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Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has criticised the BBC for a lack of impartiality, while appearing to praise controversial broadcaster GB News for being ‘balanced’.
She claimed the BBC is no longer seen by viewers as “sufficiently impartial” – comments which made the front page of the Telegraph – as she announced that the public broadcaster’s website and social media will be subject to regulation by broadcast regulator Ofcom, ostensibly to make the BBC more accountable and trustworthy.
However, the Government’s review of the BBC is not only confined to claims of impartiality but also funding.
Frazer said it is not appropriate for the BBC to have “criminal tools in its armoury” to prosecute people for not paying their TV licence fee, suggesting she will significantly water-down the body’s ability to enforce payment of the levy.
But this morning, she also downplayed criticisms of GB News, saying it offers “balance across the spectrum” when challenged about Conservative MPs interviewing other Conservative MPs on the channel, as well as the swathe of live Ofcom investigations into the broadcaster.
Jamie Stone MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for culture, media and sport, hit back, said Frazer was prioritising ‘culture wars’ over supporting the BBC’s delivery of quality services. “This attack on the BBC is yet another desperate distraction from a government in distress,” he said.
“The BBC is the number one source of trusted news in the world and that comes down to proper independence and resilience to the political pressure we see from this Conservative Government,” he added.
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It comes amid the Government’s push for reform within the BBC, following heated debates over its coverage of sensitive issues, including its reporting on the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel – with some critical of the BBC’s reluctance to call Hamas fighters “terrorists”.
There is also growing condemnation of the BBC’s Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, who is a freelancer but who faces heavy scrutiny over his political commentary on social media.
TV presenter India Willoughby questioned whether Frazer’s concerns about bias applied to left-wing concerns over the BBC or were solely focused on allegations of bias against right-wing viewpoints. Meanwhile, Labour writer David Osland cited instances of senior BBC figures having close ties with the Conservative Party.
In a Sky News interview today, Frazer was challenged over the evidence for bias in the BBC. She could only point to broadcasting mistakes and “perceptions of bias” rather than any academic studies.
The latest prestigious Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report indicated an increase in public trust in BBC News, contradicting the Government’s stance.
Former BBC presenter Carol Vorderman and former senior BBC journalist Rob Burley have both highlighted the influence of Sir Robbie Gibb, a former head of communications for Prime Minister Theresa May, a member of the BBC Board, and a key figure in the launch of GB News as a former editorial advisor for the channel.
Frazer defended GB News, claiming it has “balance across the spectrum”. She was asked on the BBC’s Today programme whether GB News could be described as impartial when “so many of its shows are presented by former or current and often leading members of the governing party”.
In comments widely publicised by the Ofcom-probed channel itself, Frazer replied: “A broadcaster has to be impartial over the spectrum of what it broadcasts, so I’ve listened to your news this morning and you’ve expressed this mid-term review in different ways across the programme this morning, sometimes putting the Government’s perspective, sometimes putting the BBC’s perspective.”
“There is a balance across the spectrum in relation to GB News, which isn’t regulated by the Government,” she added.
Dan Wootton’s 26 September 2023 show on GB News drew the most TV programme complaints to Ofcom in the whole year, with nearly 9,000 complaints. They followed misogynistic comments made by actor-turned-activist Laurence Fox about journalist Ava Evans. Fox was sacked by the channel and Wootton suspended.
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