OFCOM to review BBC news and current affairs

Contributions from the BBC's funding public are apparently not part of the review.

OFCOM recently announced a “Review of BBC news and current affairs”.

“We are conducting a review of the BBC’s news and current affairs output across television, radio and online.

The way we consume and engage with news is changing. The traditional mix of television and radio bulletins, giving audiences an authoritative daily summary of major events, has been replaced for many people by a far more complex news environment.

In this climate, the role of the BBC as an impartial provider of news and current affairs across all its platforms is just as important as ever. The challenge the BBC faces is to remain a relevant and trusted source of news, which delivers high quality content for all audiences. The aim of this review is to understand how well the BBC is adapting to meet that challenge.”

The background to that review is explained in an accompanying document.

“In our first annual report on the BBC, in October 2018, we concluded that the BBC was performing well in many respects against the first Public Purpose. When we asked audiences to rate different aspects of the BBC’s news and current affairs, more than eight in ten told us they valued the BBC’s investigative journalism and analysis of events. More than seven in ten told us they regarded BBC news highly for the quality, accuracy and trustworthiness of its news content.

However, there were some areas of concern. Audiences rated the BBC lower for its depth of analysis, and for providing a range of content not widely available elsewhere, than for many other aspects. Audiences are less likely to rate BBC TV news highly for helping them make up their mind, compared to those who considered this news to be high quality, and previous research shows a similar trend.

In our annual report, we also considered the BBC’s particular responsibility – set out by the Charter – to help people participate in the democratic process. Our research has revealed many people are generally concerned about both the reliability of content in an era of ‘fake news’, and the negative consequences of disinformation for public trust and democratic processes. Nearly a third (29%) of adult internet users express concerns about disinformation online.

The BBC has a central role to play in providing trusted, impartial news. Yet our research has shown that audiences consistently rate the impartiality of the BBC’s TV and radio news less highly than many other aspects of BBC’s news output.

For these reasons we consider it is appropriate to undertake a review, to examine in detail the BBC’s delivery of the first Public Purpose.”

The “first Public Purpose” is “[t]o provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Nevertheless, OFCOM states that:

“This review will not assess the BBC’s formal compliance with the ‘due impartiality’ and ‘due accuracy’ requirements of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.”

OFCOM described the methodology of its review as follows:

“As well as speaking to audiences, we will engage with industry and other interest parties throughout the period of our review.”


“We will commission a range of new and in-depth audience research, using a variety of methodologies, to draw a comprehensive picture of what UK audiences and users want from the BBC. […]

This work will include qualitative research with different audience groups across the UK’s nations and regions. We will speak to those who engage regularly with the BBC, and those who do not.”

Although the announcement did not request contributions from the BBC’s (and OFCOM’s) funding public, it did include “contact information” and seeing as that suggests that OFCOM wants to be contacted, BBC Watch wrote to the email address provided to enquire whether or not it was inviting submissions from the public and if so, within what time frame.

Six days later we received what rather looks like an automated reply which does not address our question.

“Thank you for your e-mail with regards to our review of BBC news and current affairs.  

We are not able to respond to every message we receive, but pleased be assured that we will take account of your contribution in developing our work. We expect to publish our findings in autumn 2019 and will write to let you know when we have done so.

The current review is looking at the extent to which BBC news and current affairs output is seen to be relevant to audiences across the UK and trusted by them, as well as distinctive and high quality.

As part of this review, we are unable to consider specific complaints about BBC programming. If you wish to make a complaint, you should complain to the BBC first. Other than in exceptional circumstances, Ofcom only considers complaints about BBC programmes where the complainant has already complained to the BBC and completed the BBC’s complaints process, having escalated the complaint to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit and received a final response from them. When you reach our complaint form you will be asked for details of the BBC’s investigation and a BBC reference number. 

Please also note that Ofcom does not regulate the extent to which BBC services provide “value for money”. If you have a query in this area, you may wish to contact the National Audit Office.”

That apparently is the best the Office of Communications – which is of course what the acronym OFCOM means – can do. So while the general public which funds the BBC and OFCOM is apparently not invited to contribute to this review, how the “audiences” OFCOM will be “speaking to” are to be selected remains unclear, as does the identity of “industry and other interest parties”.


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