The BBC’s pledge to tackle bias could be undermined by its decision to increasingly centralise its news production, Whitehall sources believe.
There are concerns the broadcaster’s groupthink on issues such as Brexit will not be tackled if its ‘modernised’ system is ‘controlled from the centre’.
It comes despite BBC bosses promising an ‘impartiality revolution’ to crackdown on bias. Last October, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the corporation would need to reveal how it was ‘going to change’ before it got a new licence fee settlement.
Later that month, it released details of an ‘action plan’ to make sure its content is ‘fair, accurate and unbiased’.
The BBC’s pledge to tackle bias could be undermined by its decision to increasingly centralise its news production, Whitehall sources believe
Director-general Tim Davie also claimed the corporation’s commitment to impartiality was his main priority when he took on the role in 2020. But some are concerned that the BBC’s ‘Modernising News’ plans will undermine these pledges.
Its proposals involve the creation of ‘multi-skilled story teams’ who will produce stories for the BBC’s different programmes. It means while more news divisions and shows are being moved out of London, the journalists will be put into these central teams instead of being attached to specific programmes.
But a recent review led by BBC board member Sir Nicholas Serota pointed out that the move would ‘involve a greater level of centralised news production’ as individual editors would have limited power to change certain parts of their stories. And there are concerns that this will make it even harder to tackle impartiality issues at the broadcaster.
A Whitehall insider said the review ‘spells out the way in which nothing the BBC says they will do in terms of reducing bias or increasing levels of impartiality will work’, adding: ‘Regardless of who they move where, the “story teams” will ensure that news output will be controlled from the centre in exactly the same way.’
A recent review led by BBC board member Sir Nicholas Serota (pictured) pointed out that the BBC’s plans to create ‘multi-skilled story teams’ would ‘involve a greater level of centralised news production’ as individual editors would have limited power to change certain parts of their stories
Sir Nicholas’s report also warned the move could increase ‘potential errors’ as stories will be ‘re-used by multiple programmes’. And it claimed there is a risk that ‘plurality is diminished’ because fewer stories will be covered.
It comes as the BBC yesterday revealed it had appointed an interim director of news and current affairs amid reports that ITN could play ‘hardball’ about releasing the new appointee, Deborah Turness, early from her 12-month notice period.
Jonathan Munro – the deputy director of news who was involved in rehiring Martin Bashir in 2016 despite his Diana interview – will oversee the division until Miss Turness arrives. Current director Fran Unsworth will leave at the end of the month.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘Impartiality is a key priority for the BBC. Our newsroom restructure is designed to reduce duplication and give audiences a better service, alongside moving more jobs out of London and making financial savings.
‘The Serota review identifies the need for careful monitoring of the changes we’re making and we’ve adopted its findings in our plan.’