Business ignorance rather than bias at BBC

The BBC Trust has found BBC reporters are largely ignorant of business affecting output on commercial matters.   

The full report identifies “a lack of awareness of the commercial world – many BBC journalists have never worked in business – and from a preoccupation with taking the consumer perspective.”

and that “a lack of specialist knowledge and perhaps a lack of interest” can be an issue.  It notes that “witnesses” (probably public relations practitioners in business organisations) are concerned

about the poor level of knowledge among some of the researchers who contact them. There was also concern about the range and quality of the experts used on many business stories.

Interestingly the report also notes that:

Focusing on the individual consumer angle can distort news values and important
perspectives can be lost. The polarisation of views between business and consumer means that much of the ground in between is overlooked. This includes the role of business in society, the international context and the workplace. Audiences are well served in their identity as consumers but they are not that well served in their role as workers or indeed as direct or indirect shareholders.

There is a challenge to public relations with the conclusion that

apparently be difficult to persuade some business leaders to appear on BBC
news output but we believe those who run businesses should do more to engage
with the BBC and be prepared to explain their policies and activities to a wider public.

Recommendations include an “extensive training programme” within the BBC and an expanded coverage of the role of business in society. 

That could be good news for public relations practitioners working with business clients.  There are some very good business programmes on the BBC;   BBC Breakfast, , – plus Radio 4’s for example.

Others, notably light entertainment (eg or ) and consumer programmes (eg and the new look ), tend to sensationalise, parody or even demonise business.

It would be good to see journalism degrees include business matters more on the agenda.  I have found a lack of knowledge of corporate affairs with undergraduates in public relations – and this is obviously an area that is addressed during their studies.

Can working PR practitioners also do more to help journalists understand our perspectives?  Better briefings and engagement with executives, behind the scenes visits, even job swaps? 

We are good in the motor industry at such access and our specialist journalists tend to be well informed.  Does this impact on their impartiality?  I don’t believe it does for most journalists.  Our biggest challenge is communicating often complex economic, environmental, and other issues to a wider and wider range of journalists, who like those at the BBC are often lacking in a fundamental understanding of the business world.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.