Some of the BBC’s younger journalists “do not understand” impartiality, former editors of the British public broadcaster have warned.
Giving evidence to the Communications and Digital Committee of the House of Lords on Tuesday, the BBC’s former head of TV news Roger Mosey said, “Some younger journalists don’t understand it in the way it was classically imbued into BBC journalists over the years.”
“I think training is absolutely essential to this, that people do get these classic BBC values,” he said.
Richard Sambrook, former director of BBC Global News who now teaches journalism at Cardiff University, said his journalism students tend to confuse impartiality with “social justice.”
“I talked to students about impartiality … and they may say, ‘Well, fairness is about social justice.’ You have to try to reframe the argument. With identity politics, they have a very different concept of what is right,” he said.
He said “it takes quite a lot” to get the journalism students to understand that impartiality “is not about bland journalism, it is about stronger journalism.”
During the committee meeting, the witnesses were asked what challenges social media posed to upholding BBC impartiality.
Sambrook said, “Social media is strident, argumentative, it has a casual tone, it is a place to campaign.”
He said that some BBC staff “are being lured in to show they are relevant,” and it is now “essential” for the BBC to uphold its standards “across all platforms” including social media.
As a publicly-funded national broadcaster, the BBC is supposed to honour impartiality as its core principle. But its ability to do so has been called into question.
In Ofcom’s 2020 annual report on the BBC, the UK broadcasting watchdog highlighted the problem with impartiality in the BBC’s services, saying, “Due impartiality in programmes continues to be the issue about which we receive most complaints in relation to the BBC.”
The watchdog said that the traditional loyalty enjoyed by the BBC from older and better-off people was on the decline.
When the BBC’s current Director-General Tim Davie assumed his post in September 2020, he said in his introductory speech that it was the public broadcaster’s “number one priority” to renew its commitment to impartiality.
The broadcaster issued new social media guidance in October 2020, telling its news staff to refrain from expressing their political views, supporting campaigns, and “virtue signalling” on social media.
Mary Clark, Lily Zhou, and PA contributed to this report.