BBC network news coverage of the devolved nations has improved since 2008 but the challenges posed by devolution remain

Date: 24.11.2016     Last updated: 24.11.2016 at 11.08

The BBC Trust has today published new research from Cardiff University which confirms that the BBC’s network coverage of news from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales has made progress since an initial study undertaken in 2008.

The original 2008 review, which also included content analysis from Cardiff University, was commissioned to look at the stories BBC network news devoted to the devolved nations, how clear the reporting was and at the depth of the coverage. In that report the Trust concluded that the BBC needed to improve the range, clarity and precision of its network news coverage of what is happening in the different UK nations and regions.

A follow-up to the initial review by the Trust was published in 2010 and found significant improvements but that some BBC news items were still not making it clear which part of the UK they referred to.   

Cardiff University’s 2015 and 2016 research, published today, is the final research commissioned by the Trust to look at this area. Similar to the earlier studies, it analysed BBC news coverage on TV and Radio along with non-BBC news coverage over a four week period in October and November 2015 and then a snap shot follow up in a two-week period in early 2016. It also looked at the News at Ten on BBC One and Radio 4’s Today programme over a six-week period in 2016.

The 2015 and 2016 reports show that BBC network news tends to report areas of devolved responsibility as they pertain to England. In the great majority of cases (78%) it is made clear that such stories apply to England only (or in some instances to England and Wales) and this shows a big improvement in recent years and puts the BBC well ahead of other broadcasters.

The research also showed that overall since 2007 there has been an increase in the extent of BBC network news coverage of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Stories from England are still more likely to dominate network bulletins but the BBC’s level of network coverage of the devolved nations was shown to be well above that of other broadcasters.

The Trust recognises that each of these sample periods represents a snapshot and is absolutely clear that news programmes must be based on editorial judgements which must never be subject to quotas or targets.

The Trust does however expect BBC editors to keep at the forefront of their minds the proper expectation of audiences in each of the four Nations to see and hear their own key events and concerns shared at network level.

The BBC promises in its response to today's Trust publications that it will continue to give high priority to reporting the news from across the UK. It has also outlined improvements already made in its coverage, such as the introduction of a 'Nations news belt' on the News at Six and the appointment of a Scotland Editor. The Heads of News from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also now attend the daily 9AM network news conference and the weekly news planning meeting via video conference.

BBC Trustee and Chair of the Editorial Standards Committee Richard Ayre said:

"Over the past eight years the BBC Trust has repeatedly emphasised the BBC’s special responsibility to represent and reflect the whole of the UK.  We are pleased that the new Royal Charter reinforces this commitment. 

"The Trust’s monitoring of the BBC’s network journalism during this time has shown some substantial improvements, but devolution rolls on apace – this year alone Parliament at Westminster has agreed to a further transfer of powers to Scotland and is debating greater powers for Wales  – and this represents a growing challenge to UK-wide broadcasters.

"Next year it will be essential for the new BBC Board to continue our work and ensure that UK audiences receive BBC news services that best deliver information about, and understanding between, the four home Nations."