Trust to examine BBC’s reporting of statistics for latest impartiality review

Date: 11.06.2015     Last updated: 22.08.2016 at 11.57

Note: the final report was published on 10 August 2016.

How the BBC reports statistics in its news and current affairs programming will be the subject of the BBC Trust’s next impartiality review, the Trust announced today.

The review will look at whether the BBC is providing audiences with impartial reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs programming across network radio, television, online and selected output in the Nations.

An independent panel will oversee the review chaired by former UK National Statistician Dame Jil Matheson. Paul Johnson, the current Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, will also be on the panel and one further panellist will be announced shortly.

The review will assess whether the BBC is giving audiences sufficient context, challenge and critical analysis when presenting statistics to allow them to have an informed understanding of controversial subjects and areas of public policy.

This will be the seventh impartiality review undertaken by the Trust and is in line with its commitment to do all it can to ensure that the BBC is accurate and impartial in all the content that it produces.

Audience research and content analysis will be commissioned by the Trust and used by the panel in reaching their final conclusions. 

BBC Trustee Richard Ayre said:

"Stats can illuminate issues and aid understanding but, used selectively by people to promote their own view, they can easily mislead. The Trust wants to be sure the BBC shows the expertise to scrutinise and report statistics fairly to inform public debate."

Dame Jil Matheson said:

“I am delighted to be chairing this important review. Statistics can enrich democratic debate and public policy but used without care they can also confuse. Reviews like this are vital to ensure that the BBC is providing audiences with reporting they can trust.”

The full terms of reference can be found here:

Impartiality review of BBC reporting of statistics - terms of reference (PDF file, 129KB)

The review is expected to be published in summer 2016.

*On 24 July 2015 the Trust announced that Sir Peter Stothard had been appointed as the third and final panellist for the review, and Sir David Spiegelhalter will support the independent panel as an Advisor.

Notes to Editors

  1. Previous impartiality reviews the BBC Trust has conducted include the BBC’s of coverage of rural areas in the UK (2014); the BBC’s coverage of business (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). Information about previous impartiality reviews can be found here.
  2. Impartiality reviews do not assess the quality or performance of BBC content or consider market impact.
  3. Dame Jil Matheson was appointed UK National Statistician, Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority in 2009. This included executive responsibility for the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS). She retired in September 2014. In 2004 Jil was appointed Director of Census, Demographic and Regional Statistics, and in 2008 became Director General for Statistics Delivery at ONS. In 2010, she was asked by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to lead a high profile programme of work to develop new measures of national well-being. From 2012 until her retirement, Jil was Chair of the OECD’s Committee on Statistics and Statistical Policy, and in 2014 was elected Chair of the UN Statistical Commission. Jil was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath (DCB) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to government statistics.
  4. Paul Johnson has been Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) since January 2011. He is also currently visiting professor in the department of economics at University College London. In previous roles Paul has worked in HM Treasury, at the department for Education and in consultancy. Between 2004 and 2007 he was deputy head of the Government Economic Service.
  5. The BBC publishes annual research on public perceptions of the impartiality and trustworthiness of the BBC.  The research from 2014 can be found here.