BBC news, sport and current affairs programmes have repeatedly breached guidelines on impartiality despite promises from the corporation’s boss to stamp out bias, a Telegraph analysis has found.
The corporation received 97,156 complaints about its programmes in the year to Dec 4, of which thousands involved allegations of anti-Conservative views being expressed by presenters or interviewers.
Just four programmes accounted for a total of 1,211 complaints of bias against Boris Johnson, though the total number of complaints about a slant against the former PM has not been made public as the BBC only publishes data about programmes attracting more than 100 complaints.
The most complained about programme of the year so far was the BBC’s coverage of the opening match of the World Cup in Qatar. After snubbing the opening ceremony on BBC One, the corporation dedicated half an hour of pre-match build-up to criticism of the Qatari regime, leading to 2,912 complaints.
It comes after separate reports accused the BBC of promoting a Left-wing agenda in its history and drama programming, as revealed by The Telegraph this week.
Last year Tim Davie, the BBC director general, unveiled a 10-point plan to improve impartiality, aimed at ensuring that shows are avoiding political bias and reflecting a range of different viewpoints.
He promised at the time that “a breadth of voices and viewpoints” would be heard in the corporation’s output, but the evidence suggests there is still much work to be done.
Since the start of this year the BBC has been accused of bias at least 30 times, including at least nine occasions where it has either been admonished by the regulator, upheld complaints itself or where apologies have been made.
Nearly four in ten viewers believe the BBC is biased, according to a survey carried out by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom earlier this year. It criticised the BBC for failing to provide explanations to viewers for why it had not upheld their complaints, which were rejected in 80 per cent of cases.
Complaints of anti-Johnson bias were made about The One Show, which attracted 102 complaints in April; Sophie Raworth, who was accused of “aggressive” questioning of the then prime minister when she presented the Sunday morning politics show in February; and Have I Got News For You, which led to 307 complaints in September.
Martine Croxall, the newsreader, was temporarily suspended after 566 viewers complained about her gleeful reaction to Mr Johnson dropping out of the leadership race in October.
Among the complaints that were upheld by the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) were two claims of “pro-SNP bias”, one of which involved the serialisation of a book on the handling of the pandemic written by Devi Sridhar, a former public health adviser to the Scottish Government. The ECU upheld a complaint of anti-Tory bias against Emily Maitlis, who shared a tweet criticising Trump-style rhetoric from the Conservatives.
Other complaints revolved around the BBC’s treatment of the transgender debate, race and climate change.
In March there were 584 complaints of bias against JK Rowling following a Front Row programme on Radio 4. The presenter Tom Sutcliffe said the Harry Potter author “clearly has a very unpopular opinion” by fighting for the rights of biological females in the trans debate.
The ECU regarded the matter as being “resolved” because the presenter had accepted that his comment did not reflect the views of large numbers of people who supported her. It rejected complaints about discussing Rowling in the same context as Hitler, saying the programme had distinguished between opinions and criminal acts.
In April the BBC upheld a complaint about a Panorama programme titled Wild Weather, broadcast in November last year, which said the death toll around the world from extreme weather events was rising, when in fact deaths were falling, and found that a claim that Madagascar was on the brink of the world’s first climate-induced famine was wrongly presented without any qualification.
There were 222 complaints about discussions of diversity in sport during the women’s Euros football tournament, after BBC Newsbeat suggested there was a “lack of diversity in the England squad”, even though it had a higher proportion of non-white players than the country as a whole.
There were, however, complaints that the BBC had been partial in favour of the Government. After Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister there were 2,211 complaints of pro-Tory bias following a BBC News special about him.
The total number of complaints about programmes so far this year is down on last year, when complaints about coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral outnumbered the total number of complaints received in 2022.
Last year the BBC had received 288,449 complaints about programmes at the same stage in December.
Evidence shows that audiences are turning away from the BBC, with a steady decline in audience share over the past five years. BBC One’s audience share has gone from 72 per cent in 2015/16 to 61 per cent in 2021/22.
A BBC spokesman said: “Impartiality is the cornerstone of the BBC which is why independent research repeatedly shows the British public are most likely to turn to us for impartial news coverage.
“Cherry-picking a small selection of events from thousands of hours of output does not constitute analysis and is not representative of our wider output. When mistakes are occasionally made, we apologise and take action when appropriate.”
Examples of complaints received by the BBC
BBC News Channel, May 8: In a red carpet interview at the TV Baftas, Russell T Davies, the Doctor Who writer, said: “They’re planning to get rid of the BBC licence fee, so if you like shows like this go and vote differently.”
Result: Complaint upheld.
Front Row, BBC Radio 4, March 24: Presenter Tom Sutcliffe says JK Rowling “clearly has a very unpopular opinion regarding gender identity”.
Result: Complaint “resolved” after Sutcliffe later says on air that his comment did not reflect the views of people who agreed with the author.
BBC Newsbeat, Radio 1, July 29: A report discusses the “lack of diversity in the England squad” despite non-white players being slightly over-represented compared with the population at large.
Result: Complaint not upheld
Sunday With Laura Kuennsberg, BBC One, Sep 4: Comedian Joe Lycett mocks Liz Truss as “the dregs of what they’ve got available” and “the backwash of the available MPs” after the then prime minister is interviewed on the show.
Result: Tim Davie rejects complaints that the episode showed anti-Tory bias at the corporation.
BBC News, Oct 25: A “word cloud” created from opinion polling of Rishi Sunak which is shown on screen includes the words t–t, c–t, slimy, idiot and liar.
Result: The BBC apologised for showing profanities on screen.
BBC News, June 7: Presenter Geeta Guru-Murthy asks a guest whether it is fair to say that “people look at [Boris Johnson’s] character and think, he’s a man who’s lied to the Queen, lied to the House of Commons, lied to the public and they don’t trust him any more?”
Result: Complaint not upheld