Outgoing BBC Trust chairwoman Rona Fairhead has called for the organisation’s journalism to be more “ambitious” following a drop in the number of Britons consuming its news output.
In its final BBC performance report before being replaced next month, the trust revealed a fall of 4% in the number of adults using its news services across television, radio and online, dropping from 79% to 75% since 2013.
There was a faster drop among younger adults, with 63% of 16- to 34-year-olds now engaging with BBC news compared with 71% four years ago.
Ms Fairhead said in the report that the organisation must “explain the news, not just report it” at a time when “social media is exacerbating the risks of fake news”.
She added the “need for reliable and impartial information to inform our democracy” lies at the heart of the argument for a publicly funded broadcaster.
“Although the BBC remains far ahead of all other news providers when UK audiences are asked to choose a single source they trust, nonetheless some performance scores for BBC News are falling,” she said.
“The BBC’s journalism must be ambitious in the seriousness and analysis of its reporting to ensure it continues to provide a distinctive, trusted offering to audiences.”
She also repeated her concerns that funding plans laid out in last year’s charter lack transparency and outlined challenges the organisation faced in becoming “better value for money”.
“Although the framework of independence is sound, the new board will need to continue to protect the BBC’s position robustly in the face of future challenges,” she said.
“One area of particular note is the licence fee funding settlement. The process of the previous two settlements was unsatisfactory and the new charter provides some improvement on this, including requiring the Government to consult with the BBC on any future funding deal.
“However, what it does not yet do is provide any public transparency from the Government before those funding settlements are decided. To me, this remains a concern.”
Citing the BBC’s successes, Ms Fairhead said the likes of David Attenborough-narrated Planet Earth II and record ratings in the final series of The Great British Bake Off gave cause for “considerable confidence in its future performance”.
She praised Radio 4′s Today programme for its “authoritative and impartial reporting” during the fallout from the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump as US President.