Whitehall fears BBC’s ‘modernising’ reforms could make ‘groupthink’ on issues WORSE

The BBC has pledged to tackle questionable bias as Whitehall grows fears that the institution’s “modernization” reforms may in fact lead to “groupthink” on issues such as Brexit.

  • Whitehall sources believe the BBC’s pledge to tackle bias can be undermined by the centralization of news production
  • There are concerns that the broadcaster’s collective thinking on issues may not be addressed
  • Concerns that his updated “center-controlled” system could get in the way

Sources in Whitehall believe the BBC’s pledge to tackle bias may be undermined by its decision to increasingly focus its news production.

There are concerns that the broadcaster’s group’s thinking on issues such as Brexit will not be addressed if its updated ‘system’ is ‘controlled from the centre’.

This comes despite BBC chiefs’ promises of a “neutrality revolution” to suppress prejudice. Last October, Culture Minister Nadine Doris said the company would need to reveal how it “changed” before it could get a new licensing fee settlement.

Later that month, it released details of an “action plan” to ensure its content was “fair, accurate, and unbiased.”

Whitehall’s sources believe the BBC’s pledge to tackle bias may undermine its decision to centralize its news production.

Managing Director Tim Davey also claimed that the company’s commitment to integrity was his main priority when he took office in 2020. But some worry that the BBC’s “News Update” plans will undermine those pledges.

Its proposals include creating “multi-skilled story teams” that will produce stories for various BBC programmes. This means that while more news and shows sections are moved out of London, journalists will be placed in these central teams rather than being linked to specific programmes.

But a recent review led by BBC board member Sir Nicholas Sirota noted that the move would involve “a higher level of central news production” as individual editors would have limited power to alter certain parts of their stories. There are concerns that this will make addressing issues of neutrality in the broadcasting organization more difficult.

A Whitehall insider said the review “shows how the BBC doesn’t say it will in terms of reducing bias or increasing levels of impartiality,” adding: “No matter who they move and where, ‘story teams’ will ensure that the output is controlled. The news from the center is exactly the same way.

A recent review led by BBC Board Member Sir Nicholas Sirota (pictured) indicated that the BBC's plans to create

A recent review led by BBC Board Member Sir Nicholas Sirota (pictured) noted that the BBC’s plans to create “multi-skilled story teams” would “involve a higher level of centralized news production” because individual editors would have limited authority To change some parts of their stories

Sir Nicholas’ report also warned that the move could increase “potential errors” as stories will be “reused by multiple programmes”. She claimed that there is a risk that “pluralism is diminishing” because fewer stories will be covered.

It comes as the BBC revealed yesterday that it has appointed interim director of news and current affairs amid reports that ITN may play a difficult role over the release of its new appointee, Deborah Tornes, early in the 12-month notice period.

Jonathan Munro – the deputy director of news who was involved in re-appointing Martin Basher in 2016 despite his interview with Diana – will oversee the department until Miss Tornes arrives. Current director Fran Unsworth will be leaving at the end of the month.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Neutrality is a key priority for the BBC. The restructuring of our newsroom is designed to reduce duplication and give audiences better service, along with moving more jobs out of London and creating financial savings.”

Serota’s review identifies the need to closely monitor the changes we make and have their results included in our plan.



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