Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 15:55 UK

BBC told to improve UK coverage

Sir Michael Lyons on the report's findings

The BBC needs to improve its coverage of the UK's nations and regions in its main news bulletins and factual programmes, a report has said.

A review for the BBC Trust said the BBC was "falling short of its own high standards" and failing to meet its core purpose of helping inform democracy.

Research found that 37% of people believed that BBC news reports were often not relevant to where they live.

The BBC said it was "determined to respond to the challenges raised".

The study was commissioned by the trust - the corporation's governing body - after complaints that too many news stories were only relevant to England.

Chairman Sir Michael Lyons said that affection for the BBC dropped the further people live from London, partly because they do not see their lives reflected enough.


BBC News does not adequately reflect the UK after devolution and must address this issue
There is no question over impartiality of news coverage
The BBC performs better than other broadcasters on this issue, but expectations are higher
82% of people want to learn more about issues in other parts of the UK
BBC management will give a detailed action plan in response to the report in July 2008
The BBC Trust will repeat the research in 18 months to check on progress

"The BBC's reporting of the United Kingdom is - on the face of it - much better than what is provided by other broadcasters," said Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust.

"But the resounding message from this review is the BBC is falling short of its own high standards and is not meeting properly its core purpose of helping to inform democracy.

"The problem is not about impartiality, but about clarity, precision and the balance of reporting from around the UK."

"We take the licence fee from everybody and so we need to be very clear we are serving all audiences," he added.

The report included an assessment by Anthony King, professor of government at the University of Essex, and research from Cardiff University.

BBC users across the UK tell us how the national news reflects their nation or region.

They looked at the accuracy and impartiality network coverage of the four nations - particularly on devolution and devolution issues between autumn 2007 and May 2008.

"The central thrust of the report is that BBC network and current-affairs programmes, taken as a whole, are not reporting the new UK with the range, clarity and richness that might reasonably be expected," Professor King said.

Analysis of BBC network news and current affairs programmes over a four week period in 2007 found that 19% of stories involving or relating to devolution were vague and confusing.

The study also found that of 136 stories about health and education, all 136 dealt with England alone.

Research findings

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In addition, investigations by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) found that:

  • 61% of the UK population agreed that the BBC provided better coverage from other parts of the UK than anyone else
  • 21% of people living in Scotland did not think that the BBC's coverage was better than other news outlets
  • 37% of the UK population felt the news was not relevant to where they lived
  • 41% of Scottish viewers felt the news was not relevant to them
  • 82% of the UK population are interested in news about other parts of the UK
  • 62% think it important to understand the different politics and policies within each nation

The report also suggested that in the future it would be possible to have the main evening news bulletin tailored to individual areas of the UK - raising the possibility of, for example, a separate Scottish programme at 1800 GMT.

But the BBC said the idea of parallel news broadcasts was "much more challenging than indicated" particularly given space restrictions on digital terrestrial television.

However, Sir Michael refused to rule out the idea and said he was "open-minded" on the issue.


News is not regionally distributed but prejudice is
Peter Cook, Bristol

The BBC said it took the issues raised in the review "very seriously" and was "determined to respond energetically to the important challenges raised by the trust."

"While there have been improvements in performance in recent years, we accept that we can do better and need to do better - management is determined to get this right," it said.

In an initial response to the review, the BBC said it planned to provide richer coverage of the nations on its main news programmes and set up a monitoring system to report back four times a year.

The BBC did, however, reject the suggestion of moving its main UK news centre outside London because it did not feel it would be beneficial to audiences.

The corporation will give a detailed action plan in response to the review to the trust in July 2008.

The Scottish National Party's broadcasting spokesman Pete Wishart said it was time for a change in the BBC's coverage.

"The BBC have failed to keep pace with the changing political and cultural scene in Scotland.

"We now have a government in Scotland when previously it was the executive.

"When the BBC now refer to the Government on the Six O'Clock News I have got no idea which one they are referring to and there's no attempt to define and specify that," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price said Wales should also have a separate main evening news bulletin, saying he was "fed up of seeing the world through the opposite end of somebody else's telescope".

The trust will repeat its research in 18 months to provide a clear assessment of whether performance improves.

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