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BBC Trust: Corporation must be more impartial

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A report commissioned by the BBC Trust has indicated the corporation needs to make a greater effort towards impartiality.

Though the report, called From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, says the BBC is "generally seen as impartial," it quotes the BBC's political editor Andrew Marr, who said the BBC has an "innate liberal bias."

Twelve new guiding principles have been published in the report which will sit alongside the BBC's existing editorial guidelines.

The principles warn that impartiality should not lead to "political correctness" or "insipid programmes" and there must be room for controversial and passionate contributors. It also says that impartiality is "not necessarily to be found on the centre ground".

Richard Tait, BBC Trustee and chairman of the steering group which has overseen the project, said: "New technologies and changes in society have given rise to a spread of opinion which goes way beyond the traditional divide of left versus right. These new complexities need to be clearly recognised to ensure the BBC's impartiality is sustained."

The report gave examples of BBC news programmes which omitted emerging stories on Europe and immigration which it described as "off limits in terms of a liberal-minded comfort zone".

Another example is the corporation's bias toward the South East of England since the introduction of the BBC's 3D weather maps in 2005. Because of the way the maps were tilted, they appeared to suggest that northern Scotland was on the periphery. The report warned that "the continuing practice of giving temperature forecasts for conurbations rather than rural areas may suggest a presumption that the bulk of the audience lives in large cities, whereas the opposite is in fact the case".

Other programming including the The Vicar of Dibley and the Live8 coverage came under fire for being biased towards particular causes.

The report warned that the London Olympics will provide a similar test of the BBC's impartiality. It said: "Coverage of international championships has sometimes drawn criticism that the British media are too preoccupied with British competitors. That pull will be all the greater when the Olympic flame reaches British soil in what is likely to be the year of the Queen's diamond jubilee".

Research conducted for the report showed that 84% of the 2000 people questioned agreed that impartiality was difficult to achieve but that broadcasters must try very hard to do so; 61% agreed that broadcasters may think they give a fair and informed view but a lot of the time they don’t; and 83% agreed that broadcasters should report on all views and opinions, however unpopular or extreme some of them may be.

A steering group, which includes Mark Byford, BBC deputy director-general, creative director Alan Yentob and director of news Helen Boaden, is today launching a programme of activity to communicate the report to all staff.

Byford said: "Impartiality is a core value for the BBC which is non-negotiable and central to its relationship with licence fee payers. We recognise that, as audience behaviours change and the media landscape develops rapidly, the BBC has to keep asking itself how best to safeguard impartiality in this digital age. The new audience insights from this study of external research and the guiding principles will help us do that."

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