Outgoing BBC Trust chairwoman Rona Fairhead has called for the organisation’s journalism to be more “ambitious” following a drop in the number of Britons consuming its news output.
The trust disclosed in its final BBC performance report before it is replaced next month that since 2013 there had been a 4 per cent fall – from 79 per cent to 75 per cent – in the number of all adults using its news services across television, radio and online.
The drop was faster among younger adults, with 63 per cent of 16 to 34-year-olds now engaging with BBC news compared with 71 per cent four years ago.
Fairhead said in the report that the organisation must “explain the news, not just report it” at a time when “social media is exacerbating the risks of fake news”.
She said: “Although the BBC remains far ahead of all other news providers when UK audiences are asked to choose a single source they trust, nonetheless some performance scores for BBC News are falling.”
Fairhead added: “The BBC’s journalism must be ambitious in the seriousness and analysis of its reporting to ensure it continues to provide a distinctive, trusted offering to audiences.”
She also repeated her concerns that funding plans laid out in last year’s charter lacked transparency, and outlined challenges the corporation faced in becoming “better value for money”.
Fairhead said: “Although the framework of independence is sound, the new board will need to continue to protect the BBC’s position robustly in the face of future challenges.
“One area of particular note is the licence fee funding settlement.
“The process of the previous two settlements was unsatisfactory and the new charter provides some improvement on this, including requiring the Government to consult with the BBC on any future funding deal.
“However, what it does not yet do is provide any public transparency from the Government before those funding settlements are decided. To me, this remains a concern.”
Fairhead said the “need for reliable and impartial information to inform our democracy” was at the heart of the argument for a publicly-funded broadcaster.
She also called on the BBC to ensure it represented all sections of society across the UK, with a particular focus on reaching younger adults and those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background (BAME).
Citing the BBC’s successes, Fairhead said the likes of David Attenborough-narrated Planet Earth II and record ratings in the final series of The Great British Bake Off give cause for “considerable confidence in its future performance”.
She praised Radio 4’s Today programme for its “authoritative and impartial reporting” during the fallout from the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump as US President.
The report also highlighted a slowdown in growth of BBC’s online services and targets iPlayer as a possible cause for concern.
Nine years after it was launched, the service is used weekly by 13 per cent of adults, joint top with Netflix, and 21 per cent of 16 to 34-year-olds, second to Netflix.