The BBC has to become less ‘London-centric’ in order to achieve impartiality, the head of Ofcom has warned.
Discussing Ofcom research, Dame Melanie Dawes said viewers’ notion of impartiality was about ‘whether the stories resonate with them’, rather than balance.
She warned, ‘The further away from London you go, you find that people are less likely to feel that the BBC is really for them.’
In March, the corporation said 400 jobs would be shifted from London to cities including Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff and Glasgow.
As part of the plans, the BBC is set to create a £50million base in Birmingham, which will become a vital hub for the corporation’s increased regional investment.
Ms Dawes warned the corporation’s £224million move to Manchester in 2012 did not change the fact that the decision-making power remained in London.
She also described director-general Tim Davie’s £700million plan to move programmes, including Radio 1’s Newsbeat, away from the Capital to Birmingham as ‘ambitious’.
Economist Melanie Dawes (pictured), 55, said Ofcom research found that viewers’ ideas of impartiality are about ‘whether the stories resonate with them’ rather than balance
She told The Times: ‘We are pushing [the BBC] hard on the need to stretch out across the UK much more comprehensively — in how they are run, how they make decisions [and] in who they employ behind the scenes.’
Ms Dawes also plans to regulate large tech companies when the Online Safety Bill comes into force in 2023, giving Ofcom the power to impose fines of up to £18million, or 10 per cent of annual turnover, on firms that fail to protect users from online harm.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said regional accents do not ‘go down particularly well’ at the BBC and insisted the new licence fee deal will be joined with effects to improve regional and class diversity at the broadcaster.
Last month, Mr Davie announced a team of external experts are set to be appointed at the BBC to ensure its content is impartial.
Mr Davie has already cracked down on the issue by putting controls on staff sharing views on social media and an emphasis on neutrality in news roles, according to the Telegraph.
Ms Dawes acknowledged BBC’s director-general Tim Davie (pictured) took the challenge ‘seriously’ and called his £700million plans to move people away from London ‘ambitious’
But the BBC will have the new experts from outside the corporation to analyse all the content the broadcaster puts out for signs of potential bias.
Investigators will do this by leading rolling reviews which look at different areas of output.
These will be everything from how tax news is covered to the contents of CBeebies programmes and will be done to ensure guidelines for impartiality are met across the company.
The initiative has been unveiled in a 10-point action plan to maintain editorial standards.
It says: ‘This strategic programme of reviews will have topics and review chairs – likely to be independent of the BBC.’
The action plan goes on to say that reviews will look beyond news and current affairs and will examine the treatment of the issue across the wider range of BBC output, for example in documentaries, children’s programming and educational content.
External experts will consider how the broader output might contribute to overall public perceptions of impartiality, while recognising that audiences have varying expectations of output.
Meanwhile, BBC business staff expressed worries over the plans to move 400 jobs from London to other cities across the UK, branding the decision as ‘ridiculous’.
In a letter to BBC chairman Richard Sharp last month, the World Service business team said they had ‘deep concerns’ that the quality of the Corporation’s coverage would suffer as a result of the 200-mile move to Salford.
Ms Dawes argued that the further away from London you go, where the BBC’s headquarters Broadcasting House (pictured) is located, the more people think the BBC is not for them
Three in four staff at Radio 1’s Newsbeat service have refused to move to a new base in Birmingham and Rory Cellan-Jones, the long-standing technology correspondent, quit after he was asked to relocate to Glasgow.
The World Service business division produces popular radio shows, including its flagship World Business Report.
It focuses on programmes for an international audience which, say staff, makes it even more important that they be based in London to gain access to major companies, global conferences and international business leaders who work in and visit the capital.
In the letter, they described Salford as ‘starved of access to the people [they] need to meet’.
The team currently sits next to the BBC’s World TV business team in London and shares resources which, according to the letter, ‘has undoubtedly reduced duplication and has therefore been a cost-effective use of licence fee money’.
The World Service business staff suggested the relocation ‘of another, UK-focused programme or support team’ instead.
Source: Daily Mail UK