BBC loses the public’s trust

Do we need a publicly owned broadcaster at all?

Aside from a rapidly dwindling few, it has been part of all our lives for all of our lives. Next year the BBC will have been with us for one hundred years. Beginning as the British Broadcasting Company, it had, within five years, become the British Broadcasting Corporation, the first publicly owned broadcaster, established to serve the nation. Since its modest beginnings, it has expanded to become a major factor in the fabric and culture of the British way of life, firstly on radio, then on television and onwards to the Internet. Growing up it embraced news and current affairs, groundbreaking drama, lifestyle programmes, light-entertainment, and classic sitcoms. From the world’s longest-running drama serial, The Archers on radio, to television’s hard-hitting Line of Duty. From Come Dancing to Strictly Come Dancing, from radio’s Gardeners’ Question Time to MasterChef on the telly, from Dad’s Army to Only Fools and Horses. They all came from the BBC.

The corporation carried the nation through the darkest days of World War II and has continued to provide live coverage as history is made around the world. We love the BBC like one of the family, hence the affectionate, familial nickname “Auntie”, or the slightly more formal “Beeb”. And having lived our lives with the BBC we know where we stand; we can rely upon its unbiased opinions, independence and honesty. We trust the BBC. Or do we?

Recent events have made many think again and wonder if the BBC has become more a powerful political tool than an independent voice. The appointments of Tim Davie, a former deputy chair of a Tory Party branch, as director-general, and Tory donor Richard Sharp as new chair, raised eyebrows; while allegations persist of BBC journalists cosying up to government figures and giving our leaders an easy ride in interviews. Additionally damaging has been the revelation of the underhand tactics used by reporter, Martin Bashir to obtain the famous Princess Diana interview 25 years ago, and the subsequent cover-up back then. After the truth finally emerged, Diana’s son, Prince William, launched an unprecedented attack on the BBC. It all makes some wonder whether there remains a place for a publicly owned broadcaster in today’s world. Because if we can’t trust the BBC, then to quote the final words of Kenneth Williams, one of its all time favourites, “What’s the bloody point?”

What our surveys show

It’s a damning figure for the dear old Beeb, once famed around the world for its neutrality: a mere 7% of those surveyed said they “trust a lot” the level of the BBC’s impartiality in its news reporting. A slightly more encouraging 27% said they “trust somewhat” but that encouragement is blown away by the 32% who “somewhat distrust” and the 12% who “totally distrust” the BBC on its impartiality. A considerable number, 22%, said they “don’t know”.

Even more distressing for BBC bosses is the headline-grabbing news that only a combined 32% thought it either “very important”, at 11%, or “somewhat important”, 21%, that the BBC is maintained as a publicly owned broadcaster, while a majority 54% reckoned it was “not that important” and further 6% said it was “not important at all”. This time only 8% said they “don’t know”. Opinions were closely split on whether the BBC should stop reporting the news and focus solely on its drama and entertainment, with 37% saying it was a “good idea”, 31% reckoning it was a “bad idea” and 32% answering that they “don’t know”.

Surveys

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