BBC plans ‘sweeping changes’ to ensure fair and unbiased content

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The BBC has unveiled plans for its “biggest and most significant push” to ensure its content is fair, accurate and unbiased.

The move comes in response to the publication of the Serota Review into governance and culture at the broadcaster, which was published on Friday and made a number of recommendations on improving editorial standards.

The recommendations have been accepted by the broadcaster.

The review, led by Arts Council England chairman Sir Nicholas Serota, says the organisation “needs to do more to embed editorial values into the fabric of the organisation”.

It added that “a number of those we interviewed felt that individuals, including high-profile and senior staff, have not always been held to account for breaching editorial standards”.

It added there is a risk that recent staff cuts in regional teams in England will “have a detrimental impact on editorial controls as staff deliver the same volume of output with fewer people”.

Sir Nicholas said in a statement: “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 organisation.

“The BBC can and should be properly held to account against these core values and standards.

New Tate Modern Extension
Sir Nicholas Serota (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“This can only be achieved through improved transparency and openness, both internally and externally.

“We have every confidence the BBC leadership understands this and also the very real need to deliver these improvements on behalf of audiences.”

The review was commissioned by the BBC board following Lord Dyson’s scathing report into the circumstances surrounding Martin Bashir’s 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Serota Review said the risk of editorial standards being circumvented by staff “has been reduced significantly in the last 25 years”.

However it found that some investigations into potential rule breaches “were too slow to gather the facts, leaving staff to manage hostile media and audience reaction”.

The BBC unveiled a 10-point action plan in response to the report, which includes extending impartiality training throughout the organisation.

It also recommends the BBC’s board monitors impartiality through metrics including editorial complaints.

Staff should also be made aware that failure to comply with the BBC’s editorial values will result in disciplinary action or dismissal “regardless of seniority, profile or role”, the report said.

Managers should also be “challenged to represent audiences from all parts of the UK, both on and off screen” as part of a diversity plan, it added.

The report also highlighted that previous director-generals “have intervened and made a determination on whether the editorial guidelines have been breached”.

It said such interventions are “in line” with the job of the director-general, but there has not always been “clarity” over the role they have played in editorial decisions.

Lord Tony Hall
Lord Tony Hall (David Parry/PA)

In 2019 former director-general Lord Tony Hall reversed a ruling which said Naga Munchetty broke editorial guidelines with comments she made on BBC Breakfast about Donald Trump after he told female Democrats to “go back” to their own countries.

The broadcaster said in a statement that it had accepted the review’s findings in full as it announced “sweeping changes to further raise standards across the organisation and challenge claims of bias”.

The BBC said its plan “represents the BBC’s biggest and most significant push to ensure its programmes and content are fair, accurate and unbiased and truly reflect the broad public which it serves”.

BBC chairman Richard Sharp said: “We need a BBC that is beyond reproach when it comes to impartiality, standards, processes and transparency.

“The Serota Review makes clear recommendations to the board across all these areas, which will be acted upon.

“We accept the report in full.”

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 UK and around the world.

“Our audiences deserve and expect programmes and content which earn their trust every day and we must meet the highest standards and hold ourselves accountable in everything we do.

“The changes we have announced not only ensure we learn the lessons from the past but also protect these essential values for the future.”

Responding to the report, a spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The BBC is in a privileged position as the UK’s leading public service broadcaster and we expect its journalists to adhere to the highest possible standards in recognition of the public funds it receives.

“We will consider the report’s findings carefully.”

Earlier this month, the new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries criticised the “elitist” approach of the BBC and said the broadcaster had a “lack of impartiality”.

She questioned whether the broadcaster would still exist in 10 years in the face of competition from new players such as Netflix.

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