Ofcom on the regulation of the BBC for impartiality and accuracy

Ritchie Cogan
Ritchie Cogan 17th January 2017

The panel: (left to right) Simon Murphy, Tracy McVeigh, Tim Singleton, Sara Pantuliano, Patrick Gathara, Halima Begum and Mark Galloway.

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Executive Summary


  1. IBT’s primary interest is in Purpose 1 of the BBC in the Charter, to provide duly accurate and impartial news and information, which includes factual programmes and Purpose 5 to provide impartial, accurate and fair news for audiences around the world.[1]


  1. We limit our response to this consultation to the proposal to regulate the BBC for impartiality and accuracy according to Section 5 of the Broadcasting Code.


  1. IBT has a number of concerns about this consultation which arise as a result of the process by which Ofcom is having to consult on numerous changes required to the regulation and governance model of the BBC. We understand that Ofcom is planning to devise an Operating Framework[2] which will set out the regime for measuring the BBC’s delivery of its purposes and mission. This Framework has not yet been prepared and without knowing whether it will include measures related to impartiality and accuracy additional to the proposals in this consultation, it is difficult to assess the current proposal.
  2. The proposal under consultation to limit regulation of the BBC for impartiality and accuracy to broadcast news and impartiality in broadcast programmes on matters of political or industrial controversy and to current public policy represents a significant reduction in the regulation of the BBC. The BBC is currently externally regulated across all content for impartiality and accuracy.
  3. While we understand that Section Two of the Broadcasting Code (Harm and Offence), which is being consulted on by Ofcom separately, also provides redress in the case of factual content which is considered harmful because it is materially misleading, this provision does not regulate for impartiality in such content and therefore the current proposal still constitutes significantly less external regulation than exists currently whereby all BBC content is regulated for impartiality and accuracy.


  1. Broadcasting and online content play a vital role in engaging us with the wider world because they are the main source of information for people in the UK about what is happening in the world. The BBC is the most trusted provider of such content in the world. IBT considers that all BBC such content should continue to be externally regulated for impartiality and accuracy, as it has been since 2006, in order to maintain trust in the BBC and its services.


  1. Any reduction in the regulation of BBC content for impartiality and accuracy could run counter to the ambition of the Government in the new BBC Charter and Agreement for the BBC to be held to account more robustly for its content standards.[3]
  1. IBT would like to know whether Ofcom plans to implement further measures to assess the BBC for the impartiality and accuracy of its output, in addition to the rules in Section 5 of the Broadcasting Code. Such regulation needs to include online content, the World Service and content in genres other than news, such as documentaries, current affairs, children’s, and sport which we consider crucial in delivering the BBC’s Mission and Public Purposes.
  2. IBT believes that all BBC content should be regulated for being duly accurate and impartial in order to maintain trust in the BBC across all genres. We understand under the new regulatory model that this responsibility will fall on the BBC board in the first instance and while we do not oppose this model per se, there are no details available as yet on how the board will handle complaints, therefore it is difficult to know how effective it will be. Therefore we support the BBC Trust’s suggestion[4] that Ofcom must be able to consider complaints about editorial standards which result from breaches of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines across the entirety of the BBC’s output in the UK and abroad.
  3. IBT expects Ofcom to propose rigorous methods within the Operating Framework to ensure that all BBC content is assessed for accuracy and impartiality as it has been in the past, otherwise this will represent a significant loss of accountability towards audiences.



[2] BBC Agreement,  Clause 5 (2), November 2016

[3] Ofcom’s preparations for regulating the BBC, Para 2.2

[4] BBC Trust Response to the DCMS Charter Review Consultation, Technical Annex  F, November 2015, para 52.

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