BBC upholds complaint that programme broke its own impartiality rules

BBC’s own investigation upheld a complaint from a viewer - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP
BBC’s own investigation upheld a complaint from a viewer - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP

The BBC broke impartiality rules when it reported on the negative impact of Brexit on Scottish businesses, an internal investigation has found.

The BBC’s own Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld a complaint from a viewer who said that by focusing only on firms apparently damaged by Brexit, the coverage was “unbalanced”.

In an edition of BBC One’s Reporting Scotland, which was broadcast on Dec 20, a business report carried the introduction: “Brexit’s advocates say there will be long-term economic benefits, but it’s been a tough year for some of the Scottish businesses most affected.”

The programme dealt with the effects of new trading arrangements on exporters and businesses in Scotland following Britain’s exit from the European Union.

In its ruling, the ECU said: “The ECU noted the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality say, ‘We may produce content about any subject, at any point on the spectrum of debate, as long as there are good editorial reasons for doing so’, and considered it legitimate for the report to confine itself on this occasion to 'the Scottish businesses most affected' by Brexit.

“However, a programme adopting such an approach should maintain impartiality by exploring other aspects of the topic within a reasonable timeframe, which had not happened in the case of Reporting Scotland.”

The reporter had conducted research which “had led him to conclude that improved performance in some areas was attributable to factors other than Brexit.

“It is generally agreed, however, that Brexit has had a differential effect, bearing hardest on the kind of small businesses featured in the report, so there was at least a need to reflect areas where its impact had been less negative, whether on this occasion or in an appropriately linked programme.

“The finding was reported to the management of BBC Scotland and discussed with the programme-makers concerned.”