The 360: Why don't people trust the BBC as much any more?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

A general view of BBC Broadcasting House, at Portland Place, London, following BBC Director General Tony Hall's announcement that he intends to step down in the summer. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
A general view of BBC Broadcasting House, at Portland Place, London, following BBC Director General Tony Hall's announcement that he intends to step down in the summer. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

What’s happening

Trust issues. BBC News’s journalism is being questioned like never before.

It comes after a particularly difficult general election campaign in which the corporation was accused of bias from all sides. Laura Kuenssberg, BBC News’s high-profile political editor, came under particular fire.

In one case, she amplified (and later retracted) a false claim that an aide to health secretary Matt Hancock had been punched by a Labour activist.

Kuenssberg was also accused of breaking electoral law when, one day before the election, she claimed postal ballots painted a “grim” picture for Labour.

To top it off, a YouGov survey commissioned in the middle of the election campaign found just 44% of Britons trust the BBC to tell the truth.

It’s not just in the Westminster bubble where trust in BBC News – which on Wednesday announced 450 job losses as part of cost-saving measures – appears to be dramatically waning.

Last week the corporation came under fire for cancelling the award-winning Victoria Derbyshire Show, which has been praised for giving a voice to people outside mainstream consciousness.

Following the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, the BBC was also criticised for mistakenly using footage of black basketball star LeBron James instead of Bryant.

The problems don’t end with its news output. In the digital streaming age, when on-demand commercial services such as Netflix have huge influence, BBC viewing figures are falling. Critically, it is also struggling to engage and maintain younger audiences.

Why there’s debate

Two words: licence and fee.

At a time when the BBC is struggling to stay relevant to a wide audience, criticism of the TV licence is growing ever more emboldened.

Much of it has been fuelled by Boris Johnson and his powerful adviser Dominic Cummings.

The PM said during the election campaign that he was “certainly looking at” scrapping the £154.50 annual fee, particularly “given the way other media organisations manage to fund themselves”.

As a mark of contempt the government holds against the corporation, it has banned ministers appearing on flagship shows such as BBC Radio 4’s Today and BBC Two’s Newsnight.

Even Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker – the BBC’s highest-paid employee and not a political bedfellow of Johnson – said in an interview on Monday that the compulsory licence fee should be scrapped.

Added to this, the BBC will scrap free licences for over-75s as of June. That controversial issue remains as raw as it did when announced six months ago.

What’s next

The BBC can fall back on the licence fee until at least December 2027, when the current Royal Charter expires.

If the narrative carries on as it is, however, the corporation will face a critical battle for its future by the time the next Charter comes into force. The licence fee accounts for 75% of the BBC’s revenue.

In the meantime, the BBC needs to regain trust and relevance if it is to justify continuation of the fee. But how does it do this?

With Lord Hall stepping down as director-general, the hiring of his replacement will be the most important piece of recruitment in its modern history.


The BBC can heal the nation’s division

“The BBC is one of the vanishingly few internationally recognised brands that ‘Global Britain’ can boast. Post-Brexit, its commercial, cultural ‘soft power’ value is more precious than ever; so its role as a unifying force helping bind up the wounds in Britain is more crucial than ever; and its democratic function to supply quality news and facts is more vital (including its support for ever-shrinking local media).” – Sean O’Grady, The Independent

When has it ever been impartial?

“Mr Johnson and his advisers believe the Conservatives were hard done by during the election campaign. Perish the thought! When did they last get a fair crack of the whip? The 1959 election? One example of anti-Tory bias was Andrew Neil's three-minute broadcast tirade against Mr Johnson for not turning up to be interviewed by him. The irony is that the usually admirable Mr Neil is virtually Auntie's only right-wing interviewer.” – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail

Feeling the strain of sustained attack

“Its journalism, always the backbone of the BBC, seemed to falter under sustained and often coordinated attack, some of which was undeserved and some of which hit the mark.” – Emily Bell, The Guardian

Not offering value for money

“The BBC didn’t help itself with shaky coverage of the recent election campaign, and it runs the risk that it is no longer distinctive and authoritative. Its London metropolitan instincts have also not served it well in a time of Brexit. The criticism of BBC News is not that it’s terrible but just that it seldom stands out for excellence within the digital market place in the way that you might expect when there’s been a public investment running into the billions.” – Roger Mosey, New Statesman

Impartiality has become harder

“As politics has become more disrupted – the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit being obvious examples – trying to calibrate what that impartiality means in practice is a lot harder. A broadcaster’s job is to home in on dubious, changeable or false claims made in an election campaign or in government (and opposition). Yet this needs to be tested against the BBC’s tendency to become an echo chamber.” – Anne McElvoy, Evening Standard

Stronger in the regions

“If it was up to me, apart from anything with Sir David Attenborough and possibly The Antiques Roadshow, top of my priority list would be local and regional news. Look North is an indefatigable half an hour window into our region every evening. For similar reasons, the BBC’s ongoing commitment to what is still known disparagingly as ‘local radio’ should be held in high regard; BBC Radio Sheffield, BBC Radio Leeds and other regional stations constantly evolve to reflect the interests of listeners.” – Jayne Dowle, Yorkshire Post

It’s a public good

“The BBC is a public good. It’s a mark of the existential danger the corporation is now in that this statement has become controversial; that the home of David Attenborough and Panorama, of Blue Peter and In The Night Garden and groundbreaking drama and comedy, from Cathy Come Home to Fleabag, is now so friendless. Barely anyone has a good word to say for the poor old Beeb, consumed as it is by accusations of supposed political bias against every political faction going; which is why whoever succeeds the outgoing director general, Tony Hall, has their work cut out. But it’s a public good all the same, and one we will regret letting slip through our fingers.” – Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian

Commercial competitors are better

“The government is right to ban ­ministers from appearing on Radio 4’s increasingly irrelevant and out-of-touch Today programme. Of course, our top politicians should be held to account. Which they are on ­commercial rivals like Nick Ferrari on LBC or Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRADIO. At least those stations don’t start from a position of: ‘Brexit is evil and a majority Tory government isn’t much ­better.’ – Dan Wootton, The Sun (note: TalkRADIO and The Sun are owned by the same company, News UK)

Next director general has impossible job

“His [Lord Hall’s] successor will need to combine world-class political, commercial, editorial and managerial talent, while coming under a relentless barrage of criticism from all fronts. The question of who gets it will depend on where the BBC Board and its chairman, Sir David Clementi, want to place their emphasis. Someone with commercial nous, or someone who can charm Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings? Someone with a track record at managing talent – or someone who can make a brave, correct call on a Panorama investigation? The perfect candidate will be able to do all this – and therefore doesn't exist.” – Amol Rajan, BBC

Irrelevant to younger audiences

“Even the government’s pressure on an independent news organisation pales into insignificance next to its failure to remain essential to younger viewers and listeners. Last year an Ofcom report found that fewer than half of Britons aged 16 to 24 watched a traditional live BBC television channel each week. What’s more, younger viewers were twice as likely to watch BBC programmes on Netflix than on the BBC’s own iPlayer service.” – Jane Martinson, The Guardian

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Picture credit: PA