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BBC Immigration Coverage Had 'Liberal Bias,' Former Head of News Says

BBC News h

A review finds the U.K. public broadcaster offers an "impressive" breadth of views, but should better present opinions from people outside of political institutions.

LONDON – The BBC covers an "impressive" range of opinions on its news, current affairs and other factual shows, with no persuasive evidence that significant areas of opinion are not represented, an independent review has found.

But the review, ordered by governing body the BBC Trust and published on Wednesday, also found that more could be done to represent voices from outside the political establishment.

The $267,000 (£175,000) independent review was led by former ITV CEO and independent producer Stuart Prebble and studied the U.K. public broadcaster's coverage of immigration, religion and the EU. Prebble said in a conference call that he interviewed 25 BBC executives.

One of them was Helen Boaden, the former news director who is now the BBC's head of radio. She told the review that the broadcaster had a "deep liberal bias" in its immigration coverage when she started her role as head of news in 2004.

But Prebble said his conclusion overall was that "a suitable range of views is expressed" in the BBC's news and current affairs coverage.

One key criticism was that national politicians tend to dominate views seen and heard on the BBC. "The Trust has concluded that it expects the BBC to find ways of addressing opinions that have not emerged through parliament or other formal institutions, although this will not affect or reduce the BBC’s responsibility to report on parliament and the views of politicians," the Trust said.
 
Information and opinions in the BBC's immigration coverage also tended to focus on specific cases, with "the larger story of how immigration may affect British society for better or worse covered much less often," the review found.
 
Plus, Prebble concluded that there had been "slowness in the past in accommodating changing opinions" on immigration and the EU.

The BBC Trust said it will check on the progress against the review’s findings next summer.
 
The review follows four previous impartiality reviews that looked at the BBC’s coverage of business (2007), the nations of the United Kingdom (2008 and 2010), science (2011) and the Arab Spring (2012).

"I have been impressed by the commitment of the BBC’s journalists to ensuring that they bring a diversity of voices and viewpoints on a wide range of news stories to audiences across the country," said Prebble. "However, it is also clear that the BBC cannot afford to rest on its laurels and it should ensure it does all it can to keep up with the ebb and flow of public opinion."

That includes "making efforts to find new voices even if they are contentious," he added.

The BBC Trust announced the following measures to address issues raised by the review:

* The appointment of "story champions" for "important and long-running" news stories.
 
* Ensuring that audience views are more widely and systematically shared across the company.
 
* Cross-promoting a wider range of BBC services.
 
* The creation of a pan-BBC forum on religion and ethics.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai