Survey urges dropping of rules on impartiality

Politics: news becoming a game of political football

A survey of news chiefs and journalists has resulted in a call for reform of impartiality rules to prevent broadcast news becoming a game of "political football".

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which carried out the survey, has called for "radical reform" of the impartiality requirement in the communications bill in order to stop the trend towards "dull news, which fails to engage".

The code that is applied by Ofcom and the BBC’s Board of Governors should take a broader approach to political balance to prevent broadcast news descending further into its current preoccupation with spin and confrontational politics, the IPPR has claimed after releasing the results of its survey.

The current system that ensures the major political parties’ stance on an issue is represented should be replaced with a code that places "greater emphasis on the need for impartiality in relation to a range of expert opinions, the problem of corporate interests, single-issue groups, and competing scientific opinions".

Among those who took part in the survey, one BBC journalist said "there is always a danger of producing bland broadcasting which recites fatuous argument and fails to expose the truth and encourages laziness".

The survey’s findings are published this week in a book on broadcast news, New News: Impartial Broadcasting in the Digital Age.

IPPR senior research fellow and co-editor of the report, Damian Tambini, said: "The UK approach to impartiality in broadcast news has done a lot of good, but the way the rules have been interpreted have also been partially responsible for transforming news into a kind of political football game, with all policy discussion reduced to a knockabout battle between two familiar teams."

Although regulation is necessary to ensure standards of impartiality are maintained, the IPPR believes it should be led by public complaints, with the burden of proof on the complainant "to demonstrate consistent bias over time". The IPPR also called for influential organisations to be subject to the toughest regulation to ensure impartiality on online sites. Under such a code, the BBC and organisations such as ITV would be subject to more stringent impartiality rules than a site with smaller audiences.

By Julie Tomlin

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