Criticism of the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) took its present form on 1 January 1927 when Sir John Reith became its first Director General. Reith stated that impartiality and objectivity were the essence of professionalism in broadcasting.
Allegations that the corporation lacks impartial and objective journalism have regularly been made by observers, on both the left and right of the political spectrum.
Another key area of criticism is the mandatory licence fee, as commercial competitors argue that this means of financing is unfair and has the result of limiting their ability to compete with the corporation. Also, accusations of waste or over-staffing occasionally prompt comments from politicians and the rest of the media.
The Thatcher government
Accusations of a left-wing bias were often made against the Corporation by members of Margaret Thatcher's 1980s Conservative government. Norman Tebbit called the BBC the "Stateless Person's Broadcasting Corporation" because of what he regarded as its unpatriotic and neutral coverage of the Falklands War, and Conservative MP Peter Bruinvels called it the "Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation." Steve Barnett wrote in The Observer in 2001 that in 1983, Stuart Young, the "accountant and brother of one of Thatcher's staunchest cabinet allies", David Young, was appointed as BBC chairman. After him, in 1986, came Marmaduke Hussey, a "brother-in-law of another Cabinet Minister. ... According to the then-Tory party chairman, Norman Tebbit, Hussey was appointed 'to get in there and sort the place out'".
Controversies continued with the likes of the Nationwide general election special with Thatcher in 1983, a Panorama documentary called Maggie's Militant Tendency, the Real Lives interview with Martin McGuinness, the BBC's coverage of the United States' 1986 Bombing of Libya and the Zircon affair. In 1987, the Director-General of the BBC Alasdair Milne was forced to resign. Thatcher later said: "I have fought three elections against the BBC and don't want to fight another against it." In 2006 Tebbit said: "The BBC was always against Lady Thatcher."
Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC said in 2010 "In the BBC I joined 30 years ago [as a production trainee, in 1979], there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people's personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the left. The organisation did struggle then with impartiality."
BBC News forms a major department of the Corporation, and receives many complaints of bias. The Centre for Policy Studies has stated that, "Since at least the mid-1980s, the Corporation has often been criticised for a perceived bias against those on the centre-right of politics." Similar allegations have been made by past and present employees such as Antony Jay, North American editor Justin Webb, former editor of the Today programme Rod Liddle, former correspondent Robin Aitken and Peter Sissons, a former news presenter.
Former political editor Andrew Marr argued in 2006 that the liberal bias of the BBC is the product of the types of people the Corporation employs, and is thus cultural not political. In 2011, Peter Oborne wrote in his Daily Telegraph blog, "Rather than representing the nation as a whole, it [the BBC] has become a vital resource – and sometimes attack weapon – for a narrow, arrogant Left-Liberal elite".
Speaking to journalists at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch in 2009, Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Cabinet Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, claimed that BBC News needed more Conservatives: "I wish they would go and actively look for some Conservatives to be part of their news-gathering team, because they have acknowledged that one of their problems is that people who want to work at the Corporation tend to be from the centre-left. That's why they have this issue with what Andrew Marr called an innate liberal bias."
Other commentators have taken the opposite view and criticised the BBC for being part of The Establishment. The commentator Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman pointed out the right-wing backgrounds of many BBC presenters and journalists, querying why even many "liberals and leftists" accept the right's description of BBC bias. Guardian columnist Owen Jones is also of the opinion that the BBC is biased towards the right owing to numerous key posts being filled by Conservatives.
A study by Cardiff University academics, funded by the BBC Trust, was published in August 2013, examining the BBC's coverage of a broad range of issues. One of the findings was the dominance of party political sources. In coverage of immigration, the EU and religion, these accounted for 49.4% of all source appearances in 2007 and 54.8% in 2012. The data also showed that the Conservative Party received significantly more airtime than the Labour Party. In 2012 Conservative leader David Cameron outnumbered Labour leader Ed Miliband in appearances by a factor of nearly four to one (53 to 15), while Conservative cabinet members and ministers outnumbered their Labour counterparts by more than four to one (67 to 15).
Former Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, has criticised the BBC as part of a "Westminster conspiracy" to maintain the British political system.
On Friday 22 September 2006 the BBC's Board of Governors held an impartiality seminar which was streamed live on the Internet. The previous day the then Chairman of the Governors, Michael Grade, explained the thinking behind the seminar in an article in The Guardian newspaper. He also announced in the same article that a live stream of the seminar would be available on the BBC Governors' website. The stream was only available live and was not publicised on the main BBC or BBC News websites, causing some media reports, including in The Mail on Sunday, to claim that it was "secret". The full transcript of the seminar was released in June 2007 after pressure from both the public and the media.
In the seminar there was a hypothetical discussion including senior BBC executives about what they would allow controversial Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen to throw into a dustbin on the satirical television show Room 101. It was imagined that Baron Cohen would wish to throw into Room 101 kosher food, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Quran, and the Bible. Most at the summit agreed that all would be permissible – except for the Quran. There was also a hypothetical discussion about whether a Muslim BBC newsreader should be allowed to wear a veil.
In the seminar former BBC business editor Jeff Randall claimed he was told by a senior news executive in the organisation that "The BBC is not neutral in multiculturalism: it believes in it and it promotes it." The Daily Mail claimed in 2006 that Andrew Marr stated, "The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias".
These comments were reported in the UK national press a couple of weeks later. At the seminar Helen Boaden (Director of BBC News) said that the BBC must be impartial on the issue of multiculturalism. Boaden responded to press criticism of the seminar in a post on the BBC's Editors' Blog. Mark Thompson responded to press criticism in an article in the Daily Mail, as did Mark Byford in an interview in The Sunday Telegraph.
The BBC has also been accused of racism. In a speech to the Royal Television Society in 2008, Lenny Henry said that ethnic minorities were "pitifully underserved" in television comedy and that little had changed at senior levels in terms of ethnic representation during his 32 years in television. Jimmy McGovern in a 2007 interview called the BBC "one of the most racist institutions in England".
In 2001, BBC director-general Greg Dyke said that the BBC was "hideously white", and acknowledged difficulties with "race relations". He acknowledged that it was having difficulties in retaining minority staff and outlined plans towards solving these problems.
Rageh Omaar, the Somali-born British journalist and former BBC war correspondent who reported the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, called BBC a "white man’s club" after he resigned to join Al-Jazeera in 2006. Later, in 2007, while being interviewed by Hannah Pool of The Guardian, he accused the BBC of classism too.
The BBC, which is legally obliged to be an equal opportunities employer, is striving for 12.5% of its staff to be from a black or minority ethnic background (12% at 31 January 2009). The BBC is largely based in urban areas with a more diverse demography than the UK as a whole (30% ethnic minority in London and about 15% in the Manchester/Salford area), whereas the 12.5% figure is over 4% higher than the current percentage of ethnic minorities in the UK as a whole. However, it has been argued that many of its ethnic minority members of staff are cleaners and security guards and not presenters and programme makers. The Guardian reported: "The BBC has pledged to increase the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people on air by more than 40% over the next three years and almost double the number of senior managers from those groups who work at the corporation by 2020."
Indarjit Singh, chief of Britain's Network of Sikh Organisations, criticised the BBC Asian Network, a radio station intended for an audience of South Asian origin, saying "Stations like BBC Asian Network do little to encourage integration and social cohesion because they allow communities to ghettoise themselves".
The Independent reported the findings of a University of Leeds study in March 2006 which accused the BBC of being "institutionally homophobic" towards the LGBT community. The Leeds researchers found that 80% of portrayals by the BBC of those who are lesbian or gay were negative and accounted for just 0.4% of output. Focus groups used in the study accused the BBC of being the worst broadcaster in terms of gay and lesbian issues and their portrayal of them.
Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century
A report commissioned by the BBC Trust, Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century, published in June 2007, stressed that the BBC needed to take more care in being impartial. It said the BBC broke its own guidelines by screening an episode of The Vicar of Dibley that promoted the Make Poverty History campaign. The bias was explained as the result of the BBC's liberal culture. A transcript of the impartiality seminar is included as a separately published appendix to the report available via the BBC Trust.
After press reports emerged that BBC employees had edited the Wikipedia article's coverage of the report, the BBC issued new guidelines banning BBC staff from "sanitising" Wikipedia articles about the BBC.
Immigration and the European Union
In 2005, two independent reports deemed the BBC's coverage of European Union to be rather inadequate and one of the reports noted a "cultural and unintentional bias".
In July 2013, a report commissioned by the BBC Trust found that the organisation had been slow to reflect widespread public concerns about immigration to the UK, and shifts in public attitudes within the UK towards the European Union. The report, by Stuart Prebble, stated that Helen Boaden, the former director of BBC News, had said that when she arrived at the organisation there had been a "deep liberal bias" in the handling of immigration issues. It also stated that, within the BBC, "the agenda of debate is probably too driven by the views of politicians", but that "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 stated that 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".
Criticism of the BBC's Middle East coverage from supporters of both Israel and the Palestinians led the BBC to commission an investigation and report from a senior broadcast journalist Malcolm Balen, referred to as the Balen Report and completed in 2004. The BBC's refusal to release the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 resulted in a long-running and ongoing legal case. This led to speculation that the report was damning, as well as to accusations of hypocrisy, as the BBC frequently made use itself of Freedom of Information Act requests when researching news stories.
After the Balen report, the BBC appointed a committee chosen by the Governors and referred to by the BBC as an "independent panel report" to write a report for publication which was completed in 2006. Chaired by the British Board of Film Classification president, Sir Quentin Thomas, the committee found that "apart from individual lapses, there was little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias" in the BBC's reporting of the middle east. However, their coverage had been "inconsistent," "not always providing a complete picture" and "misleading", and that the BBC failed to adequately report the hardships of Palestinians living under occupation. Reflecting concerns from all sides of the conflict, the committee highlighted certain identifiable shortcomings and made four recommendations, including the provision of a stronger editorial "guiding hand".
Of the report's findings regarding the dearth of BBC reporting of the difficulties faced by the Palestinians, Richard Ingrams wrote in The Independent that "No sensible person could quarrel with that judgement". Martin Walker, then the editor of United Press International, agreed that the report implied favouritism towards Israel, but said this suggestion "produced mocking guffaws in my newsroom" and went on to list a number of episodes of (in his view) clear pro-Palestinian bias on the part of the BBC. Writing in Prospect magazine, Conservative MP Michael Gove wrote that the report was neither independent nor objective.
Former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn wrote in 2004 that the BBC's coverage allowed an Israeli view of the conflict to dominate, as demonstrated by research conducted by the Glasgow Media Group.
In the course of their "Documentary Campaign 2000–2004," Trevor Asserson, Cassie Williams and Lee Kern of BBCWatch published a series of reports The BBC And The Middle East stating in their opinion that "the BBC consistently fails to adhere to its legal obligations to produce impartial and accurate reporting."
Douglas Davis, the London correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, has accused the BBC of being anti-Israel. He wrote that the BBC's coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict was a "portrayal of Israel as a demonic, criminal state and Israelis as brutal oppressors" and resembled a "campaign of vilification" that had de-legitimised the State of Israel. "Anglicans for Israel", the pro-Israel pressure group, have berated the BBC for apparent anti-Israel bias.
The Daily Telegraph has criticised the BBC for its coverage of the Middle East. In 2007, the newspaper wrote, "In its international and domestic news reporting, the corporation has consistently come across as naïve and partial, rather than sensitive and unbiased. Its reporting of Israel and Palestine, in particular, tends to underplay the hate-filled Islamist ideology that inspires Hamas and other factions, while never giving Israel the benefit of the doubt."
In April 2004, Natan Sharansky who was then Israel's minister for diaspora affairs wrote to the BBC accusing its Middle East correspondent, Orla Guerin, as having a "deep-seated bias against Israel" following her description of the Israeli army's handling of the arrest of Hussam Abdo, who was captured with explosives strapped to his chest, as "cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes."
In March 2006 a report about the Arab-Israeli conflict on the BBC's online service was criticised in a BBC Governors Report as unbalanced and creating a biased impression. The article's account of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967 concerning the Six-Day War between Israel and a coalition of Egypt, Jordan and Syria suggested the UN called for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from territories seized during the six-day war, when in fact, it called for a negotiated "land for peace" settlement between Israel and "every state in the area". The committee considered that by selecting only references to Israel, the article had breached editorial standards on both accuracy and impartiality".
