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BBC launches review into impartiality of its migration and small boats coverage

A BBC investigation into its coverage of migrants and small boats crossing the English Channel will ask whether the broadcaster should give greater emphasis to the number of people emigrating from the UK.

The BBC Board said the independent inquiry will “consider whether due impartiality is being delivered” in its coverage of the politically-divisive issue of migration.

The review will be jointly chaired by Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory based at Oxford University, and Samir Shah, chief executive of the independent television and radio production company Juniper.

It will also assess the coverage of topics such as the Government’s policy of sending migrants to Rwanda, the impact of migration on communities in the UK, and the admission of refugees from Ukraine.

The review will examine if the BBC’s choice of stories “demonstrates a fair and appropriately nuanced approach and provides an appropriately broad range of voices and perspectives.”

That includes whether the number of people leaving the UK is factored into claims about the impact of migration. The terms of reference asks “How far emigration is covered in content to ensure an appropriately nuanced picture is presented.”

Commons library figures for the year ending June 2022 showed that 1.1 million people migrated into the UK and 560,000 people emigrated from it, leaving net migration of 504,000 people.

The language and tone of the coverage will be scrutinised. The reviewers will ask “whether those who appear in content – both migrants and those from UK communities – are depicted and described fairly.”

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel (photo - PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel (Photo: PA)

It was Gary Lineker’s tweets over government ministers’ language about its asylum policies that plunged the BBC into crisis when the Match of the Day presenter was taken off air.

A separate review is examining the extent to which freelance presenters must comply with the BBC’s impartiality guidelines on controversial issues.

Richard Sharp, BBC chairman, said: “Madeleine Sumption and Samir Shah are well known for their expert understanding of the issues involved in delivering impartial coverage of migration, which is an important and often intensely contested subject.”

Sharp added: “Their combination of evidence-based academic research and working knowledge of impartiality in broadcasting make them highly qualified to lead the thematic review into BBC migration output.

“Their findings will ensure the BBC continues to have the correct approach to producing coverage that audiences can trust.”

The review’s work will begin “in the coming days”, the broadcaster said, as it committed to publishing its findings.

The BBC has previously commissioned reviews into its coverage of taxation, public spending, government borrowing and debt as part of a 10-point impartiality plan.

Its review into public spending found that some “journalists lack understanding of basic economics” which created a “high risk to impartiality.”

Some BBC journalists found that “debt is simply bad, full stop, and don’t appear to realise this can be contested and contestable” or left viewers with the impression that “public spending is good” or “tax cuts are good” which favoured some interests over others.

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