The BBC Trust publishing the terms of reference and planned approach for its impartiality review of the BBC’s breadth of opinion. It went on to explain that breadth of opinion means reflecting a range of voices and viewpoints in BBC output and the BBC has a unique commitment to it included in its Editorial Guidelines. The review, which will be led by former broadcasting executive Stuart Prebble, will focus on the BBC’s news, current affairs and factual output.
Well it sounds suitably fluffy and well intentioned. But then the BBC Trust’s own viewpoint is shown to creep in as it outlines its perspective on the world, unsurprisingly giving the BBC the scope to defend its behaviour and claim it has been acting impartially and has allowed a breadth of opinion in its programming:
Through content analysis, audience research, and submissions from the BBC Executive and interested stakeholders, the review will assess, where appropriate:
- Whether decisions to include or omit perspectives in news stories and current affairs coverage have been reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied judgement across an appropriate range of output;
- Whether ‘due weight’ has been given to a range of perspectives or opinions – for example, views held by a minority should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus;
- Whether the opinions of audiences who participate through phone-ins or user-generated content have been given appropriate significance, and whether the use of audience views in this way has correctly interpreted the relative weight of opinions of those who have expressed a view on an issue;
- Whether the BBC has ensured that those who hold minority views are aware they can take part in a debate such as a phone-in.
The content analysis will include an analysis of the BBC’s coverage of immigration, religion and the EU, by comparing some coverage from 2007 with coverage from 2012/13.
Not for nothing am I reminded of the episode of Yes Prime Minister, where Jim Hacker learns the wrong ‘Ron Jones’ has been awarded a peerage. When asked by Sir Humphrey if Jones owns a TV, Hacker replies no, to which Sir Humphrey suggests ‘make him a governor of the BBC’. It seems the level of ignorance – or is it wilful self deception – that Sir Humphrey saw as a qualification, is shared among today’s BBC Trustees.
So to the bullet points. The first has so much wriggle room it is utterly meaningless. Trust: ‘Did you carefully research the perspectives in your news story in a reasonable way?’ Beeboid: ‘Why yes, impartiality is in my DNA too, Lord Patten.’
Then on to the second, Trust: ‘Did you give due weight to the range of opinions?’ Beeboid: ‘Of course, but I took into account the prevailing consensus so the weighting tipped in the favour of XYZ.’
As for the third, Trust: ‘Was appropriate significance given to the range of opinions of audience members who called in?’ Beeboid: ‘We found most of the callers during the first part of the show held view A, so the researchers put those on air. We had no way of knowing if more people with a contrary viewepoint would call in. How could we use them?’
And the fourth, Trust: ‘Did we ensure those with minority views are aware they can take part?’ Beeboid: ‘Well of course they know they can take part. It’s just when they try to they don’t get included because their view doesn’t have equal weight to that of the prevailing consensus, and having carefully researched the topic in a reasonable way, our highly trained
activists researchers skipped past them. It’s OK though. When they complain we tell them impartiality is in our DNA you see. Then if they are really miffed they write to you and you hold an impartiality review with terms of reference that confirm we did everything as per the guidelines. Fancy a Pimms?’
Perhaps the BBC Trust might do well to consider the perspective it holds about having impartiality in its DNA could be a minority view and therefore not deserving of equal weight when taken in the round with the prevailing consensus that the BBC is a biased bastion for socialist and authoritarian propaganda that treats its audience with contempt and opponents with undisguised hostility. Then it could save licence fee payers a whole lot of money on such a waste of time review such as this.