On 7 March 2008, news anchor Geeta Guru-Murthy clarified significant errors in the BBC's coverage of the Mercaz HaRav massacre that had been exposed by media monitor Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Correspondent Nick Miles had informed viewers that "hours after the attack, Israeli bulldozers destroyed his [the perpetrator's] family home." This was not the case, and other broadcasters showed the east Jerusalem home to be intact and the family commemorating their son's actions.
On 14 March 2008, the BBC accepted that in an article on their website of an IDF operation that stated "The Israeli air force said it was targeting a rocket firing team... UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians, calling them inappropriate and disproportionate", they should have made reference to what [Ban] said about Palestinian rocket attacks as well as to the excessive use of force by Israel. The article was additionally amended to remove the reference of Israeli 'attacks on civilians' as Ban Ki-Moon's attributed comments were made weeks earlier to the UN Security Council, and not in reference to that particular attack, and in fact, he had never used such terminology.
The BBC received intense criticism in January 2009 for its decision not to broadcast a television appeal by aid agencies on behalf of the people of Gaza during the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict, on the grounds that it could compromise the BBC's journalistic impartiality. A number of protesters asserted that this showed pro-Israeli bias, while some analysts suggested that the BBC's decision in this matter derived from its concern to avoid anti-Israeli bias as analysed in the Balen report. Parties criticising the decision, included Church of England archbishops, British government ministers and even some BBC employees. More than 11,000 complaints were filed in a three-day span. The BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, explained that the corporation had a duty to cover the Gaza dispute in a "balanced, objective way", and was concerned about endorsing something that could "suggest the backing one side". Politicians such as Tony Benn broke the corporation's ban on the appeal and broadcast the Gaza appeal on BBC News, saying that "If the BBC won't broadcast the appeal, then I'm going to do it myself", and adding that "no one [working for the broadcaster] agrees with what the BBC has done".
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, protested the BBC's decision by cancelling interviews scheduled with the company; ElBaradei claimed the refusal to air the aid appeal "violates the rules of basic human decency which are there to help vulnerable people irrespective of who is right or wrong." The BBC's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, affirmed the need to broadcast "without affecting and impinging on the audience's perception of our impartiality" and that in this case, it was a "real issue."
In response to perceived falsehoods and distortions in a BBC One Panorama documentary entitled 'A Walk in the Park', transmitted in January 2010, British journalist Melanie Phillips wrote an open letter in news magazine The Spectator to the Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, accusing the BBC of "flagrantly biased reporting of Israel" and urged the BBC to confront the "prejudice and inertia which are combining to turn its reporting on Israel into crude pro-Arab propaganda, and thus risk destroying the integrity of an institution".
In March 2011, Member of Parliament Louise Bagshawe criticised the inaccuracies and omissions in BBC's coverage of the Itamar massacre and questioned the BBC's decision not to broadcast this incident on television and barely on radio, and its apparent bias against Israel. In his July 2012 testimony to the Parliament, the outgoing Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson admitted that BBC "got it wrong".
A BBC Editorial Standards Findings issued in July 2011 found that a broadcast on Today on 27 September 2010 that stated "At midnight last night, the moratorium on Israelis building new settlements in the West Bank came to an end. It had lasted for ten months", had breached the Accuracy guideline in respect of the requirement to present output "in clear, precise language", as in fact the moratorium on building new settlements had been in existence since the early 1990s and remained in place.
In December 2011, the BBC caused further controversy after censoring the word 'Palestine' from a song played on BBC Radio 1Xtra.
More controversy was caused in April 2012 when the BBC broadcast news of 2,500 Palestinian prisoners who were on hunger strike, with very little overall coverage. This resulted in two protests outside the BBC buildings in Glasgow and in London.
During the 2012 Olympics, on their country profiles pages, the BBC listed "East Jerusalem" as the capital of Palestine, and did not list a capital at all for Israel. After public outrage and a letter from Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev, the BBC listed a "Seat of Government" for Israel in Jerusalem, while adding that most foreign embassies "are in Tel Aviv". It made a parallel change to the listing for "Palestine", listing "East Jerusalem" as the "Intended seat of government".
In a response to a reader's criticism on the issue, the BBC replied that the complaints that prompted the changes were "generated by online lobby activity". The BBC was also noted for having no coverage whatsoever about the campaign for the IOC to commemorate the 11 killed Israeli athletes from the Munich massacre in the 1972 Summer Olympics, which was met with repeated refusal by IOC President Jacques Rogge, despite the issue receiving much press by other major news networks.
According to the poll conducted by Jewish Policy Research on more than 4,000 respondents, nearly 80% of British Jews believes that BBC is biased against Israel. Only 14% of British Jews believes that BBC coverage of Israel is "balanced".
In 2010 the BBC was accused of pro-Israel bias in its documentary about the Gaza flotilla raid. The raid ended with nine activists killed, and dozens injured. A UNHRC fact-finding mission described six of the nine passengers' deaths as "summary execution" by the Israeli commandos., but a BBC documentary concluded that Israeli forces had faced a violent premeditated attack by a group of hardcore IHH activists, who intended to orchestrate a political act to put pressure on Israel. The programme was criticised as "biased" by critics of Israel and the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign) questioned why the IDF boarded the ship at night if it had peaceful intention. Eyewittness Ken O'Keefe accused the BBC of distorting the capture, medical treatment and ultimate release of three Israeli commandos into a story of heroic self-rescuing commandos. Anthony Lawson produced a 15-minute video detailing the BBC's alleged bias.
In 2013, the BBC scheduled to broadcast a documentary film, Jerusalem: an Archaeological Mystery Story, but pulled the film "off the schedule at the last minute." The film "theorizes that many Jews did not leave Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, and that many modern-day Palestinians may be in part descended from those Jews". Simon Plosker of HonestReporting believed that the decision was made not to offend people who are ideologically opposed to Israel by broadcasting a documentary about Jewish history in the region. The BBC's explanation for the sudden schedule change was that the film did not fit with the theme of the season, which was archaeology.
In 2014, an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post by Raphael Cohen-Almagor criticised BBC for avoiding the word 'terrorism' in connection with violent acts or groups of people considered by various governments or intergovernmental organizations to be terrorists. Cohen-Almagor wrote: "Instead of adhering to one principled definition of terrorism and then employing it across the board, the BBC prefers to sit on the fence, so as to say that it is impossible to differentiate between terrorists and 'freedom fighters', that one person's terrorist might be another's 'freedom fighter'."
