BBC CoJo: Evan explains impartiality

Allow me to explain...

Allow me to explain...

Strong ears, a voice of casual authority, the undisputed master of explaining complicated things to radio 4 listeners, (unless Robert Peston’s on the line).  If you like Evan Davis, you’ll LOVE this.

Evan Davis on Impartiality


A Conservative government -bad news for impartiality?

Now, I’m going to try to be impartial here. With the obvious exception of being unable to resist the above picture. Deep breath.

One thing all UK journalists need to think about when they vote in May is the future of impartiality. There is fear among BBC Journalists that a conservative government would be in debt to News Corporation, and therefore open the door to profit driven news, à la Fox.

In August 2009, James Murdoch told the Edinburgh Television Festival that he’d had enough of the ‘chilling’ ‘state-sponsored’ BBC . Read his speech.

Since then, it’s pretty much been war between News Corp/Tories and BBC/Labour.

Murdoch decides to back Cameron for the election, Cameron says he’ll top slice the BBC scrap the BBC trust and overhaul Ofcom. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s going on.

In December of last year, while writing his Digital Economy Bill, Peter Mandelson came to the defence of public service broadcasting:

There are some in the commercial sector who believe that the future of British media would be served by cutting back the role of the media regulator. They take this view because they want to commandeer more space and income for themselves and because they want to maintain their iron grip on pay-TV, a market in which many viewers feel they are paying more than they should for their music and sport. They also want to erode the commitment to impartiality. In other words, to fill British airwaves with more Fox-style news.

He added:

In my view, Ofcom should be strengthened, not emasculated as some Conservative spokesmen have suggested.

Then Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Culture Secretary, announced something of a U-turn: The Tories will not freeze the license fee as planned. He said it was important the BBC should not operate under the threat of its funding level being reviewed on a year-by-year basis, which would threaten its impartiality and ability to hold politicians to account.

Which is something, but the Tories still plan to scrap the BBC trust, top slice the license fee and otherwise cut funding. Even if Labour get in there will almost certainly be cuts and top slicing. So a tough year ahead for the BBC, either way.

Clearly I’m struggling to be impartial. Let me be honest.

I find this whole business absolutely terrifying. It’s not the cuts – they are inevitable. It’s not the top-slicing, either, that’s necessary too. It’s partly the way News Corp manages to make independent, impartial news sound like Soviet propaganda (see below). But mostly, it’s just the creeping, pathetic way in which our politicians slither around Rupert Murdoch’s feet. For once, Mandy is the least slithery of them all.

James Murdoch on the BBC

BBC Criticisms

I thought I’d post an reasonably extensive list of criticisms against the BBC, mostly related to impartiality, just to balance things out a bit!

BBC biased against Conservatives?

Another week, another BBC impartiality concern.

A report published yesterday by the Sun newspaper points the finger at
the publicly funded broadcaster for showing undue bias against the
Conservative party.

The report focuses on five incidents:

  • BBC News giving disproportionate coverage to the row over Tory donor Lord Ashcroft’s tax status.
  • Labour panellists views on Question Time airing for longer than those of their Tory counterparts.
  • The One Show running a poll on whether David Cameron is too much of a “toff” to lead the country.
  • BBC Two’s Basil Brush show featuring a school election with a cheat called “Dave” sporting a blue rosette.
  • The leaking of footage to several broadcasters of David Cameron adjusting his hair before making a statement on Northern Ireland.

“The BBC is in the hands of a left-wing elite. They’re a privileged organisation run for the interests of the few, not the many, which iswhy their views are closer to a broadcast version of the Guardian rather than a popular paper.” Douglas Carswell MP, Conservative Party.

The BBC have already issued an apology for the One Show package,
presented by former Loose Women anchor Kaye Adams, after more than 100
complaints were received. The report asked whether being “posh” was” a
bad thing for politics” and referred to David Cameron as a “Sloane
ranger”. Adams concluded her piece by stating that the voters must
decide “if the old school elite governs once more”.

Adams: biased?

