BBC Report Admits Liberal Bias on Abortion

After one year's investigation, an official BBC report reveals that the BBC shows a strong liberal bias through its disproportionately large coverage of certain "single-issue" concerns.

Commissioned last year by the BBC managers and board of governors, the report concludes that political events and daily news are covered fairly. The Daily Telegraph reports, however, that the agency has given a heavily biased portrayal of issues such as poverty, climate change and religion.

The report also admitted that the BBC has missed some excellent opportunities and had "blind spots" in past reporting. After mentioning several examples including the death penalty, the report addresses the issue of abortion: "One [BBC] news and current affairs producer mentioned an instance where he had proposed a Newsnight investigation into the extent to which abortion in Britain was available, in effect, on demand."

"His argument was that there was a conspiracy of silence about this: although it had not been the intention of the legislation, most people in the field knew this was what was actually happening. But he was accused of being 'anti-abortion', and a perfectly reasonable-indeed fascinating-program idea was not pursued."

Asking whether the BBC is Christian, the report concludes, "When, outside of religious programming, mention (admittedly rare) is made of Jesus Christ, Holy Communion, the Crucifixion or the Resurrection, belief is not assumed, but explanation is not normally given. These essential elements of the Christian faith are presumed to be shared knowledge among the audience, whether or not as individuals they are believers." It then indicates that by explaining Christianity, the BBC programs would convey the message that mainstream culture is no longer Christian itself.

The report failed to mention, however, that the BBC also gave negatively biased coverage of the Catholic Church in 2006. The program Panorama personally connected Benedict XVI with sex-abuse scandals, accusing him of being complicit in covering up the crimes. The accusations were based, however, upon the testimony of only two men, one who was a dissident priest and the other who founded an organization with anti-Catholic biases.

During the same year, BBC also admitted to having an anti-Christian bias (also not specifically addressed in the report). "The BBC is not impartial or neutral," said Andrew Marr, BBC senior political commentator. "It's a publicly funded, urban organization with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias."

After reviewing its findings, the BBC report has developed twelve guidelines for guarding objectivity. The report indicates the importance of impartiality in those issues especially that may contain moral or ethical questions. "Impartiality is most obviously at risk," says one of the guidelines, "in areas of sharp public controversy. But there is a less visible risk, demanding particular vigilance, when programs purport to reflect a consensus for 'the common good', or become involved with campaigns."

The guidelines require that the BBC examine its own values and maintain a complete objectivity in every field, program and step of production. Producers must ensure that impartiality "begins at the conception of a program and lasts throughout the production."

Commenting on these recent developments, a BBC London journalist told, "John Reith's directive that the BBC should 'inform, educate and entertain' is still as relevant today as it was when he formed the BBC in 1926. While striving for impartiality is key, so too is the ability to speak out on issues such as global poverty, school bullying and domestic violence. Does that make the organization biased? Or simply a public service broadcaster? I, personally, am proud to work for an organization that strives to inform and educate — despite the criticism that such bold actions entail."

In a press release today, BBC trustee and former ITN editor-in-chief Richard Tait underlined that this impartiality does not necessarily mean political correctness. "We know that audiences demand and value impartiality as essential to the BBC's independence. They particularly value impartiality in news, and they recognize its importance in other program areas," Tait said.

He continued, "BBC audiences believe that impartiality should not lead to political correctness. The BBC agrees and one of our new principles makes clear that impartiality is no excuse for insipid program-making. Providing space for controversial and passionate writers and contributors of all kinds will ensure impartiality is an antidote to political correctness."

At present, BBC Deputy Director-General Mark Byford, Creative Director Alan Yentob and Director of News Helen Boaden are sending the report and guidelines to the entire BBC staff, and a variety of responses are expected.

Read the BBC press release.

Read the BBC's full report.

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