Rowena Mason, Telegraph (London), July 3, 2013
The report, commissioned by the BBC Trust, found the broadcaster had been “slow” to catch up with public opinion on immigration and leaving the European Union.
Stuart Prebble, a former ITV television executive, said the BBC had probably been too swayed by the views of politicians, who were also reluctant to discuss immigration for fear of causing offence.
It said Helen Boaden, the former director of BBC News, “accepts that when she came into her role in September 2004 there had been a problem in the BBC’s coverage of immigration. She was aware, she told us, of a ‘deep liberal bias’ in the way that the BBC approached the topic”.
The review also heard evidence that the BBC is hamstrung by a “fundamental niceness” and reluctance to give offence.
“The BBC was slow to reflect the weight of concern in the wider community about issues arising from immigration. It remains the case that the agenda of debate is probably too driven by the views of politicians.
“However, overall the breadth of opinion reflected by the BBC on this subject is broad and impressive, and no persuasive evidence was found that significant areas of opinion are not given due weight today.”
It also said the BBC was “slow to give appropriate prominence to the growing weight of opinion opposing UK membership of the EU, but in more recent times has achieved a better balance”.
The review also identified problems with so many BBC journalists working in a big building and reinforcing each other’s prejudices.
“A large group of people working together are in danger of becoming more homogenous in their thinking, not less, and so less able to see when the output reflects a narrow outlook,” he said.
The BBC Trust said it takes seriously the challenge of being “constantly alert to changing public opinion”.
David Liddiment, BBC Trust member, said: “We deliberately chose some complex and controversial subject areas for the review in immigration, religion, and the EU, and our generally positive findings are testament to programme-makers across the corporation. It is clear that there is more to do and we will look to the executive to deliver on this.”
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We are pleased our coverage has been deemed ‘remarkable’ and ‘impressive’.”
“Stuart Prebble has concluded, overall, that our coverage of immigration is ‘broad and impressive’, that on the EU we offer ‘a wide and comprehensive range of information and viewpoints’ and that the BBC’s coverage of religion is ‘comprehensive and impressive.’ He also states that the overwhelming number of journalists within the BBC leave their personal politics at home.
“However the report provides some interesting insights. We agree it is always vital to guard against unconscious bias or ‘group think’ and will continue to do so and we’ve committed to a number of actions to improve our coverage even further.”