THE BBC “fell below standards” by repeatedly failing to identify a right-wing commentator as having political bias, a ruling has found.
The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) reviewed a six-month period of broadcasts and found that no information about a contributor’s political affiliations was given despite the editorial guidelines in place.
The complaint focused on The Papers, on BBC News, which sees commentators and politicians review the day’s newspapers.
A viewer said that the broadcaster had “repeatedly failed to provide an adequate description of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) when its communications director appeared as a guest”.
The IEA is a shadowy right-wing think tank which does not declare its funders.
Reports in openDemocracy revealed that British American Tobacco regularly donates to the think tank, with a Greenpeace/Guardian investigation revealing that BP is another prominent donor.
The IEA has close ties to other right-wing think tanks, some of which operate out of the 55 Tufton Street offices in London, and regularly met other groups at that address to discuss a coordinated strategy.
These other groups included the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, the pro-Brexit website Brexit Central, and the Adam Smith Institute, openDemocracy reported.
The ECU considered that it was “necessary” for some information on the IEA to be given to viewers so that it was not presented as a neutral and unbiased source.
However, the BBC had repeatedly failed to do so over the six-month period reviewed.
The ECU quoted editorial guidelines which state: “We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”
It said in its ruling: “In the case of The Papers, a review of newspapers and websites covering a wide range of topical issues, the ECU agreed some information was necessary for the IEA, in particular reference to its free market orientation.
“In most cases viewed by the ECU over a six month period no such information was given, and this fell below the BBC’s standards of accuracy.”
It said that the finding was reported to the board of BBC News, and “a note was sent to staff reminding them of the need to provide appropriate information about such bodies as the IEA”.
SNP MP Alyn Smith won praise last month after he challenged Emily Carver, a former Tory MP adviser and current head of media for the IEA, on failing to provide “transparency on who we’re all representing”.
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