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Perception that BBC lagging behind Channel 4 on current affairs says BBC Trust report

By Oliver Jones

The BBC has been urged to raise its game on current affairs in a report by the corporation's governing body, the BBC Trust.

The report also said that BBC News can appear distant and needs to work to engage with younger audiences.

The review of network news and current affairs states: "While the BBC has established a worldwide reputation for its news online, in future it needs to do even more to ensure its news content is available to all UK audiences when, where and how they want it. 
"Against a background of strong audience approval overall, there are some parts of the audience who find BBC News ‘distant’, both in tone and subject matter. All audiences expect the BBC to have a serious agenda built on its traditional values of accuracy and impartiality, but some want a broader agenda too, better reflecting the diversity of life in the UK today; they want a greater variety of tone, and they want story-telling that is more  engaging. 
"In part this audience need could be addressed by BBC News and Current Affairs looking, sounding and, most importantly, being as diverse as the audience it serves."
The trust was also critical specifically of current affairs output on TV and radio (so TV programmes such as Newsnight and Panorama and radio programmes such as File on Four and Analysis).
It said: "Research found that the BBC was often lagging behind its rivals in the area. Channel 4 was rated higher for investigative journalism. They rate it less well at offering fresh perspectives, covering lesser known stories and covering  issues other channels would not. They want it to do more to cover stories and issues 
which stand out. 
"And for those audiences who consider the quality of investigative journalism as an important factor in differentiating providers, they rate Channel 4 higher than the BBC. We also found a relatively low audience awareness of much of the BBC’s current affairs output."
The report said that viewing figures for current affairs output on TV had fallen from 8.3 million adults per week in 2011 to 6.3 million last year. It noted that BBC Two had cut the number of Panorama episodes per year from 55 in 2011 to 45 in 2013. 

Among its recommendations the BBC Trust said: "We regard it as imperative for BBC One to maintain both the volume and the ambition of its current affairs programming, and we will change the wording of BBC One’s service licence to ensure the channel’s remit in this regard is clear.

“We will strengthen the BBC One service licence to ensure that its commitment to current affairs captures our expectations for this genre, as well as guaranteeing a minimum level of output each year.”

The report found that the BBC was failing to attract younger audiences. It found that only 33 per cent of 16-24 year olds watched at least three minutes of BBC News a week. While the report admitted that the concern over attracting younger audiences has been fairly consistent throughout the BBC's history, it said it can no longer be taken for granted that younger audiences would turn to the BBC for information as they grow older. 

The Trust said the BBC needs to make more use of mobile technology to attract younger audience. Other areas of improvement included making more of the full range of the BBC's TV and radio content, satisfying the growing need for instant news and informed comment and using more visualisation, graphics and videos, to illustrate and enhance news content. 

However, the report did note that there was an "impressive" range of domestic and foreign stories produced, with the report concluding that the BBC remains a high quality news provider serving 80 per cent of the adult population. It stated that every week four out of five adults get news from the BBC and that the BBC News channel remained the most watched continous news channel. 
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re delighted the report has found audiences regard our journalism as very high quality and that they rate it as more trustworthy and better informed than any other provider. The key actions around audience consumption, diversity, current affairs and international reporting mirror areas which we have already identified as key priorities and have started taking steps to address. We’ll look at the recommended actions as part of the on-going process of developing our strategic plans."  

The full report released today is available online.

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