What should an impartial BBC look like?

Published: March 20, 2014

“But what do we really mean by impartiality, and what should that look like for the BBC and other public broadcasters? ”

Maybe it’s just me, but criticism of the BBC for a lack of impartiality seems to be increasing. Whether it’s coverage of the Scottish and EU independence referendums, stories relating to climate change or the screening of programmes related to charity campaigns, many people seem to believe the BBC is failing to live up to its commitment to be impartial.

But what do we really mean by impartiality, and what should that look like for the BBC and other public broadcasters?

Many of the BBC’s critics provide evidence of bias in the form of ratios, citing the number of spokespeople interviewed for or against their pet issue. So a professor in media politics from the University of the West of Scotland recently highlighted data showing the BBC’s main evening news broadcasts in Scotland have a 3:2 ratio of statements supportive of independence versus those supportive of the union.

This argument suggests the BBC should be aiming for a 1:1 ratio of pro and anti statements on all issues. But while we may think that sounds fair, imagine what it would look like in reality.

For every debate on immigration the views of the BNP and EDL would need to be represented alongside those of the more mainstream parties. For every story about floods in the UK, the views of those like David Silvester who believe they are a consequence of allowing gay marriage would be given equal weight to scientists talking about climate change or lack of dredging. And campaigners in favour of creationism being taught in school science lessons would be given as much prominence as those promoting the theory of evolution.

As the BBC’s guidelines state, impartiality does not require absolute neutrality. Where there is a weight of scientific evidence or public opinion for a particular viewpoint, maybe it’s ok for the broadcaster to tip the scales in favour of spokespeople championing those opinions.

Yes, it’s vital that minority views are not ignored and that those with opinions that differ from the norm are not brushed aside by the press, but let’s cut the BBC some slack and remember that objectivity is about more than a just a ratio.

Jo Nussbaum is a Senior Consultant at Linstock Communications.

Leave a Reply

Name *

Mail (not published) *


* Required field

Newswire: Linstock gets first prize!

“Linstock and UK Community Foundations won Not for Profit Campaign of the Year 2013 Award at Golden Hedgehogs!”

We’re proud to announce that Linstock Communications and our client UK Community Foundations have been awarded the Golden...

Read more

Case Study: Grant Thornton International

“Building Thought Leadership”

International accounting and advisory company, Grant Thornton, differentiates itself as an organisation that works with dynamic...

Read more

Blog: PR Professionals Must Maintain A Leading Role

“We need to modernise and adapt to new digital trends, including measuring impact in real-time, but PR must stay true to its roots.”

Buzzword bingo was in full effect at the PRCA’s annual conference at BAFTA this year. Transparency, collaboration and...

Read more

Case Study: TheCityUK

Managing the reputation of one of the UK's largest industry sectors

TheCityUK is the membership body for the UK’s financial and related professional services industry. Its membership includes...

Read more

Case Study: British Gas

“Energy efficiency in social housing: making the green deal work”

British Gas is the UK’s leading energy and home services provider. Local authority and housing association decision makers...

Read more

Blog: Typologies: Melancholic May Versus Choleric Boris

“With typologies becoming increasingly popular in business literature, let's investigate why and whether such conceptual frameworks can always be trusted.”

Apply the four temperaments typology to big names in Brexit and you might go with Phlegmatic Phil, Melancholic May and Choleric...

Read more