News-watch Survey – Summer 2020

News-watch monitored ten BBC news and current affairs programmes for eight days, from Monday 6 July 2020 to the launch of the government’s ‘The UK’s New Start: Let’s Get Going’ campaign on Monday 13 July. The BBC Radio 4 broadcasts in the survey were: Today; The World at One (including The World This Weekend on Sunday); PM; The Six O’Clock News; and The World Tonight. The television programmes comprised the main BBC1 bulletins (News at One, News at Six and News at Ten and the Weekend News); BBC 2’s Newsnight; and three daily editions of Newsround on the CBBC channel.


BBC STAFF SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS “MUST MEET OUTPUT STANDARDS’:  Charlotte Tobitt (UK Press Gazette 29/10) reported that the BBC’s new social media rules stated that staff should treat their personal accounts as if they were BBC output, complying with its strict editorial standards and not including anything which they could not say on air on a BBC programme or on its website. She added that staff had also been warned that emojis could ‘undercut an otherwise impartial post’ and that liking or following some accounts could be enough to count as sharing a personal opinion. Ms Tobitt said that journalists had also been warned against:

  • Linking to anything they had not read in full
  • Using emojis to “undercut an otherwise impartial post” whether accidentally or deliberately
  • Breaking news on a personal account – “If you have a story to break, the BBC platforms are your priority, even if it takes slightly longer”
  • Being “seduced” by the informality of social media – “Your posts about news events and issues require careful thought and editorial discipline”
  • Being “drawn into ill-tempered exchanges, or exchanges that would reflect badly on you, or the BBC”.


DAVIE ‘TO CONFIRM NEW ANTI-BIAS RULES’: Gordon Rayner (£ Telegraph 29/10) said that BBC director general Tim Davie would confirm new corporation rules which were designed to protect BBC impartiality by preventing staff from posting biased opinions on social media outlets and also by requiring them  – in a new staff register –  to declare earnings from sources other than the BBC. Mr Rayner reported that Mr Davie was expected to say that impartiality was the bedrock of the corporation and must be observed both on and off air and that he believed by forcing stars to list how much they had been paid by private companies to speak or host events, they would be ‘shamed’ into turning down such work. Mr Rayner said that the new guidance was not intended to prevent the use of social media ‘but to ensure that anyone working for the BBC uses it with appropriate regard for the BBC’s values’.   He added that a list of social media rules was being posted to staff online and would be backed by disciplinary action including sacking.

Former BBC news programme executive and Downing Street communications chief Sir Robbie Gibb (£ Telegraph 29/10)  claimed that the new measures being announced by Tim Davie showed his determination to tackle bias and ‘restore trust in the BBC’, and would demand sweeping changes throughout the corporation. Sir Robbie asserted:

‘The move is a big step in the right direction for Mr Davie, who took over the helm just last month. He has declared that restoring the BBC’s reputation for impartiality will be his top priority and in this he faces a mammoth task. We all pay our licence fee but all too often BBC output reflects the views of just one section of society – the urban, metropolitan middle classes that make up the bulk of the BBC workforce. Over the last decade, “group-think” at the BBC has distorted its output, eroding its reputation for impartiality and damaging public trust.

‘And this drive to restore what has been lost should not stop with social media or news and current affairs but should extend to the entire BBC output. For gains made in some areas risk being undermined if entertainment programmes are not subject to at least some level of editorial scrutiny. All too often, the narrow political group-think spills onto our screens in drama plots and comedy programmes.

‘It seems having a non Left-wing comedian has become a new form of tokenism. Since the rise of alternative comedy in the Eighties, the BBC has never moved culturally away from the dominance of Left-wing Tory-bashing comics. Only “anti woke” Geoff Norcott seems to have broken through this barrier. Norcott is a funny man but so too are Andrew Doyle, Leo Kearse and Dominic Frisby. You would be forgiven for never having heard of them unless you are a comedy circuit regular.

