A piece in today’s Times:
Nearly half of Britons think that the BBC no longer represents their values amid declining levels of trust in the broadcaster, particularly outside London, research for The Times suggests.
In the past year a third of the public said that the values of the BBC had become less like theirs amid controversy over its coverage of Brexit and the pandemic. Only 33 per cent now believe that it represents their standpoint.
Government research in 2016 found that 62 per cent of the public had an overall favourable view of the BBC.
The results are understood to chime with the unpublished research recently conducted by the BBC which found that residents of well-off and diverse neighbourhoods held the broadcaster in higher esteem than people from poorer and less diverse communities.
The findings also tally with an Ofcom report in November which said that the BBC’s bedrock older middle-class audience was going off it. The report added that it was seen as the least impartial public service broadcaster, below ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5. Fifty-four per cent of adults believe that it provides impartial news.
The new research, by YouGov, found 44 per cent of the public thought that the BBC represented their values badly. This was particularly true of older people, with 48 per cent saying that the BBC did not adequately represent their views. In the north of England it was 51 per cent and Scotland 47 per cent. Among those who voted for Brexit, 58 per cent were unhappy with the overall stance of the corporation.
Asked how their views of the BBC had changed over the year only 4 per cent said that its values had become more like theirs while 33 per cent said it had become less like theirs. Older male viewers outside London and the southeast were the most likely to be dissatisfied with the BBC’s perceived values.
The findings come before a government review on public sector broadcasting. Boris Johnson has made little secret of his desire to reform the BBC amid speculation that the licence fee in its present form could be scrapped.
Sir Robbie Gibb, a former No 10 director of communications who has been appointed to the review, said: “These findings show why the BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, is right to make improving impartiality his No 1 priority.”
Former senior corporation bosses also warned that the BBC had struggled to keep up with the changing political landscape. “The BBC is more in tune with a metropolitan and more liberal audience than it is with the rest of the country,” Roger Mosey, a former head of BBC Television News, said.
“The positive thing is that I’m certain Tim Davie is on the case . . . Top of the agenda for me would be real devolution to centres outside London and a much deeper understanding of audiences.”
David Elstein, a former senior BBC editor who went on to launch Channel 5, said: “If people don’t think you are impartial, and don’t think you represent their views or culture, eventually it will become very hard to sustain the BBC’s current funding model.”
He added: “It’s inevitable that the so-called state broadcaster, trying to be all things to all people, struggles mightily to be anything to anyone.”
In March Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, accused the BBC of providing a “narrow urban outlook” and “missing the strength of support for Brexit”.
A BBC spokesman said: “Recent research shows that people still connect with our core mission to inform, educate and entertain, and our purposes remain relevant. However, the new director-general has made it very clear that the BBC must work hard to represent a very broad section of views.”
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