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The BBC unveiled a 10-point plan Friday that it said was its “biggest and most significant push to ensure its programs and content are fair, accurate and unbiased and truly reflect the broad public, which it serves.”
The U.K. public broadcaster said that the initiative would “further raise standards across the organization and challenge claims of bias,” with the plan “focused on impartiality, editorial standards and whistleblowing, designed to help develop and safeguard staff and improve output across all BBC services.”
The plan includes regular reviews of content, increased staff training, external oversight on standards, increased transparency and a new editorial whistleblowing policy.
It follows a review of the BBC’s editorial processes, governance and culture, which the broadcaster’s board had ordered in May in the wake of the scandal surrounding a 1995 Princess Diana interview (that found the broadcaster “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”). The new review has now found “potential for significant improvement.”
Said the review’s chairman Nicholas Serota: “There is no doubt the BBC is a very different place to that of 25 years ago and, thankfully, progress has been made. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity for the BBC leadership team to go further and ensure that accuracy, impartiality, fairness and integrity are embedded more deeply across the organization.”
BBC chairman Richard Sharp said: “We need a BBC that is beyond reproach when it comes to impartiality, standards, processes and transparency.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie added: “The BBC’s editorial values of impartiality, accuracy and trust are the foundation of our relationship with audiences in the U.K. and around the world. Our audiences deserve and expect programs and content which earn their trust every day, and we must meet the highest standards and hold ourselves accountable in everything we do.”
Here is a closer look at the key points of the BBC plan:
“Thematic reviews” covering output in key areas of public debate will ensure due impartiality and that “a breadth of voices and viewpoints are being reflected.” The first, set to start in January and scheduled to be completed by the summer, will cover U.K. public spending and taxation.
The BBC’s editorial policy team will be strengthened and get increased responsibility to support content makers. The BBC executive will lead internal management content reviews to assess the extent to which content meets the expected standards.
“A simple set of procedures will be published for dealing with internal investigations,” the BBC said, with designated, experienced staff set to conduct investigations. The broadcaster also promised “clarifications” to its complaints framework that will detail how it handles accelerated content complaints.
The BBC board will monitor impartiality metrics, including editorial complaints, training, audience perception and demographic data.
The Editorial Guidelines and Standards Committee will be strengthened with the appointment of two editorial experts with experience from outside the BBC.
Editorial Values and Culture
The BBC’s editorial values and guidelines are “a requirement of working for the BBC and a contractual commitment for all staff.” The broadcaster said it will make clear that “deliberate or negligent breaches of a serious nature, or attempts to conceal them, will result in disciplinary action or dismissal, regardless of seniority, profile or role.”
“Impartiality training launched this year will be extended right through the organization, including freelancers and new joiners — at all levels — to ensure a strong understanding of the essentials,” the BBC said.
To improve transparency internally and externally, the U.K. public broadcaster is planning new initiatives, including “sharing information at a senior level on emerging editorial trends, risks and issues.:
A new editorial whistleblowing policy will be designed to put senior leaders in a position to deal with complaints.
Voices and Viewpoints
“Managers will be challenged to represent audiences from all parts of the U.K., both on and off screen,” the BBC said. This will happen via the so-called Across the U.K. plan to diversify staff and via ongoing audience research.
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