Former BBC editors scrutinise the broadcaster’s impartiality


Former BBC editors are concerned that the younger generation of journalists “do not understand” impartiality.

Former head of TV news Roger Mosey, ex-editor of the Today programme Sarah Sands and former director of global news Richard Sambrook appeared at the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee on Tuesday.

The former BBC editors considered whether the BBC’s policy of “due impartiality” was fit for purpose.

Mr Sambrook, now Professor of Journalism and Director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, said that when talking to his students about impartiality, they would divert to talking about “social justice” and he often had to “reframe the argument”.

“With identity politics, they have a very different concept of what is right, we have a culture of calling things out, the environment is very argumentative.

“They are a generation who do not see it in quite the same way, when you talk them through it they buy into it but it takes quite a lot to get them to understand that impartiality is not about bland journalism, it is about stronger journalism.

“I think impartiality is a work in progress, it is always evolving. Impartiality 20 years ago was getting one voice from the Conservative party, one from the Labour party and one from Liberal party if you’re lucky, that was the spectrum of public opinion, but that does not wash today.”

Considering whether impartiality was sufficiently understood and upheld throughout the BBC, Mr Mosey said:

“I think the BBC is a classic good deed in a weary world and we really need it.

“Tim Davie addresses the challenges to impartiality, some younger journalists do not understand. I think training is absolutely essential to this, that people do get these classic BBC values.”

In an annual Ofcom report released last month, the regulator said achieving due impartiality continued to be a “complex challenge” for the BBC and they must continue to evolve to be relevant to all audiences.

During the committee meeting, the witnesses were asked what challenges social media posed to upholding BBC impartiality.

Professor Sambrook said:

“Social media is strident, argumentative, it has a casual tone, it is a place to campaign. Some staff are being lured in to show they are relevant. It is essential BBC standards are upheld across all platforms.”

Earlier this year the broadcaster revealed plans to cut around 520 jobs to “modernise” its newsroom.

Professor Sambrook added:

“What worries me is the sudden loss of expertise. It may be good to encourage fresh talent but it is a significant shock to the system.”

In October this year, the BBC unveiled plans for its “biggest and most significant push” in response to a review led by Arts Council England chairman Sir Nicholas Serota into governance and culture at the broadcaster.

Following the Serota review, the BBC published a 10-point plan focused on impartiality, editorial standards and whistleblowing to ensure its content is fair, accurate and unbiased.

Last month, the Corporation decided to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme run by an LGBT charity, citing reasons of impartiality.

The organisation said in a statement that it would not be renewing its participation in the diversity scheme as it “led some to question whether the BBC can be impartial” but will continue to work with a range of organisations to support its LGBTQ+ staff.


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