‘And how on earth did the jaw-droppingly biased Roadkill drama get commissioned? With its grotesque caricature of a Tory minister and ludicrous plot line about secret plans to privatise the NHS – surely this is the most inane, inaccurate and biased prime time drama to air on British TV.’



NEW ‘PRO-BREXIT’ ONLINE VIDEO SERVICE PLANNED:  Christopher Williams (£ Telegraph 24/10) said that Ben Habib, a former Brexit party MEP and commercial property executive, was attempting to raise £4m of start-up capital for Unlocked, a new online video channel aimed at ‘muzzled majority’ news audiences not served by existing broadcasting services. Mr Williams reported that Unlocked would provide a platform for political views – such as support for Brexit – which were not getting the prominence they currently deserved. He added that former BBC producer Lesley Katon, who was now a partner in the PR firm Pagefield, had been lined up as chief executive of the new service. Mr Williams noted that Unlocked would not need to apply for a broadcast licence from Ofcom, and thus would not be bound by its impartiality rules, because it would operate online.


60% ‘WANT BBC LICENCE FEE SCRAPPED’ SAYS POLL: Charles Hymas (£ Telegraph 25/10) reported that a poll commissioned by Defund the BBC and conducted by Savanta ComRes among 2,274 adults had found that 59 per cent of respondents wanted the BBC licence fee to be scrapped, with only 32 per cent backing the status quo.   He said that 43 per cent also did not believe that the corporation output reflected ‘British values’ and 32 per cent were unhappy about the way the licence fee money was spent. Mr Hymas, also noting that ‘leading Conservative MPs wanted a review of BBC funding,  quoted former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith:

‘Public opinion on the BBC is clearly moving and that means it’s time for a root-and-branch review on whether or not the public want a fully funded public broadcaster and, if so, what functions that broadcaster should fulfil.’

Mr Hymas added that the BBC’s licence fee arrangements did not come up for renewal until 2027 with the ending of the current charter, but that there was a mid-term review in 2022 ‘with the government understood the be urging director general Tim Davie to come up with proposals for an alternative model’.   He said that other poll findings included that those over 55 were twice as likely as young people to think that the licence fee was spent unreasonably (46 percent-21 percent),  and that 50 per cent of those surveyed felt that people who only watched other channels should not have to pay the licence fee.  He quoted Rebecca Ryan of Defund the BBC:

‘This poll clearly demonstrates that the British public is overwhelmingly opposed to the Licence Fee in its current form. There are rightly serious concerns over the way that the licence fee is spent, particularly given the eye watering sums paid to certain BBC presenters. It is also extremely worrying that the BBC has alienated such huge swathes of British people who do not think it represents their values. Decriminalising the licence fee is just the first step to radical reform. The next move is to ensure the licence fee only covers BBC output.’

Harry Cole (Sun 25/10), also reporting the poll findings, said that it had shown that 2019 Labour voters and 2016 Remain voters were significantly more likely than their Conservative and Leave counterparts  to believe that the BBC fairly reflected British values.  He also reported that the BBC had claimed in response that surveys consistently showed that the licence fee was the public’s preferred way of funding the BBC and that the model was in place until at least 2027.

A Sun editorial at the end of its article  (also 25/10) said:

‘A POLL revealed by The Sun today proves what we’ve suspected for a while — the BBC is in deep, deep trouble. Almost two in three Brits say the TV licence fee must be reformed, a third say the cash is spent “unreasonably’’ — and one in six say they never even watch the Beeb. It’s time Parliament listened to them. Decriminalising non-payment of the fee will be a start. But the Government should go further and revive its plan to fund the service with a subscription model. Media luvvies squeal at the thought: they think that scrapping the licence fee would kill the Beeb off. But they’re wrong. A subscription model — in which ordinary viewers beyond London would have more stake than ever before in what shows they watch — would give tired old Auntie a new lease of life.  The BBC will always be a beloved British institution. But to stay relevant, it must start reflecting the REAL modern Britain.’

The full poll is here.

