Ofcom conducted an annual survey covering the period April 2019 to March 2020 in which the broadcasting regulator asked the public if they believed the news programs they watched on each of the major television channels were free from bias. But in the latest blow to the BBC, the company ranked at the bottom of the ladder with a score of just 58%. Sky News leads with 69%, followed by Channel 4 (66%), ITV (63%) and Channel 5 (61%).
This is the first time that the BBC has finished at the bottom of the impartiality ranking compared to all other UK broadcasters.
The shocking result also marks the first time that the Corporation has been overtaken by Channel 5 as perceptions among the British public of its impartiality improve.
Ofcom said some interviewees for the annual report told them their perception of the BBC’s news production is influenced by the broadcaster’s brand, funding mechanism and representation in the media at large.
The regulator warned that the future relationship between the BBC and its public could be “in jeopardy” if it does not address public concerns about impartiality.
Ofcom said: “We have learned that people’s views on the impartiality of BBC news are shaped by a series of factors, only some of which are directly related to its news and current affairs content.
“Some have told us that their views are influenced by the BBC brand, its funding mechanism and its representation in wider media.
“Once again, our research shows that the public regards fairness as the lowest rated aspect of achieving this goal by the BBC.
“There is a risk that the future relationship between the BBC and its audience will be jeopardized if public concerns about impartiality continue to grow. “
The regulator will monitor the BBC’s progress over the next 12 months, with recently appointed director Tim Davie recently pledging to make fairness a central part of the broadcaster’s production.
But Mr Davie’s decision to warn presenters not to express political views on Twitter has been applauded.
Ofcom said: “Although the use of social media by journalists and BBC presenters is beyond our purview, we consider it to be a useful step and likely to help improve perceptions of impartiality. “
Last month, the BBC released new guidelines for its staff on the use of social media in an attempt to force all staff to maintain impartiality.
Employees have been instructed not to “express personal opinions on matters of public policy, politics or controversial matters”.
The announcement followed Nr Davie’s pledge to impose new rules on social media.
But the same Ofcom report also found that older viewers’ satisfaction with the BBC was dropping for the first time.
The report covers the period from April 2019 to March 2020, before the start of the TV license for those over 75 resource tests in August.
Positive impressions of the BBC among adults aged 55 and over fell from 64% in 2017/18 to 62% in 2019/20.
The BBC’s overall reach among the same age group also fell for the first time, from 96% to 93%.
Ofcom director of broadcast policy Vikki Cook told the PA news agency: “Older viewers are still likely to be more satisfied than the average UK audience with BBC services.
“This year, our research shows the first signs that this level of satisfaction is starting to decline.
“So that means their audience numbers are also starting to drop.”