U.K. Media Regulator Warns BBC Over Complaints Procedure, Impartiality, Launches Operating License Consultation

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U.K. media regulator Ofcom has warned the BBC over its complaints process and impartiality concerns and also launched a public consultation on a modernized version of the broadcaster’s operating licence.

Ofcom tracked audiences’ experiences and interactions with the BBC and found that while one in nine people have had a reason to complain about, most of do not actually make a complaint, because they felt it would not make a difference or be taken seriously. These concerns are nearly twice as high for the BBC than for other broadcasters, Ofcom said.

Ofcom also asked audiences about BBC news and current affairs and found that although they rate its news highly for trust and accuracy, conversely they rate it less favorably on impartiality. Ofcom is now directing the BBC to change its policy and publish sufficient reasoning in cases where it decides not to uphold due impartiality and due accuracy complaints.

In April, the U.K government released a white paper, which if implemented, will reshape the country’s broadcasting landscape. Following on from that, on Wednesday, Ofcom opened a public consultation into how the BBC’s operating license could be modernized.

Ofcom is proposing a multiplatform digital licence, which will operate under three main principles: it must incorporate the BBC’s online services; it should give the BBC more scope to determine how to meet audience needs; and it will require greater transparency from the BBC. Ofcom will hold BBC to account on behalf of audiences.

Ofcom proposes to retain a range of quotas, including to safeguard: delivery of news and current affairs on the BBC’s TV and radio services; original U.K. content on each of the BBC’s TV services; distinctiveness of the BBC’s network radio services (music quotas for BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2; live or specially recorded music for BBC Radio 3 and sports coverage for BBC Radio 5 Live); and regional production on TV and radio.

The public consultation on the operating licence ends Sept. 14.

Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “Viewers and listeners tell us they aren’t happy with how the BBC handles their complaints, and it clearly needs to address widespread perceptions about its impartiality. So we’re directing it to respond to these concerns, by being much more transparent and open with its audiences.

“The BBC must also adapt quickly to keep up with changes in what audiences want, and how they get their content. We’re doing our bit, by future-proofing our regulation so the BBC can continue its transformation for the digital age.”

Variety has reached out to the BBC for comment.

Ofcom recently found U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 in breach of subtitle requirements.