News & Updates

Professors from the University of Kent have produced a report claiming that between February and October 2018 BBC Radio 5 Live did not fulfil its licensing requirement which states that 75% of its annual broadcast output should consist of news and current affairs programming.

The operating licence was issued by Ofcom from October 2017 and sets the regulatory conditions for the BBC to fulfil its mission and ‘serve’ its audiences.

The report highlights a number of other issues with the delivery of BBC Radio 5 Live’s public service commitments:
  • The BBC’s assertion that it does comply depends on the categorisation as news/current affairs of substantial quantities of output that cannot properly be so described.
  • The BBC’s freedom to miscategorise material relies on the absence of an agreed formal definition of what constitutes news.
  • The blending of news and sport content in programmes scheduled as news output blurs a critical distinction and erects a barrier to precise measurement of performance against commitments.
  • Senior BBC News editors and correspondents are largely absent from Radio 5 Live broadcasts.

Whilst Ofcom have said that they are “enormously proud of this detailed and meticulous piece of pure academic research” from the University of Kent, the BBC on the other hand responded, “given this report was paid for by the parent company of Talksport” the BBC’s rival Wireless Group, “people can judge its credibility for themselves.”

The University of Kent research team consisting of the professor of journalism Tim Luckhurst, former Press Gazette editor Ian Reeves, Ben Cocking and former journalist Rob Bailey, were said to have received £25,000 towards their research from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK.

Contradictory to the conclusions from the research, the BBC’s annual reports in the past have shown they act consistently within their external regulatory requirements. Claiming for example in their Annual Report and Accounts for 2017/18 that “the BBC’s public purposes are enshrined in the Royal Charter and Agreement and are at the core of everything we do.”

Perhaps the debate rests on the definition of terms. Although the definition of news and current affairs is always open to interpretation, new research on broadcasting output conducted by universities is to be welcomed. Broadening public knowledge and holding institutions to account is, after all, a necessary process in our society.

Picture credit: Jonathan Velasquez @jonathanvez
Author: Edward Beaver on February 3 2019

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