Ofcom conducted an annual survey covering the period April 2019 to March 2020 in which the broadcasting regulator asked audiences if they believed news programmes they watched on each of the main television channels were free of bias. But in the latest blow for the BBC, the Corporation ranked bottom with a score of just 58 percent. Sky News led the way with 69 percent, followed by Channel 4 (66 per cent), ITV (63 per cent) and Channel 5 (61 per cent).
This is the first time the BBC has finished bottom of the impartiality rankings when compared to all other British broadcasters.
The shock result also marks the first time the Corporation has been overtaken by Channel 5 as perceptions among the British public of the latter’s impartiality improve.
Ofcom said some people surveyed for the annual report told it their perception of the BBC news output are influenced by the broadcaster’s brand, funding mechanism and portrayal across the wider media.
The regulator warned future relationships between the BBC and its audiences could be “jeopardised” if it does not address audience concerns around impartiality.
Ofcom said: “We learned that people’s views of the impartiality of BBC news are shaped by a range of factors, only some of which relate directly to its news and current affairs content.
“Some told us that their views were influenced by the BBC brand, its funding mechanism and its portrayal across wider media.
“Once again our research shows that audiences rate impartiality as the lowest-scoring aspect of the BBC’s delivery of this purpose.
“There is a risk that future relationships between the BBC and its audiences could be jeopardised if audience concerns around impartiality continue to grow.”
The regulator will be monitoring progress made by the BBC over the next 12 months, with recently appointed director Tim Davie recently pledging to make impartiality central to the broadcaster’s output.
But the move from Mr Davie to warn presenters they must not express political views on Twitter has been applauded.
Ofcom said: “Although the use of social media by BBC journalists and presenters is not within our remit, we consider that this is a useful step and is likely to help improve perceptions of impartiality.”
Last month, the BBC issued new guidance to its staff on social media usage in a move to force all staff to maintain impartiality.
Employees have been told not to “express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or controversial subjects”.
The announcement followed the pledge from Nr Davie to impose new social media rules.
But the same Ofcom report also found older viewers’ satisfaction with the BBC is falling for the first time.
The report covers the period April 2019 to March 2020, before means-testing of the TV licence for over-75s began in August.
Positive impressions of the BBC among adults aged 55 and over fell from 64 percent in 2017/18 to 62 percent in 2019/20.
Overall reach of the BBC among the same age group also dropped for the first time, from 96 percent to 93 percent.
Ofcom director of broadcasting policy Vikki Cook told the PA news agency: “Older viewers are still likely to be more satisfied than the average UK audience with BBC services.
“This year, our research does indicate the first signs that that level of satisfaction is starting to decrease.
“So that means their audience numbers are also beginning to decline.”
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