Society of Editors
THE opening of new political fault lines in UK politics have exposed the BBC to renewed allegations of bias, according to Director General, Tony Hall.
In his Society of Editors’ Satchwell Lecture, he explained these went beyond the inevitable criticisms facing a publicly funded, public service broadcaster.
“The political divisions that have opened up in recent years – on the Scottish referendum, of course, but most notably on Brexit – have led some politicians to try to portray the BBC as being in sustained opposition to their particular cause,” he said.
“People who try to undermine the BBC’s reputation for their own political ends should be careful what they wish for. Nobody wants to end up in the highly polarised, almost separate, political and media cultures we see across the Atlantic. Nor the mono-cultural landscape of State-run media in some other countries. And nothing will shake our determination to report what we find, and to put claims and counter-claims into a context that helps audiences understand and assess them. “
He believes there is still ‘a really healthy political debate’ in this country, and is confident the BBC continues to hold people in power to account, but is concerned at the way media choices have become more fragmented at the same time as politics is becoming more polarized.
The danger is that people are increasingly loyal to particular news services – often quite niche ones – and can tailor what they receive only to reflect their particular world view.
“So we have to be cautious about perceptions of impartiality among users,” said Lord Hall. “It’s quite easy to persuade a small number of like-minded people that news output targeted at them is impartial. And much more difficult to achieve that with large numbers of people – reflecting a whole range of views and opinions. “
He acknowledges that this shifting landscape poses particular challenges for the BBC but is adamant its impartiality is one of its most precious assets. “At its most basic, it means BBC journalism is accurate, fair – and based on the best evidence we can find. For us, impartiality is critical to trust. And it’s not easy to achieve.
Lord Hall also touched on the threats posed by contracting budgets at the BBC, something he described as ‘a growing and inescapable challenge’.
Despite having the ‘immense privilege’ of running a broadcaster world-renowned for quality, he its wide-ranging work all has to be produced ‘on an annual budget that wouldn’t keep some of our competitors in business from now until Christmas’.
“For us the cracks are beginning to show… and, for all our differences and debates, anyone who cares about this country’s stories and ideas should want more investment in our content right now – not less.”