BBC News has yet to recover the level of public trust it had before 2012 – when Newsnight spiked a report revealing Jimmy Savile child abuse allegations and then wrongly suggested Lord McAlpine was a paedophile.
The corporation remains the most trusted source of news in the UK, according to its annual report, “although we are slightly below the levels reached before October 2012 when the crisis broke over coverage of Jimmy Savile and the separate Newsnight child abuse investigation”.
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The report said: “We will work hard to justify the audience’s continued trust. We will be alive to our critics and take responsibility for mistakes when we make them. We will uphold an uncompromising commitment to accuracy, impartiality, diversity of opinion and fair treatment of people in the news.”
In a February 2014 survey of 1,864 UK adults who follow the news cited by the report (below), asked by Ipsos MORI “Of all news sources, which one source are you most likely to turn to if you want impartial news coverage?” some 50 per cent of respondents chose the BBC.
ITV was chosen by 13 per cent, Sky News by 7 per cent and Channel 4 by 4 per cent. Some 21 per cent chose another news provider, and 5 per cent said “don’t know”. The same survey in 2013 (below this year's) showed that 49 per cent of those questioned chose the BBC.
In last year’s report, the Trust noted that “public perceptions that the BBC offers high quality, independent journalism” dropped from 70 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent.
The latest report says: “[W]e said then that this was likely to have been because the high profile problems in the BBC had affected audiences’ perceptions and trust. However, the score remained the same this year, and some supplementary qualitative research we carried out suggests greater competition in online news may also be affecting people’s overall opinions about the BBC’s journalism.”
According to the report, 82 per cent of adults in the UK consumed BBC News each week across television, radio and online. While TV news viewing was slightly down, reaching 32m UK adults a week, radio news and current affairs was accessed by a record 29.2m a week in the final quarter of 2013.
Use of the BBC News website rose to 25m weekly browsers in early 2014 (in the UK), and internationally the site recorded a record 62.8m unique browsers a week in March.
Last year, a record 19.4m browsers from around the world followed coverage of Prince George’s birth on the BBC News website.
Noting individual news stories, it said that the BBC’s television news coverage on the night of Nelson Mandela’s death was watched by 13.38m people on BBC One and the BBC News channel. The murder of Lee Rigby was BBC News’s most followed story.
The table below, from the report, shows average audiences for BBC news programmes compared with terrestrial rivals.
In April, head of BBC News James Harding was questioned at an internal meeting about whether the 24-hour channel could be closed down in the future. The Trust report shows that over the course of the financial year £66.2m was spent on the channel, including £21.2m on newsgathering. This was up from £61.5m overall and £17.8m on newsgathering the year before.
Director general Tony Hall said: “With BBC News I believe that Britain has the best news organisation in the world. It offers a unique service: a network that is local, regional, national and global. This year I have been particularly pleased at the way our local radio stations responded to the terrible weather this winter; and our journalism in Syria, and in covering the conflict in Ukraine has been first-rate.
“The BBC is by far the most trusted news service in the UK, and the most retweeted source of news the world over – these are achievements to be rightly proud of.”
The BBC Trust’s acting chairman Diane Coyle said: “The Trust has reviewed BBC network news and current affairs and we found that, although it retains unrivalled audience trust thanks to consistently high standards, it needs to innovate in order to draw in a younger audience.
“There have also been some high-profile failures. The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative project was closed, at a cost of nearly £100million. And there was the controversy surrounding past severance payments above contractual entitlements to some senior staff. Both of these episodes involved significant sums of public money and saw the BBC falling well short of what licence fee payers expect.”