In the same year, protesters presented an open letter from the Palestinian Solidarity Foundation, Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other groups to Lord Hall, Director General of the BBC; the letter accused the broadcaster of presenting Israeli attacks on Gaza as a result of rocket fire from Hamas, without giving any other context. This letter was signed by notable individuals, such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and Ken Loach.
In 2015, Fraser Steel – head of the Editorial Complaints Unit of the BBC – upheld complaints that it had breached impartiality guidelines in an interview with Moshe Ya'alon, who was then the Israeli defence minister. Ya'alon claimed on the Today programme that Palestinians "enjoy already political independence" and "have their own political system, government, parliament, municipalities and so forth", claiming that Israel had no desire "to govern them whatsoever". The Palestine Solidarity Campaign objected to these claims, saying: "Palestinians don't have political independence. They live under occupation and, in Gaza, under siege." Filmmaker and activist Ken Loach sent a letter via the Campaign, saying that: "You understand, I’m sure, that this interview is a serious breach of the requirement for impartiality. Unlike all other Today interviews, the minister was allowed to speak without challenge. Why?"
Iraq and the Hutton Inquiry
The BBC was criticised for its coverage of the events before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003. The controversy over what it described as the "sexing up" of the case for war in Iraq by the government, led to the BBC being heavily criticised by the Hutton Inquiry, although this finding was much disputed by the British press, who branded it as a government whitewash.
The BBC's chairman and director general both resigned following the inquiry, and its vice-chairman Lord Ryder made a public apology to the government – which the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker MP described as "of such capitulation that I wanted to throw up when I heard it".
2006 Lebanon War
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israeli diplomatic officials boycotted BBC news programmes, refused interviews, and excluded BBC reporters from briefings because Israeli officials believed the BBC's reporting was biased, stating "the reports we see give the impression that the BBC is working on behalf of Hezbollah instead of doing fair journalism". Francesca Unsworth, head of BBC News gathering, defended the coverage in an article for Jewish News.com.
The Balen Report
The BBC eventually overturned a ruling by the Information Tribunal rejecting the BBC's refusal to release the Balen report to Steven Sugar, a member of the public, under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that it was held for the purposes of journalism. The report examines BBC radio and television broadcasts covering the Arab-Israeli conflict and was compiled in 2004 by Malcolm Balen, a senior editorial adviser.
On 10 October 2006, The Daily Telegraph claimed that "The BBC has spent thousands of pounds of licence payers' money trying to block the release of a report which is believed to be highly critical of its Middle East coverage. The corporation is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism. The action will increase suspicions that the report, which is believed to run to 20,000 words, includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming." The Times reported in March 2007 that "critics of the BBC" were interested in knowing if the Balen Report "includes evidence of bias against Israel in news programming."
First, the Information Commissioner ruled in favour of the BBC. Mr Sugar appealed to the Information Tribunal, who overturned the decision on the basis that the report was not for the purposes of journalism. The BBC appealed on two grounds, firstly that the Information Tribunal did not have jurisdiction in these circumstances, and secondly, even if they did, the report was for the purposes of journalism. On 27 April 2007 the High Court agreed that the Information Tribunal had no jurisdiction (thus reinstating the Information Commissioner's ruling in favour of the BBC) and therefore they did not rule on the second ground for appeal. The BBC issued a press release which included the following statement:
"The BBC's action in this case had nothing to do with the fact that the Balen report was about the Middle East – the same approach would have been taken whatever area of news output was covered."
But then, on 11 February 2009 the House of Lords (then the UK's highest court) overruled them, stating that the Information Tribunal did have jurisdiction, and referred the case back to the High Court to rule on the other ground. Sugar was then reported as saying:
"It is sad that the BBC felt it necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting for three years to try to load the system against those requesting information from it. I am very pleased that the House of Lords has ruled that such obvious unfairness is not the result of the Act."
However, on 2 October 2009, the High Court ruled that the BBC was not required to disclose the Balen Report, because it was partly for the purposes of journalism, and in spite of appeals by Steven Sugar and, after his death, his wife, both the Court of Appeal, on 23 June 2010, and the Supreme Court, on 23 November 2011, agreed with that ruling, thus clarifying the law applying to any similar reports in the future.
In 2010 it was reported by the Journalism.co.uk website, after a Freedom of Information request, that the BBC had spent £270,867.12 in legal fees since 2005 in sustaining its refusal of the request to publicly release the Balen Report.
Barbara Plett's tears for Yasser Arafat
During the BBC programme From Our Own Correspondent broadcast on 30 October 2004, Barbara Plett described herself crying when she saw a frail Yasser Arafat being evacuated to France for medical treatment. This led to "hundreds of complaints" to the BBC, and suggestions that the BBC was biased. Andrew Dismore, the MP for Hendon, accused Plett of "sloppy journalism", and commented that "this shows the inherent bias of the BBC against Israel".
BBC News defended Plett in a statement saying that her reporting had met the high standards of "fairness, accuracy and balance" expected of a BBC correspondent. Initially, a complaint of bias against Plett was rejected by the BBC's head of editorial complaints. However, almost a year later, on 25 November 2005, the programme complaints committee of the BBC governors partially upheld the complaints, ruling that Plett's comments "breached the requirements of due impartiality". Despite initially issuing a statement in support of Plett, the BBC director of news Helen Boaden later apologised for what she described as "an editorial misjudgment". The governors praised Boaden's speedy response and reviewed the BBC's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In April 2009, the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust published a report on three complaints brought against two news items involving Jeremy Bowen, the Middle East Editor for BBC News. The complaints included 24 allegations of inaccuracy or partiality of which three were fully or partially upheld. The BBC Trust's editorial standards committee found that Bowen's radio piece "had stated his professional view without qualification or explanation, and that the lack of precision in his language had rendered the statement inaccurate". They opined that the online article should have explained the existence of alternative views and that it breached the rules of impartiality. However, the report did not accuse Bowen of bias. The website article was amended and Bowen did not face any disciplinary measures.
Hindu and Sikh leaders in the United Kingdom have accused the BBC of pandering to Britain's Muslim community by making a disproportionate number of programmes on Islam at the expense of covering other Asian religions, such as Sikhism and Hinduism. However, in a letter sent in July to the Network of Sikh Organizations (NSO), the head of the BBC's Religion and Ethics, Michael Wakelin, denied any biases on their part. A spokesman for the BBC said the broadcaster was committed to representing all of Britain's faiths and communities.