DAVIE ‘TO CLAMP DOWN ON BBC STARS ‘MOONLIGHTING’:  Luke May (Mail online 25/10) claimed that, ‘according to one presenter’, BBC director general Tim Davie was planning, in a ‘clampdown on moonlighting by BBC stars’,  the introduction of  a public register of their additional earnings.  Mr May said that Mr Davie would also reveal tougher measures on their use of social media as part of his drive to ensure that a perception of a lack of impartiality in their reporting of events was eradicated. The reporter added that one of the targets in terms of presenter pay was the News at Ten newsreader Huw Edwards, who was reputed to have been paid £400,000 over the past five years in additional earnings.  Mr May also claimed that as part of the new social media measures, Mr Davie would be prepared to sack those who broke the new guidelines, as well as suspending offending Twitter accounts.




DEFUND THE BBC LAUNCHES LEAFLET DRIVE: Steve Bird (£ Telegraph 25/10) said that Defund the BBC – a pressure group supported by a group of Conservative MPs including Andrea Jenkyns, Ben Bradley, Lee Anderson and Christian Wakefield – had launched a leaflet campaign entitled ‘The BBC is Broken’, telling homeowners how to legally cancel their licence fee payments.  Mr Bird reported that the document accused the corporation of not keeping up with technology and caring less and less about its duty to provide impartial content, especially for those outside the M25.

He said that Rebecca Ryan, the campaign director, had asserted:

‘Defund the BBC is working to inform the British public on how they can cancel their TV licence without fear of prosecution. The BBC’s system for catching and prosecuting non-licence fee payment disproportionately affects women and the poorest and most vulnerable in society. This must stop. Decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee is only the first step. It is totally unreasonable to force people, by fear of imprisonment, to pay the BBC in order to watch non-BBC live TV.’



JAMES PURNELL LEAVES BBC: Mark Duell (Mail 24/10) reported that former Labour government culture secretary James Purnell, who had become  the BBC’s director of radio and education, was leaving the corporation ‘after losing his place on its executive team following the arrival of new director general Tim Davie’.  Mr Duell said that Mr Purnell, who had worked at the BBC for seven years and had been responsible for developing the BBC’s strategy in the run-up to Charter renewal in 2017, had been appointed vice chancellor of the University of the Arts in London. Mr Duell added that Mr Purnell had also been responsible for developing the new BBC platform BBC Sounds.

BBC ‘CAST LEAVE VOTERS AS STUPID’: Naomi Adedokun (Express 24/10) said that the Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, had claimed that Brexit-supporting voters were ‘switching the BBC off in droves’  and ‘ripping their TV licences up’ because corporation coverage of the EU cast them as ‘stupid’ and had alienated them. Ms Adedokun said Mr Anderson had asserted that the BBC had accused them of ‘being thick, racist and not knowing what they voted for’.


BBC CHAIRMAN: ‘GREAT MAJORITY OF OUR OUTPUT IS VERY GOOD’: Anita Singh (£ Telegraph 21/10), reporting a speech by BBC chairman Sir David Clementi to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer organisation,  said he had asserted that the corporation ‘took seriously’ that over-50s thought the BBC was biased to the left while young people tended to believe it was too right-wing and part of the establishment.  Ms Singh added that he had also observed that for the ‘great majority of our output we are very good’ but impartiality was new director general Tim Davie’s priority number one ‘and we are doubling down on impartiality’.  She said he had also hit back at politicians who criticised the BBC and claimed that many of them  – apart from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and BBC2’s Newsnight – did not spend much time with corporation output. He had also hit back at those who wanted the BBC to become a subscription service because their argument was ‘largely ideological’ and they did not realise what would be lost in terms of the educational and informational services.

James Bickerton (Express 21/10), also reporting Sir David’s speech, said he had asserted:

‘Around 27 million people in the UK came to the BBC website to find out about the election results (in December 2019). It was a reminder of the trust people place in the BBC. But the fact criticism came from all sides of the political divide shows to me that we were doing our job without fear or favour.’

