THE TIMES 16/6/07
BBC report damns its ‘culture of bias’
Richard Brooks and Dipesh Gadher
THE BBC is institutionally biased, an official report will conclude this week. The year-long investigation, commissioned by the BBC, has found the corporation particularly partial in its treatment of single-issue politics such as climate change, poverty, race and religion.
It concludes that the bias has extended across drama, comedy and entertainment, with the corporation pandering to politically motivated celebrities and trendy causes.
Singled out is the coverage of Bob Geldof’s Live 8 concert and the Make Poverty History campaign. The report says there was no rounded debate of the issues.
The report also raises serious concerns about accompanying programmes, including a drama by the writer Richard Curtis and the finale of his Vicar of Dibley where Dawn French shows a minute-long clip of the Make Poverty Histo`video.
The report points to the danger of BBC programmes being undermined by the liberal culture of its staff, who need to challenge their own assumptions more. "There is a tendency to ‘group think’ with too many staff inhabiting a shared space and comfort zone," says the report.
It goes on to highlight a "Roneo mentality" where staff ape each other’s common liberal values.
The report has been approved by a steering group led by Richard Tait, a BBC trustee and former editor-in-chief at ITN. Its members also include Mark Byford, the BBC’s deputy director-general, Helen Boaden, head of BBC News, and Alan Yentob, the creative director.
Although its coverage of conventional politics is judged to be fair and impartial, the inquiry says the BBC allowed itself to be hijacked by Geldof, the U2 singer Bono, and Curtis, who urged Tony Blair to pressure world leaders to alleviate poverty in developing countries.
Even before the BBC cleared its schedules to cover the Live 8 concert from Hyde Park – which coincided with the G8 Gleneagles summit in 2005 – the report points out that it broadcast a related drama by Curtis called The Girl in the Cafe. It featured Bill Nighy as a shy civil servant who falls in love with an antipoverty campaigner and takes her to a summit in Iceland where she makes an impassioned plea to world leaders.
Gordon Brown, the chancellor, saw the film before it was shown on BBC1.
After the BBC broadcast a week of programmes to highlight poverty in Africa and a day celebrating the National Health Service, Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, told a House of Lords select committee the BBC’s coverage came dangerously close to peddling government propaganda.
The programmes came at a time when the BBC was negotiating a new royal charter with ministers.
The document, jointly commissioned by BBC managers and the board of governors, now replaced by the BBC Trust, includes details of a staff impartiality seminar at which senior figures criticised the corporation for being anti-American and pandering to Islam.
Criticisms highlighted from the seminar include: A senior BBC reporter attacking the corporation for giving "no moral weight" to America. Executives admitting they would broadcast images of a Bible being thrown away – but not the Koran for fear of offending Muslims. The BBC deliberately championing multiculturalism and ethnic minorities, while betraying an anticountryside bias.
Mary Fitzpatrick, the BBC’s "diversity czar", told the seminar Muslim women newsreaders should be allowed to wear the hijab, or headscarf, on screen. Fitzpatrick spoke out after criticism over Fiona Bruce’s decision to wear a necklace with a cross while reading the news.
The report’s findings come in the wake of a separate independent review of the BBC’s business coverage which two weeks ago accused the broadcaster of lapses in impartiality because of its desire to popularise corporate stories.
It singled out an interview with Bill Gates on the 10 O’Clock News as "sycophantic".