However, a number of MPs, including Rob Marris and Keith Vaz, called on the BBC to do more to represent Britain's minority faiths. "I am disappointed," said Vaz. "It is only right that as licence fee payers all faiths are represented in a way that mirrors their make-up in society. I hope that the BBC addresses the problem in its next year of programming."
Muslim employees of the BBC in the United Kingdom have accused the BBC of operating an anti-Muslim policy by sidelining or sacking a disproportionate number of Muslims at its digital radio station Asian Network. They also asked that the station play more music from Pakistan and Bangladesh in addition to the Bollywood and bhangra music that is more popular with the Hindu and Sikh communities.
A survey by Consumer PI found British Muslims perceive BBC TV news (as well as TV news from Sky and ITV) to be biased against their religion. Shakir Ahmed, director of Passion Islam Media said this perception may well fuel radicalism.
The overly positive coverage by BBC of the Arab Spring was criticised both from within and outside of the corporation. In June 2012, the head of news Helen Boaden admitted that the coverage was "over-excited". She attributed this to reporters embedded with the rebels, who produced reports which are "too emotive" and "veering into opinion".
In June 2012, the BBC admitted making "major errors" in its coverage of the unrest. In an 89-page report, 9 pages were devoted to the BBC's coverage of Bahrain and included admissions that the BBC had "underplayed the sectarian aspect of the conflict" and "not adequately convey the viewpoint of supporters of the monarchy" by "[failing] to mention attempts by Crown Prince" Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to "establish dialogue with the opposition". The report added that "the government appears to have made a good-faith effort to de-escalate the crisis" in particular during a period when the BBC's coverage of the unrest dropped substantially and that many people had complained that their coverage was "utterly one-sided".
In 2008, the BBC was criticised by some for referring to the men who carried out the November 2008 Mumbai attacks as "gunmen" rather than "terrorists". This follows a steady stream of complaints from India that the BBC has an Indophobic bias that stems from a culturally ingrained racism against Indians arising from the British Raj. Rediff reporter Arindam Banerji has chronicled what he argues are numerous cases of Indophobic bias from the BBC regarding reportage, selection bias, misrepresentation, and fabrications.
In protest against the use of the word "gunmen" by the BBC, journalist Mobashar Jawed "M.J." Akbar refused to take part in an interview following the Mumbai terror attacks, and criticised the BBC's reportage of the incident. British parliamentarian Stephen Pound has supported these claims, referring to the BBC's whitewashing of the terror attacks as "the worst sort of mealy mouthed posturing. It is desperation to avoid causing offence which ultimately causes more offence to everyone."
A controversial report from BBC accused India of sponsoring Pakistan's MQM party, a domestic party based out of Karachi, to fund anti-Pakistani activities. However, the only sources BBC manged to mention for this report was "authoritative Pakistani source", rather than independent investigation. The flawed reporting was severely criticized by India and other prominent journalists like Barkha Dutt. Expectedly, the pro-Pakistan and anit-Indian report was extensively circulated in Pakistani domestic media to fuel propaganda and conspiracy theories.
Writing for The Hindu Business Line, reporter Premen Addy criticises the BBC's reportage on South Asia as consistently anti-India and pro-Islamist, and that they underreport India's economic and social achievements, as well as political and diplomatic efforts, and disproportionately highlight and exaggerate problems in the country. In addition, Addy alludes to discrimination against Indian anchors and reporters in favour of Muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi ones who are hostile to India.
Writing for the 2008 edition of the peer-reviewed Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Alasdair Pinkerton analyses the coverage of India by the BBC since India's independence from British rule in 1947 until 2008. Pinkerton observes a tumultuous history involving allegations of anti-India bias in the BBC's reportage, particularly during the cold war, and concludes that the BBC's coverage of South Asian geopolitics and economics shows a pervasive and hostile anti-India bias due to the BBC's alleged imperialist and neo-colonialist stance.
In 2005, the Vivekananda Centre London and the Hindu Council(UK) reported an institutional anti Hindu bias and stated that "Anything that may show Hinduism in a poor light is immediately picked up by the BBC programme makers, while anything that may show Hinduism in a glorious light remains ignored by the BBC."
In March 2012, the BBC referred to the Hindu festival of Holi as a "filthy festival". The Webster New World Dictionary defines "filthy" as "full of filth, disgustingly foul; grossly obscene; morally vicious or corrupt". The BBC has since apologised for the offence caused.
In 2009, the BBC Asian Network angered Sikhs for a show in which Muslim presenter Adil Ray expressed that Sikhs should not always carry their kirpan, a ceremonial dagger and key item of their faith. The BBC rejected the charge, but deleted the show from their website.
In October 2006, Chief Radio Correspondent for BBC News since 2001 and Washington correspondent Justin Webb said that the BBC is so biased against America that deputy director general Mark Byford had secretly agreed to help him to "correct" it in his reports, and that the BBC treated America with scorn and derision and gave it "no moral weight".
In April 2007, Webb presented a three-part series for BBC Radio 4 called Death To America: Anti Americanism Examined in which he challenged a common perception of the United States as an international bully and a modern-day imperial power.
John Redwood's deregulation proposals
The BBC has been criticised for the way it covered Conservative MP John Redwood's policy group's deregulation proposals. Prominent political blogger Iain Dale criticised the organisation for leading news reports with the Labour Party's response to the proposals, rather than the proposals themselves, and claimed the BBC was "doing Labour's dirty work". The BBC denied the charge.
British newspaper The Sun also alleged the BBC reports showed bias, criticising the organisation for including embarrassing footage of John Redwood badly singing the Welsh national anthem from the early 1990s. The paper argued that the coverage "was a mockery of impartial journalism" and "could have been scripted by Labour ministers". The BBC later apologised, but denied showing bias.
Secret Agent documentary
On Thursday 15 July 2004 the BBC broadcast a documentary on the far right British National Party where undercover reporter Jason Gwynne infiltrated the BNP by posing as a football hooligan. The programme resulted in Mark Collett and Nick Griffin, the leader of the party, being charged for inciting racial hatred in April 2005, for statements which included Griffin describing Islam as a "wicked, vicious faith," Collett describing asylum seekers as "a little bit like cockroaches" and saying "let's show these ethnics the door in 2004." Griffin and Collett were found not guilty on some charges at the first trial in January 2006, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on the others, so a retrial was ordered.