BBC ‘SACRIFICES QUALITY FOR EQUALITY’: Milly Vincent (Daily Mail 21/10) said that former England cricket team captain and BBC cricket correspondent Sir Geoffrey Boycott had accused the BBC of ‘sacrificing quality for equality and of holding its presenters to a standard of political correctness which meant they were ‘frightened of saying anything’. Ms Vincent, noting that Sir Geoffrey had left the BBC in June and had been replaced by Isa Guha, a former England women’s cricketer, along with the recently retired cricketers Sir Alastair Cook and James Anderson,  said that Sir Geoffrey was also said to have claimed that at the BBC everything was now about ‘gender and race’  and that the corporation was not run particularly well.

BBC ‘TERRIFIES ELDERLY’: Katie Weston (Daily Mail 21/10) reported that the BBC had been accused of ‘terrifying the elderly’ – who in July lost the right to have free BBC licences – by sending out letters ‘emblazoned with capital letters’  threatening fines  of £1,000 if they did not pay their £157.50 annual fee. Ms Weston also noted that the letter wrongly implied that licence fee collectors had the right of entry to homes in their investigations about non-payment.  She reported that the BBC had claimed that the letters had not been sent out to the elderly.



POLL: 98% SAY BBC BREXIT COVERAGE FAVOURED EU: Steven Brown (Express 20/10) said that a poll conducted by his newspaper into attitudes about the BBC’s coverage of Brexit had found that 98% (of 19,285 responses) believed that the Corporation ‘did side with the EU’ in its Brexit reporting. He explained that the conducting of the poll had been prompted by a tweet from former Labour MP  Baroness Hoey which said that when the history of the Brexit period was written, the corporation would be shown to have ‘totally sided with the fear-mongering EU’.

‘ASTONISHING’ BBC ADMISSION ABOUT PRINCESS DI SCOOP:  Victoria Ward (£ Telegraph 20/10), discussing the ‘bombshell’ interview Princess Diana gave to Martin Bashir of the BBC 25 years ago, reported that the BBC press office had said that a ‘physical copy’ of a handwritten note from the princess exonerating Mr Bashir of claims that he had pressured her by using false documents to agree to the interview no longer existed. Ms Ward added that, despite this, the corporation insisted that the existence of the note was documented in BBC internal records and had been seen at the time by BBC management.    She said that Andrew Morton, who had written biographies of Princess Diana, had described – in a Channel 4 documentary about the interview due to be broadcast on October 21 – the BBC’s admission about the note as ‘astonishing’.

Kate Jackson (Sun 12/10) said that in the Channel 4 documentary about the Princess Diana interview, Patrick Jephson, the princess’s former private secretary, would claim that the BBC had exploited Princess Diana, and that ‘making her perform  (in that way) had been ‘a combination of seduction and betrayal’.   Ms Jackson also reported that Andrew Morton would claim that the princess – living in a world of anxiety about being ‘bumped off’ and possible surveillance – had been ‘very cleverly’ played upon by Martin Bashir.


‘WOKE’ BBC ‘SHOULD BE DEFUNDED’, SAYS BURCHILL’: Julie Burchill (£ Telegraph 18/10) argued that as ‘a circuit-break to the gloom and doom ahead’, the government – in order to win back support – should embark on a ‘brisk defunding of the BBC’.  She opined:

‘I’m sure that most of us could get behind putting a rocket under all those self-righteous metropolitans who work for it and treating them to a trick they’ll never forget. How odd to think that the BBC was once one of the main things that kept the nation’s morale up – during the Second World War, especially. I dread to think how they’d react these days; no doubt we’d be instructed not to mindlessly rally round the flag against Germany in a jingoistic way – especially considering the racism of Churchill, in contrast with Hitler’s vegetarianism.’

