research, and submissions from the BBC Executive and interested stakeholders, the review will assess, where appropriate:

  • Whether decisions to include or omit perspectives in news stories and current affairs coverage have been reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied judgement across an appropriate range of output;
  • Whether 'due weight' has been given to a range of perspectives or opinions – for example, views held by a minority should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus;
  • Whether the opinions of audiences who participate through phone-ins or user-generated content have been given appropriate significance, and whether the use of audience views in this way has correctly interpreted the relative weight of opinions of those who have expressed a view on an issue;
  • Whether the BBC has ensured that those who hold minority views are aware they can take part in a debate such as a phone-in.

The content analysis will include an analysis of the BBC's coverage of immigration, religion and the EU, by comparing some coverage from 2007 with coverage from 2012/13.

BBC Trustee and lead Trustee for this review David Liddiment said:

"The BBC's reputation for and commitment to impartiality is part of its DNA. This review will help to ensure it continues to meet audience expectations in this area, looking at how the BBC builds an understanding of breadth of opinion into its approach to its journalism. Part of the review will look at coverage of immigration, religion and the EU – not because we are anticipating a problem there, but because they are subjects on which there are obviously a range of opinions and which will make a valuable contribution to the review."

The review's independent lead author Stuart Prebble said:

"It will be fascinating to examine how the BBC's understanding of its commitment to breadth of opinion has evolved over the last few years, particularly considering the growth of social media and the impact this has had on the way people talk to and about the BBC's coverage of complex news stories. I am looking forward to taking on this important review."

The review follows a 2007 report by John Bridcut, From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, on impartiality across the BBC's output. This concluded that technological and social change had led to a spread of opinion which went beyond the traditional divide of left versus right, and set out principles for the BBC to ensure it continued to achieve impartiality and provide the full breadth of views in its reporting.

Previous impartiality reviews carried out by the Trust have led to developments such as significantly improved and more accurate coverage of the devolved nations on BBC network news and the appointment of a specialist Science Editor for BBC News.

Notes to Editors

1. The Trust's announcement of Stuart Prebble's appointment can be found here. The review was previously referred to as the 'breadth of voice' review.

2. This is the fifth impartiality review carried out by the Trust. Previous impartiality reviews have looked at the BBC's coverage of business (published 2007); network news and current affairs coverage of the UK nations (2008, with a follow-up review published in 2010; science (2011) and the events known as the 'Arab Spring' (2012). More information on the previous reviews can be found here.

3. The BBC's commitment to breadth of opinion is enshrined in its Editorial Guidelines as the necessity to be:

"…inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion. We must be fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts. We must give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument. Breadth and diversity of opinion may require not just a political and cultural range, but, on occasions, reflection of the variations between urban and rural, older and younger, poorer and wealthier, the innovative and the status quo, etc. It may involve exploration of perspectives in different communities, interest groups and geographic areas."

4. The 2007 report by John Bridcut can be found here.