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14 August 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 3:00pm

The BBC isn’t wedded to balance – it’s dedicated to serving its audience

Speaking to, and for, the whole of the UK – means hearing from a wide range of voices, and airing conflicting opinions.

By Gavin Allen

In response to Patrick Howse’s article in the New Statesman this week we’d like to reassure him that the BBC has not abandoned the journalistic standards he was proud of.

It’s a common misconception that the BBC aims for “balance”, no matter the issue. In fact, we’re required to show due impartiality. This, together with the duty of universality – speaking to, and for, the whole of the UK – means hearing from a wide range of voices, and airing conflicting opinions. But it also means establishing the facts. Take the £350m claim Patrick cites, which was repeatedly debunked by our award-winning Reality Check feature and across all our major news outlets.

These are febrile political times, when people seem increasingly unhappy to listen to opinions that aren’t their own. But interviews are not endorsements, nor are they platforms for the speaker – they’re opportunities for our journalists to question the interviewee on behalf of the audience. 

We could choose simply to ignore more “extreme” voices and issues – but we believe we’d also be ignoring our duty to our audience, especially in the age of social media when misinformation can so easily go unchallenged. Far from ducking the hard issues, we are confronting them head on.

As for our audience figures, we continue to be the nation’s most popular and trusted news source. The Today programme has an audience of seven million – having seen a return to more normal listening levels after a record peak last year. Its audience is bigger than ten years ago, and the underlying trend has been upwards for over a decade. 

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Finally, it’s hard to reconcile Patrick’s description of BBC journalists as “dazed” and unquestioning with some of the coverage we have seen in just the last week – whether it’s Lyse Doucet reporting from Yemen or Gordon Corera’s special investigations into the Barcelona attacks.

Gavin Allen is controller for Daily News Programmes at BBC News.

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