At the retrial held in November 2006 all of the defendants were found not guilty on the basis that the law at the time did not consider those who follow Islam or Christianity to be a protected group with respect to racial defamation laws. Shortly after this case, British law was amended to outlaw incitement to hatred against a religious group (see Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006).
After the second trial, Nick Griffin described the BBC as a "Politically correct, politically biased organisation which has wasted licence-fee payers' money to bring two people in a legal, democratic, peaceful party to court over speaking nothing more than the truth."
Jerry Springer: The Opera
In January 2005, the BBC aired Jerry Springer: The Opera, ultimately resulting in around 55,000 complaints to the BBC from those upset at the opera's alleged blasphemies against the Christian religion. In advance of the broadcast, which the BBC had warned "contains language and content which won't be to some tastes" mediawatch-uk's director John Beyer wrote to the Director General urging the BBC to drop the programme, saying "Licence fee payers do not expect the BBC to be pushing back boundaries of taste and decency in this way." The BBC issued a statement saying: "As a public service broadcaster, it is the BBC's role to broadcast a range of programmes that will appeal to all audiences – with very differing tastes and interests – present in the UK today."
Before the broadcast, some 150 people bearing placards protested outside the BBC Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush. On the Monday following the broadcast, which was watched by some two million viewers, The Times announced that BBC executives had received death threats after their addresses and telephone numbers were posted on the Christian Voice website. The Corporation had received some 35,000 complaints before the broadcast, but reported only 350 calls following the broadcast, which were split between those praising the production and those complaining about it.
One Christian group attempted to bring private criminal prosecutions for blasphemy against the BBC, and another demanded a judicial review of the decision.
In March 2005, the BBC's Board of Governors convened and considered the complaints, which they rejected by a majority of 4 to 1. The subsequent refusal of the BBC to reproduce the actual Muhammad cartoons in its coverage of the controversy concerning them convinced many that the BBC follows an unstated policy of freely broadcasting defamation of Christianity which it would not allow in the case of any other religion.
The BBC has been criticised for hypocrisy over its high carbon footprint, in view of the amount of coverage it gives to the topic of climate change. Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman argues that the Corporation's correspondents "travel the globe to tell the audience of the dangers of climate change while leaving a vapour trail which will make the problem even worse". Paxman further argues that the 'BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago'.
At the 2007 Edinburgh International Television Festival, Peter Horrocks (Head of TV News) and Peter Barron (Editor, Newsnight), said that the BBC should not campaign on the issue of climate change. They criticised proposed plans for a BBC Comic Relief-style day of programmes around climate change. Horrocks was quoted as saying: "I absolutely don't think we should do that because it's not impartial. It's not our job to lead people and proselytise about it."
In July 2011 a BBC Trust review cited findings of an assessment by Professor Steve Jones of University College London. Jones found there was an at times “over-rigid” application of the Editorial Guidelines on impartiality in relation to science coverage, which failed to take into account what he regarded as the “non-contentious” nature of some stories and the need to avoid giving “undue attention to marginal opinion”. Professor Jones gave reporting of the safety of the MMR vaccine and more recent coverage of claims about the safety of GM crops and the existence of man made climate change as examples of his point.
The BBC has also been criticised for recycling old news and for "insensitivity" and bad timing when it decided to broadcast programmes called Kenyon Confronts and Sex and the Holy City around the same time as Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary and the beatification of Mother Teresa.
In 2003, the BBC had planned Popetown, a ten-part cartoon series which "featured an infantile Pope [...] bouncing around the Vatican on a pogostick". The plans were shelved after it evoked intense outrage and criticism from Roman Catholics.
Documentary on Euro 2012
Eleven days before the tournament took place, the BBC current affairs programme Panorama, entitled Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate, included recent footage of supporters chanting various racist slogans and displays of white power symbols and banners in Poland, and Nazi salutes and the beating of South Asians in Ukraine. The documentary was first commented widely in the British press, but then accused of being one-sided, biased and unethical. Critics included the British media; anti-racism campaigners, and black and Jewish community leaders in Poland; Polish and Ukrainian politicians and journalists; England fans visiting the host nations and footballers (Gary Lineker, Roy Hodgson and others). Jonathan Ornstein, the leader of Jewish community in Kraków, a Jewish source used in the documentary said: "I am furious at the way the BBC has exploited me as a source. The organization used me and others to manipulate the serious subject of anti-Semitism for its own sensationalist agenda... the BBC knowingly cheated its own audience - the British people - by concocting a false horror story about Poland. In doing so, the BBC has spread fear, ignorance, prejudice and hatred. I am profoundly disturbed by this unethical form of journalism."
A reporter from Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's biggest left-wing newspaper, questioned Panorama's practices and said: "I am becoming more and more surprised with what the BBC says. So far it has denied two situations I witnessed. I would not be surprised if the BBC prepared a statement saying that the Panorama crew has never been to Poland."
An anti-racism campaigner Jacek Purski said: "The material prepared by the BBC is one-sided. It does not show the whole story of Polish preparations for the Euros. It does not show the Championship ran a lot of activities aimed at combating racism in the "Respect Diversity" campaign. For us the Euro is not only about matches. The event has become an opportunity to fight effectively against racism and promote multiculturalism. There is no country in Europe free from racism. These are the facts."
The Daily Mail reported that the Football Association intended to write a letter of complaint to the BBC.
The nations fined by UEFA for racism were not the hosts but the visitors from Spain, Croatia, Russia and Germany. The Royal Dutch Football Association issued a complaint to UEFA after monkey chants were thought to be aimed at their black players, during an open training session in Kraków. UEFA denied the chants were racially motivated.
Sexual abuse scandals and their implications
In the weeks after the ITV1 documentary Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile was broadcast on 3 October 2012, the BBC faced questions and criticism over allegations that it had failed to act on rumours about sexual assaults, especially on young girls, by presenter Jimmy Savile, some of which had occurred on BBC premises after the recording of programmes including Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It. Allegations were also made that a Newsnight investigation into Savile in December 2011 was dropped because it conflicted with tribute programmes prepared after Savile's death.
By 11 October 2012 allegations of abuse by Savile had been made to 13 British police forces, and on 19 October Scotland Yard launched a formal criminal investigation into historic allegations of child sex abuse by Savile and others over four decades. The police reported on 25 October 2012 that the number of possible victims was 300.