Ms Burchill added that when Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, had been mooted as a possible candidate to become chairman of the BBC, ‘you could smell the fear and the fury of the Woke across the capital’,  and that they should not be kept on the run. She asserted:

‘They’ll never reform themselves and to believe they will would be as foolish as expecting the best from the EU, another corrupted monolith with which they have so much in common; the endless entitlement, the fake enlightenment, the ceaseless spending of other people’s money.’

Ms Burchill concluded:

‘And now more than ever, as our country stands on the brink of a social sundering far greater than anything we have experienced since the civil war – north against south, pro-lockdown against anti-lockdown, British country against British country in a crumbling union – we don’t need yet another state-sponsored snowflake telling us how racist we are. Step forward Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison, who has announced that the countryside itself is racist: ‘In asking whether the countryside is racist, then yes it is; but asking if it’s more racist than anywhere else – maybe, maybe not.’ Institutions outlive their usefulness and at that point they change or they perish. ‘Nation shall speak peace to nation’ (the BBC motto) and ‘United in diversity’ (the EU motto) are amusingly interchangeable – and they are wearing thin, despite the oceans of money employed to paper over the cracks. We don’t know where we’ll be this time next year, so do put the boot in, Boris – give us some savage amusement till this nightmare before Christmas is over.’


BBC NEWSREADERS’PAID FAR TOO MUCH’: Sophie Barnes reported that Martin Bell, a former BBC foreign correspondent (£ Telegraph 18/10), had claimed that BBC newsreaders – earning up to £465,000 a year in the case of Huw Edwards, who presented the News at Ten on BBC1 – were paid far too much for ‘mostly reading words off an autocue’.  She added that Mr Bell, who had left the BBC in 1995 to stand as an ‘anti-corruption’ MP, had said he had earned £60,000 and had never asked for a pay rise.




DIMBLEBY AND GIBB ‘NOT ELIGIBLE’ TO BECOME BBC CHAIRMAN: Edward Malnick (£ Telegraph 18/10), reported  that the job advertisement for the new chairman of the BBC stipulated that candidates must be independent of the BBC, and not employed by the corporation in the past five years, and he suggested that this would mean former BBC1 Question Time presenter David Dimbleby and former BBC head of political programmes Sir Robbie Gibb – both of whom had declared an interest in the role – would fall at the first hurdle if they applied for the post.


OFCOM LAUNCHES COMPETITION INQUIRY INTO BBC SOUNDS: Brian McGleenon (Express 17/10) reported that media regulator Ofcom had announced an investigation into the impact on the market of BBC Sounds, a corporation platform which allowed users to listen to BBC radio stations and a selection of other stations live and on-demand.  He said that the move followed the raising of concerns by commercial radio industry organisation RadioCentre and the all-party parliamentary group for commercial radio. He added that Ofcom had stated:

‘. . . there have been a number of incremental changes to BBC Sounds, and some stakeholders in the commercial radio sector have concerns about its development. The audio and radio sector is undergoing a period of rapid change due to the evolution of streaming services, including the entry of global players such as Spotify and Apple Music.

‘Audience expectations are also changing; increasingly they want to listen to the content of their choice, when and where they want to, and there is a tendency for younger audiences, in particular, to listen online.

‘The BBC has responded to these audience changes and competition by developing and expanding BBC Sounds. Given the incremental changes that the BBC has made to BBC Sounds, we consider that now is the appropriate time to take stock of the market position of BBC Sounds and assess whether there are any issues that need to be addressed, via regulatory action or other means. We are therefore seeking evidence from stakeholders about the impact of BBC Sounds on the market.’


‘GEORGE OSBORNE ‘COULD APPLY TO BECOME BBC CHAIRMAN: Christopher Hope (£ Telegraph 17/10) reported that the post of BBC Chairman had been formally advertised with a closing date for applications of November 11, and that the government had increased the salary for the part time role from £100,000 to £160,000 a year for a three to four day working week. He speculated that those being urged to apply now included the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who had resigned from his role after the EU referendum in 2016, and now reputedly held several jobs, including as a fund manager at BlackRock, for which he was said to earn £650,000 a year for one day’s work a week.