BBC should reflect more 'extreme' views

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BBC Broadcasting House
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BBC coverage of immigration, religion and the European Union was examined

A review into impartiality in BBC news reporting has suggested the broadcaster should find ways to report more "extreme" opinions.

The report, commissioned by the BBC Trust, examined how the corporation reflects views from across the UK.

It found the BBC had been "slow" to catch up with public opinion on areas such as immigration and the EU.

But former ITV chief Stuart Prebble, who led the review, praised the BBC for an "impressive breadth of opinion".

"I have been impressed by the commitment of the BBC's journalists to ensuring that they bring a diversity of voices and viewpoints on a wide range of news stories to audiences across the country," he said.

The report found that too much weight is given to the views of politicians and the BBC should find ways to report more "contentious" views from people outside Parliament, which would reflect wider public opinion.

Mr Prebble said it was clear "the BBC cannot afford to rest on its laurels and it should ensure it does all it can to keep up with the ebb and flow of public opinion, which means avoiding over-reliance on Westminster voices, making efforts to find new voices even if they are contentious, and challenging their own assumptions on the accepted consensus."

The report suggested that the audience of Question Time should be chosen from a wider group, rather than just BBC viewers.

Reporting religion

BBC coverage of immigration, religion and the European Union between 2007 and 2012 was examined as part of the study.

On reporting religion, if found there were some gaps in knowledge among some generalist reporters

Mr Prebble said the BBC had not fully reflected concerns about immigration's effect on Britain saying coverage was too often "dry and clinical".

He put this down to an over reliance on interviewing politicians, many of whom were reluctant to address the issue.

Mr Prebble's investigation picked up from a 2007 report by John Bridcut, which set out 12 "guiding principles" aimed at protecting against biased reporting and ensuring impartiality.

Mr Bridcut's report found that technological and social change had led to a wider range of opinion in society than the traditional right and left wing views.

BBC Trustee David Liddiment said: "Our impartiality reviews are an important inducement for the Executive to question itself, in this case on its breadth of opinion, to ensure it is doing all it can to achieve what licence fee payers expect and that it is constantly alert to changing public opinion.

"We deliberately chose some complex and controversial subject areas for the review in immigration, religion, and the EU, and our generally positive findings are testament to programme-makers across the corporation.

"It is clear that there is more to do and we will look to the Executive to deliver on this." he added.

The BBC executive team has set out a series of actions in response to the report's findings, including:

  • The appointment of "story champions" for important and long-running news stories aimed at creating more space for editors to consider whether all relevant opinions have been included
  • Ensuring that audience views gathered by the BBC's audience response team are more widely and systematically shared across the corporation
  • Cross-promoting a wider range of BBC services
  • The creation of a pan-BBC forum on religion and ethics

Mr Prebble's review is the fifth report examining impartiality commissioned by the BBC Trust. Previous reports have focused on business, science, coverage of UK nations and the Arab spring.

In a statement, the BBC said it was "pleased" its news coverage was found to be "remarkable" and "impressive", adding that it set out "interesting insights".

"Stuart Prebble has concluded, overall, that our coverage of immigration is 'broad and impressive', that on the EU we offer 'a wide and comprehensive range of information and viewpoints' and that the BBC's coverage of religion is 'comprehensive and impressive'.

"He also states that the overwhelming number of journalists within the BBC leave their personal politics at home.

"We agree it is always vital to guard against unconscious bias or 'group think' and will continue to do so and we've committed to a number of actions to improve our coverage even further."

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