It was claimed that Douglas Muggeridge, the controller of Radio 1 in the early 1970s, was aware of allegations against Savile, and had asked for a report on them in 1973. The BBC stated that no evidence of any allegations of misconduct, or of actual misconduct by Savile, had been found in its files and later denied that there had been a cover-up of Savile's activities. However, there were claims by some, including DJ Liz Kershaw, who joined BBC Radio 1 in 1987, that there was a culture within the BBC which tolerated sexual harassment.
The BBC was criticised in Parliament for its handling of the affair, with Harriet Harman stating that the allegations "cast a stain" on the corporation. The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, said that she was satisfied that the BBC was taking the allegations very seriously, and dismissed calls for an independent inquiry. Labour leader Ed Miliband said that an independent inquiry was the only way to ensure justice for those involved. George Entwistle offered to appear before the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee to explain the BBC's position and actions.
On 16 October the BBC appointed the heads of two separate inquiries into events surrounding Savile. Former High Court judge Dame Janet Smith, who led the inquiry into serial killer Harold Shipman, will review the culture and practices of the BBC during the time Savile worked there, while Nick Pollard, a former Sky News executive, will look at why a Newsnight investigation into Savile's activities was dropped shortly before transmission.
A Panorama investigation was broadcast on 22 October 2012. The Director-General of the BBC, George Entwistle, declined to be interviewed, citing legal advice that BBC senior management should co-operate only with the police, the BBC's reviews and Parliament. On the same day the BBC announced that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon would "step aside" from his position with immediate effect. On 23 October, Entwistle appeared before the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee, at which he faced hostile questioning and stated that it had been a "catastrophic mistake" to cancel the Newsnight broadcast.
In the context of the Savile scandal, it was noted that a book written in 1999 by journalist John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, had referred to an "Uncle Dick" at the BBC who had sexually assaulted children, and who appeared to fit the profile of BBC announcer Derek McCulloch. Author Andrew O'Hagan wrote that there had long been rumours about McCulloch's activities, and those of his colleague Lionel Gamlin, while working at the BBC in the 1940s and 1950s. The BBC said that they would "look into these allegations as part of the Jimmy Savile review." McCulloch's family described the allegations as "complete rubbish".
Newsnight broadcast, on 2 November 2012, a report making allegations against, but not naming, a "prominent Thatcher era Conservative politician" in relation to the North Wales child abuse scandal. However, this story collapsed after The Guardian reported on 8 November a case of mistaken identity, and the next day the victim retracted the allegation. An apology was included in Newsnight on 9 November, and all ongoing Newsnight investigations were suspended. George Entwistle stated that he was unaware of the content of the report before it was broadcast and stated that Newsnight staff involved in the broadcast could be disciplined. However, Entwistle himself resigned on 10 November, after facing further criticism in the media. The Director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, investigated the circumstances around the Newsnight programme. His findings were published on 12 November, and concluded that there had been "a lack of clarity around the senior editorial chain of command" and that "some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed."
Nick Pollard's report into the shelving of a Newsnight report on Savile in 2011 was published in December 2012. It concluded that the decision to drop the original report was "flawed", but that it had not been done to protect programmes prepared as tributes to Savile. His report criticised George Entwistle for apparently failing to read emails warning him of Savile's "dark side", and stated that, after the allegations against Savile eventually became public, the BBC fell into a "level of chaos and confusion [that] was even greater than was apparent at the time".
On 20 December 2012, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published criticism of payments made to Entwistle after he had resigned, stating that the £450,000 paid to him after 54 days in post - double the amount specified in his contract - together with a year's health insurance and additional payments, was a "cavalier" use of public money.
Primark and child labour
In 2011, after three years of Primark's effort, the BBC acknowledged that its award-winning investigative journalism report of Indian child labour use by the retailing giant was a fake. BBC apologized to Primark, to Indian suppliers and all its viewers.
"Terrorist house" story
In January 2016, stories originating from the BBC alleged that the Lancashire Constabulary had taken a young Muslim child away for questioning on anti-terrorism charges after he accidentally spelled "terraced house" as "terrorist house"; this story was widely reported in the British and international media. The police force in question criticised the BBC's coverage of the story, saying that it was "untrue to suggest that this situation was brought about by a simple spelling mistake", adding that "[the incident] was not responded to as a terror incident and the reporter was fully aware of this before she wrote her story", adding that "the media needs to take more responsibility when sensationalising issues to make stories much bigger than they are and to realise the impact they can have on local communities". A statement from the police and local council also said that it was "untrue to suggest that this situation was brought about by a simple spelling mistake. The school and the police have acted responsibly and proportionately in looking into a number of potential concerns using a low-key, local approach." Other pieces of work by the student, including one where the child wrote about his uncle beating him, were allegedly other reasons for the police questioning over the safety of the child.
The BBC has been criticised for 'overstaffing' news, sporting, and cultural events and in doing so both wasting licence fee money, and using their dominant position to control the coverage of events.
A 2010 House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report criticised the number of staff that the BBC had sent to sporting events such as the Beijing Olympics and the Euro 2008 football championships. In June 2011 the Corporation sent 263 staff to cover the Glastonbury Festival. The next month they sent 250 staff members to cover an event marking one year until the start of the London 2012 Olympics, ten times the numbers used by other broadcasters.
On 19 October 2011 the Liberal Democrats' culture spokesman Don Foster criticised the large number of BBC staff members who attended the eviction of travellers and their supporters from the illegal section of the Dale Farm site. Foster stated that it was 'ludicrous over staffing and hardly good way to get public sympathy for the 20 per cent budget cuts facing the BBC'. The BBC responded that they only had 20 staff members on site.
The fact that the BBC's domestic services are funded by television licence fees is heavily criticised by its competitors and others on a number of grounds.
The recent rise of multi-channel digital television has led to criticism that the licence fee is unjustifiable on the basis that minority interest programmes can now be transmitted on specialist commercial channels and that the licence fee is funding a number of digital-only channels which many licence holders cannot watch (for example BBC Three and BBC Four). Since 24 October 2012, with the completion of the digital switchover all licence payers can now access this content.
