The BBC needs to improve the range, clarity and precision of its network coverage of what is happening in the different UK nations and regions, a report found today.
The BBC Trust published its impartiality report into the BBC’s network news and current affairs coverage of how the UK is governed in its four nations.
It found the BBC was “falling short of its own high standards” and failing to meet its core purpose of helping inform democracy.
Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust said that affection for the BBC drops the further people live from London, partly because they do not see their lives reflected enough.
The report included an assessment by Professor Anthony King and research from Cardiff University.
Sir Michael said: “The BBC’s reporting of the United Kingdom is – on the face of it – much better than what is provided by other broadcasters.
“But the resounding message from this review is the BBC is falling short of its own high standards and is not meeting properly its core purpose of helping to inform democracy.
“The problem is not about impartiality, but about clarity, precision and the balance of reporting from around the UK.
“The good news is that the public have told us that they want to learn about other parts of the UK.
“This should inspire the BBC to meet this challenge and search for opportunities to make what is happening in different parts of the UK relevant and interesting to all audiences.
“From now on, those watching or listening to BBC News should consistently be able to learn not just what’s happening, but whether it’s unique to where they live, and how it compares to what might be happening elsewhere in the UK.”
Investigations by market research analysts BMRB showed that 82 per cent of the UK population are interested in news about other parts of the UK, and 62 per cent believe it is important to understand the different politics and policies within each nation.
The report highlighted the major changes in the governance of the UK since devolution of power from Westminster began 10 years ago and the complexities it has created for reporting public policy.
Research from both Cardiff and BMRB found that the BBC’s performance in this area is “consistently superior” to that of other broadcasters.
Prof King said it was “striking” that almost no one (including politicians) in any of the four nations he met while undertaking his review accused the BBC of bias and he praised the BBC’s impartiality.
The Trust welcomed the “clear conclusion” that BBC network coverage of politics and policy across the UK was impartial.
However, in commissioning the review, the Trust sought to answer whether in recent years the BBC’s UK-wide network news, current affairs and factual programming had kept pace with – and responded adequately and appropriately to – the UK’s changing political, social economic and cultural architecture.
Prof King’s conclusion was that the BBC has not.
The BMRB research showed that 37 per cent of people believe that BBC reports are often not relevant to where they live.
Analysis of BBC network news and current affairs programmes over a four week period in 2007 by Cardiff University found that 19 per cent of stories involving or relating to devolution to be vague and confusing and of 136 stories about health and education, all 136 dealt with England alone.
In its coverage of UK public policies, the majority – 75 per cent of the UK population – do not believe the BBC often makes factual errors, but a sizeable minority – 17 per cent – believe the BBC sometimes does.
Sir Michael continued: “We know from our wider work that affection for the BBC drops the further people live from London and this is in part because they do not see their lives adequately reflected on the BBC.
“We are encouraged by the initial response from BBC Management to the findings of this review.
“They have said clearly that they can do better and that they are determined to get this right.
“The BBC understands that it has got to work harder to meet the needs of all licence fee payers, not least because the BBC is paid for in equal measure by people wherever they live in the UK.”
The Trust has committed to repeating the research within 18 months to provide a clear assessment of whether performance is improving.