In the last couple of weeks, the BBC has come under fire for its coverage, as many accused it of breaching its impartiality rules. At the end of May, BBC bosses were forced to reprimand Emily Maitlis over a monologue, in which she attacked the Government’s handling of Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham during the peak of lockdown. Corporation bosses said the Newsnight presenter had breached impartiality rules with her opening remarks and distanced themselves from her words.
In a column for the New Statesman last week, former BBC executive Roger Mosey attempted to address the issue of bias at BBC News.
He argued that despite the BBC trying hard to be a broadcaster for the whole of the UK, it is currently struggling to do that “because it is a rather liberal organisation”.
He explained: “It recruits many of its staff from metropolitan areas; and they are typically graduates with a worldview which is different from a car worker in Sunderland or a hill farmer in Brecon.
“This means the BBC has been ill-equipped to cope with the forces of Brexit or the rise of Boris Johnson.
“It is hard to think of any BBC presenter who could be accused of a pro-Johnson bias. The traffic is all speeding in the opposite direction.”
As many join in the debate, unearthed reports reveal how former BBC presenter Jonathan Dimbleby admitted that some of the broadcaster’s audiences are indeed biased.
According to a throwback report by The Telegraph, in 2015, Mr Dimbleby said he was “against” screening audience members “on principle” as it was too “complicated” and “expensive”.
He admitted BBC News producers had no control over the political make-up of the audience who ask questions on Radio 4’s Any Questions – unlike Question Time.
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He said: “We choose our audience in the following way – not very much.
“We are invited to venues all across the country and we are guests and whoever lives in that community is invited to come.
“That makes it a unique programme and an open forum for people to come and we would not seek, or I would certainly not be party to seeking to censor anyone because their views don’t actually fit a balanced panel.
“You could impose a balance, but it would mean saying to people ‘sorry you can’t come in here, I know you live in the village, I know you attend the school, I know you are a churchgoer, but you can’t come in because we’re going to work on balance’.”
He added: “But you have to get that balance in advance and that is a very complicated task and it is an extremely expensive task and it won’t have passed your knowledge that the BBC is a tad strapped for cash in any case but I would be against it on principle.”
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Julian Knight, an ex-BBC journalist and current Conservative MP, said the decision not to balance the audience was “deeply disturbing” and warned Mr Dimbleby’s comments were “ill-judged”.
He told The Telegraph: “It is deeply disturbing to hear such an eminent broadcaster as Jonathan say it is acceptable for the BBC to host a major political show in front of a potentially biased audience and using the questionable issue of funding for the state broadcaster as a fig leaf.
“This seems bizarre and I hope that senior management at the BBC will address this matter urgently and clarify that the Any Questions audience will be balanced in future.
“Using the potential of political bias as a means by which to strong arm the process of the charter renewal is just not on.”
A BBC spokesman said at the time: “Since Any Questions started in 1948, we haven’t routinely vetted the audience which is recruited by the host venue with guidance from the BBC.
“Tickets are distributed fairly to political parties in the area, to the venue’s own community and among local people in general.
“In addition to the audience, the diverse panel and Jonathan’s robust chairing all contribute to a range of views being heard during the programme and it’s not unusual for there to be a lively debate across issues.”