On 17 August 2007 it was reported that FM broadcast of the BBC's Russian language service in Russia would be dropped, leaving only medium and short wave broadcasts in Russia. Financial organisation Finam, which owns the FM radio service now dropping the BBC Russia broadcasts, through its spokesman Igor Ermachenkov, said that "Any media which is government-financed is propaganda – it's a fact, it's not negative". A spokesman, for the BBC responded: "Although the BBC is funded by the UK government... a fundamental principle of its constitution and its regulatory regime is that it is editorially independent of the UK government." Reports put the development in the context of criticism of the Russian government for curbing media freedom and strained UK-Russian relations. Reporters Without Borders condemned the move as censorship.
"London-centrism": Lack of National Representation
On 1 November 2007 it was reported that Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, criticised the BBC as too London-centric, paying less attention to news stories outside of the capital. In light of such criticism in terms of both news and general programming (and in recognition of its mandate to represent the entire UK and encourage creativity throughout the country) there have been active efforts made by the Trust and Board of Governors to correct this regional imbalance. This is reflected in a commitment to produce at least 50 percent of programmes outside of the Greater London area, a target that the corporation has achieved in 2013 and 2014, but fell short of in 2015.
The BBC's annual report for 2015-2016 makes reference to the "London bubble" while claiming that does this not represent an active bias but rather the fact that London is the place where so many decisions and programming are made. While notable investments in production capacity outside of London have been made- such as the creation of MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester- spending figures for radio and television production in the nations and regions has fallen in real terms, though this accompanies a near £600 million pound reduction in funding for the BBC as a whole since 2010.
The UK's move towards increased devolution in the areas of healthcare, education, and a range of other policy areas, has created additional challenges for the corporation. The flagship newscasts are based in London and tend to report "nation-wide" stories related to government and policy that are often only pertinent to England, or sometimes England and Wales. The BBC Trust and Future for Public Service Television Inquiry has recognized that this requires more clarity in UK-wide news programming (ex. explaining why the Junior Doctors Strike only effects England, or that Scotland and Northern Ireland are exempt from the bedroom tax and the funding changes leading to the 2010 Student Protests) and creates an additional responsibility for the home nations opt-outs to report on devolved matters. From 2016 onward, BBC management will go before the devolved committees for culture or media to answer questions and criticism in the same way that it does for the Westminster Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.
In August 2007, Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP, highlighted what he perceived as a lack of a Welsh focus on BBC news broadcasts. Price threatened to withhold future television licence fees in response to a lack of thorough news coverage of Wales, echoing a BBC Audience Council for Wales July report citing public frustration over how the Welsh Assembly is characterised in national media.
Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins agreed with Price and called for responsibility for broadcasting to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly, voicing similar calls from Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond. Criticism of the BBC's news coverage for Wales and Scotland since devolution prompted debate of possibly providing evening news broadcasts with specific focus for both countries.
Scotland coverage controversy
Scottish independence referendum, 2014
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) criticised the BBC in October 2012 for its poor coverage of the Scotland independence referendum which took place on 18 September 2014. The BBC reportedly "downplayed the costs of referendum coverage, claiming it was a 'one off'." According to a research team led by Dr John Robertson from the University of the West of Scotland the BBC's first year of referendum coverage (to September 2013) was biased towards the pro-Unionist No campaign.
Andrew Marr, the BBC presenter, was accused of expressing anti-independence views in a March 2014 interview with Alex Salmond. The BBC allowed the Better Together campaign to make a pro-unionist cinema advertisement at its Glasgow studios in April 2014 which was thought to contravene its editorial guidelines. According to The Scotsman, the BBC appointed Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s education spokeswoman, as presenter of Crossfire, a radio programme debating issues relating to the referendum. The newspaper believed this arrangement was also a breach of the corporation's guidelines and asserted that Dugdale is "a member of Scottish Labour’s Truth Team – set up to monitor all SNP and Yes Scotland interviews, press statements and briefing papers" in the run-up to the September vote.
A report by the Audience Council Scotland, the BBC Trust's advisory body in Scotland, questioned the impartiality of BBC Scotland in covering the independence referendum in July 2014. A Sunday Times article, also in July 2014, queried the BBC's approach to the independence referendum, and stated that emails by a senior member of a production company organising debates for the corporation gave advance notice to the No campaign.
On 10 September 2014 the BBC were accused of bias in their reporting of an Alex Salmond press conference for the international media. In a response to a question by the BBC's Nick Robinson, Salmond accused him of heckling and wanted an inquiry by the UK's Cabinet Secretary into a leak to the BBC from the Treasury concerning the plans of the Royal Bank of Scotland to relocate its registered office to London which had been in the previous evening's news. In response to complaints about editing of the live coverage of the conference for later bulletins, the corporation said: "The BBC considers that the questions were valid and the overall report balanced and impartial, in line with our editorial guidelines."
After a day of protests from Yes campaigners, and demands that Robinson should be sacked, the following Monday (15 September), Salmond responded to questions from journalists at Edinburgh Airport. About Robinson's report in later bulletins, he said: "I don't think it was fair for Nick to suggest that I hadn't answered a question when I actually answered it twice." He did not believe Robinson should be sacked.
Former BBC correspondent, Paul Mason, was reported in September 2014 to have been critical of the corporation's reporting on his Facebook page (intended only to be read by his 'friends'). According to Mason: “Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there."
Channel 4's director of creative diversity, Stuart Cosgrove called for a re-think at the BBC on the nature of balance and due impartiality based. This was during a BBC Scotland radio conversation hosted by John Beattie. Cosgrove commented: "Yesterday, I was watching the rolling BBC News very closely and it was clear that notions of balance were being predicated on a party political basis. It would go from Cameron to Miliband to Clegg and back. If you look at it as a different premise – it’s a yes/no question – then Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, who is not the leader but is a significant political person within the Yes campaign, should have had exactly the same coverage as Ed Miliband. Do you think for a second he got that? Of course he didn’t. I think there’s been a failure of the understanding of the nature of balance and due impartiality. It’s simply wrong and not acceptable."
An interview of Alex Salmond for the Sunday Herald published on 14 September 2014 included his opinion that the BBC had displayed a pro-union bias during the referendum.
'Off payroll' tax arrangements
In October 2012 a Public Accounts Committee (United Kingdom) report found that the BBC had 25,000 "off payroll" contracts – 13,000 for people who were on air. These contracts enable people to make their own arrangements to pay tax and national insurance, which could allow them to contribute less than employees on pay-as-you-earn tax (PAYE). In response the BBC said many of these were short-term contracts, but it was carrying out a detailed review of tax arrangements.
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