BBC rapped for Margaret Thatcher documentary bias

A BBC documentary looking at Margaret Thatcher’s impact on Welsh democracy and fronted by Huw Edwards breached impartiality and accuracy guidelines, the BBC Trust editorial standards committee has found.

A complaint was made about Wales: Power And The People – Back To The Future, which was broadcast on BBC2 Wales on 23 July last year.

The show was the last in a four-part series charting the movement towards self-government in Wales, originally broadcast before the May 2007 Welsh Assembly elections.

The complainant believed the show portrayed the former Prime Minister and her Government in a biased manner, through its selection of speakers and their comments and that Edwards had canvassed people to vote in the Assembly elections.

He also complained that footage of a confrontation involving miners in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, had been inserted into the programme and given a wrong impression “that Mrs Thatcher caused riots in Wales”.

The BBC responded to the complainant, saying that Edwards had given an independent and objective interpretation of historical and political events.

But the complainant wrote to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), which partially upheld some of the issues raised by him and rejected others.

The ECU said that as the issue for the programme was the impact of the Thatcher Government on Welsh opinion, it “would expect the programme and its contributors to reflect the fact that its impact was adverse”.

But it noted: “A number of contributors expressed themselves in terms which were explicitly or implicitly critical of the Thatcher Government, while only one (Lord Peter Walker) could be regarded as speaking favourably about Mrs Thatcher or her approach to Wales.”

The ECU said that programme makers should have ensured greater balance and towards the end of the programme the Conservatives were seen in an “unnecessarily negative light”.

Edwards suggested on the programme that for the Assembly “to achieve its full potential it needs even greater support for the people of Wales than it’s received so far”, adding: “The more people that take part, the stronger and healthier our democracy in Wales will be.”

The ECU concluded programme makers had not been even handed in this instance in relation to impartiality guidelines.

The complainant appealed to the ESC as he was unhappy with some of the ECU’s findings.

The ESC agreed that the programme should have taken account of other views to achieve impartiality and endorsed the ECU’s breach of impartiality finding.

The Committee also agreed that “it is not the role of BBC presenters to encourage audiences to exercise their right to vote on particular occasions.”

It said it was generally satisfied with the presentation of the facts and believed the statements about Mrs Thatcher were not inaccurate – but they were highly contentious.

It noted a commentary line which said: “in effect the (miners’ strike) turned most of Wales against Margaret Thatcher for good.”

The Committee also found that use of archive footage from England in a programme mainly about Mrs Thatcher and the Welsh breached accuracy guidelines on the use of library material.

The material was shot in Orgreave in 1984 when National Union of Mineworkers pickets were trying to stop coal entering power stations.

The Committee found the commentary during the section was not explicit in referring to the UK as a whole and the audience might assume the footage related to Welsh events.

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