BBC had ‘liberal bias’ on immigration

Former BBC News director Helen Boaden. Picture: BBC
Former BBC News director Helen Boaden. Picture: BBC
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A “DEEP liberal bias” in the BBC prevented it from accurately reflecting public views on immigration, according to a new report.

The review, by television executive Stuart Prebble, said the corporation had been “slow” to catch up with public opinion on subjects including immigration and the rise of support for the UK leaving the European Union.

It said former director of BBC News Helen Boaden “accepts that when she came into her role in September 2004, there had been a problem in the BBC’s coverage of immigration”.

The review added: “She was aware, she told us, of a ‘deep liberal bias’ in the way that the BBC approached the topic.”

The report also heard from former Today programme reporter Robin Aitken, author of a book on perceived left-wing bias in the BBC, who said the corporation was damaged by a “fundamental niceness” and reluctance to give offence that stopped it covering a subject such as immigration properly.

The report, which was commissioned by the BBC Trust, stated: “The BBC was slow to reflect the weight of concern in the wider community about issues arising from immigration. It remains the case that the agenda of debate is probably too driven by the views of politicians.

“However, 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 said 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”.

Mr Prebble, a former ITV boss, warned of the dangers of the BBC gathering too many of its journalists in its new Broadcasting House, in London’s West End, saying: “A large group of people working together are in danger of becoming more homogenous in their thinking.”

BBC Trust member David Liddiment said: “Ensuring that a wide range of views are seen and heard on the BBC is at the heart of the BBC’s enviable reputation for impartial journalism, and I am grateful to Stuart Prebble for his independent assessment of the BBC’s progress.

“Our impartiality reviews are an important inducement for the executive to question itself, in this case on its breadth of opinion, to ensure it is doing all it can to achieve what licence fee-payers expect, and that it is constantly alert to changing public opinion.”

Mr Prebble said that part of the problem with covering immigration was the BBC had too closely followed the Westminster agenda and for many years mainstream politicians had been reluctant to discuss the issue.

But he said that in more recent times it had “reflected a wide and more suitable range of opinions on the subject” and had “caught up considerably” with public opinion.

Mr Liddiment said the review, which comes five years after a similar exercise, cost £175,000.

In a 2010 interview, the then director-general, Mark Thompson, said the BBC had been guilty of a “massive bias to the left” in the past. He said staff had been “quite mystified” by the rise of Margaret Thatcher, but now there was “less overt tribalism” among its journalists.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “We are pleased our coverage has been deemed ‘remarkable’ and ‘impressive’. Stuart Prebble has concluded, overall, that our coverage of immigration is ‘broad and impressive’.”