“The notion that the BBC is biased is palpably not true. Our news
coverage scrutinises all parties with rigour and impartiality.” BBC

Such coverage is unlikely to be well received by senior sources
committed to achieving impartiality in the run up to the impending
general election.

BBC apologise for Panorama impartiality breach

Panorama: broke impartiality guidelines

Sitting at home last week, I switched channels and caught the end of a
fascinating Panorama documentary on the World Cup. However, it was the
message transmitted after the credits that really made me sit up and
take notice.

The BBC broadcast an on-air apology for failing to meet its in house
standards of accuracy and impartiality in an episode of Panorama
screened over two years ago in November 2007. “What Next for Craig?”
focused on the treatment of children with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I managed to track down a copy of the episode and gave it a watch. To
the untrained eye, it seemed a perfectly reasonable documentary. The
main cause of concern was that the programme did not accurately report
the findings of a three year follow up study in the USA, and only used
the views of one of the reports’ contributors Professor Pelham,
ignoring all others who were involved.

“The programme failed to meet the requirements of impartiality in that the programme makers were not fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing all the material facts, nor were they even-handed in their approach to the subject.”  BBC Trust editorial standards committee (ESC)

Whilst Panorama provides a useful public service by investigating
issues that need bringing to our attention, I feel that the BBC is not
doing itself any favours by restricting the programme to a 30 minute
time slot.

How can the whole argument be explored when such broad topics are
being tackled in a short space of time?

Cameron to abolish broadcasting impartiality?

Cameron alliance with Murdoch could threaten BBC

Conservative leader David Cameron has promised to abolish broadcasting regulator Ofcom and scale back the BBC if he is elected. But why has he chosen to launch such an attack on the broadcaster and the regulation authority that strives to ensure the maintenance of impartiality?

“It shouldn’t be making policy, it shouldn’t have it’s own communications department, the head of Ofcom is paid almost half a million pounds.” David Cameron on Ofcom

Many would have you believe that it’s Cameron’s perceived ‘cosy’ relationship with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch that has led him to make such statements.

Certainly the evidence is there to suggest that this could well be the case. Cameron’s appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson allowed him an opportunity to court the attentions of Murdoch.

The Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper then threw their political weight behind the Conservative party on September 30 2009. The headline “Labour’s lost it” was followed up with editorial comment stating “The Sun believes – and prays – that Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain”.

David Cameron ‘delighted’ by Sun switch BBC interview

This support has been followed up by Cameron agreeing with complaints from Murdoch’s son, James, that Ofcom is unaccountable and frequently intervenes, thus stifling creativity.

Whilst a commitment to impartiality and balance can restrict broadcasting content, the thought of a completely unregulated and unrestricted UK version of Fox News being broadcast at the expense of balanced BBC output is truly terrifying.

Televised election debates: a challenge for impartilality?

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the traditional party political broadcasts that are transmitted in the run up towards a general election. It is an easy, failsafe way of broadcasters guaranteeing they meet their target of impartiality. Provide the three main UK parties with three minutes and thirty seconds to fill and as a broadcaster you’ve pretty much achieved your goal. Fair, if not slightly dull.

This year’s general election, however, will see a change.  Live debates will take place between the three candidates aiming to lead the country. As they will be televised, all three parties will have to be dealt with by the broadcasters in an impartial way.

An agreement has been thrashed out between BBC, ITV and Sky and the three largest UK political parties which will see one debate take place on each broadcaster over a three week period. This does, however, pose potential impartiality problems.

How can impartiality be guaranteed during a live debate? Question Time is pre-recorded, moderated, and still receives complaints about the amount of airtime its panellists are afforded.

Well, the broadcasters have agreed to give each leader equal treatment throughout the programmes, which will be moderated by Alistair Stewart for ITV, Adam Boulton for Sky and David Dimbleby on the BBC. These moderators will not be allowed to press or challenge the politicians, their role is to encourage a smooth debate.

Questions will be taken from a “selected” audience, as well as receiving questions from email and social media sources, which will be assessed by a panel of the corporations’ senior journalists before being slotted in to suit the content of the programme.

If anything, it promises to spice up the electoral campaign and at least provides an alternative to formulaic party political broadcasts.


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