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BBC coverage less partial to England but more change needed, suggests report

Promises to keep: Richard Tait, chairman of the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee, said: “The Trust is clear that the BBC should serve all audiences, and licence fee payers themselves tell us they want to know more about what’s going on in the nations and regions of the UK.

The BBC's news coverage of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has almost doubled in the last two years, a report released by the BBC Trust has said. The broadcaster, however, was also found to still show a bias in favour of stories about England in some areas including health and education, where only eight out of 112 stories related to the three other countries.

The latest research, which was carried out by Cardiff School of Journalism and based on detailed content analysis of four weeks of network news and current affairs in October and November 2009, found overall that the broadcaster had made "significant improvements" but that more progress was needed.

This analysis follows a trust report in 2008 which identified areas where improvements needed to be made, including reporting on the devolved nations of the UK. The report shows references to devolved nations in news reports have increased from 71 to 480 since the 2008 report, as well as a significant increase in television reporting from the three countries and a doubling of news items comparing policies between the areas.

When the researchers examined news across the BBC – regardless of whether it concerned devolved issues – they found a significant increase in the proportion of news items related to (or about) Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, especially on television. So, for example, in 2007 only 7.8 per cent of news items on BBC television related to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. By 2009, this proportion had almost doubled to 14.2 per cent. The increase on other television channels (ITV, Channel 4 and Sky) was much smaller (2.7 per cent). The corresponding increases on BBC radio and online were 4.7 per cent and 6.2 per cent respectively.

The researchers also found a similar increase in BBC reporting on location from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2007, 7.7% of BBC news reports came from reporters on location in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared to 4.6% on other channels. In 2009, this proportion had risen to 12.3% on BBC television outlets and dropped to 2.8% on other television channels.

When they looked specifically at news items relevant to devolution or devolved issues, the researchers found that the proportion of news items about devolved issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland increased on all BBC outlets, especially in online coverage (from 1.7 per cent to 3.5 per cent of online news items) and on television news (from 0.7 per cent to 1.2 per cent of BBC television news items).

The increase in BBC radio was more modest (from 1.0 per cent to 1.2 per cent of radio news items). The proportion of such items on ITV, Channel 4 and Sky actually halved (from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent on news items) suggesting that increases in BBC coverage cannot be attributed to a change in the general news agenda in the 2009 sampling period.

Date posted: July 30, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 226