Aud says BBC trails rivals in impartiality

Public finds Beeb shows more bias on Iraq coverage

LONDON — Blighty viewers think pubcaster the BBC was less objective in its coverage of the Iraq war than its commercial rivals, according to a report published Tuesday by watchdog the Independent Television Commission.

Of 4,000 people polled, 66% thought BBC1’s news reports of the war had been fair to all parties, compared with 77% who thought terrestrial rivals Channel 4 and Five had been even-handed. Some 75% thought satcaster Sky News was “fair to all” and 70% believed commercial broadcaster ITV1’s coverage impartial.

CNN’s reporting, however, was considered the least fair, with 53% perceiving it to be biased toward the U.S. and the U.K. A quarter felt there was a bias toward the U.S. and the U.K. on BBC1, ITV1 and Sky News.

Any suggestion of public distrust worries the corporation, particularly as the survey was conducted in early April, before BBC’s Radio 4 broadcast the controversial “sexed-up” Iraq dossier report on the “Today” program.

On the accusations of bias, a Beeb spokeswoman said, “BBC news was watched by more than 90% of the population, so is bound to attract a greater diversity of opinion than services with lower viewing.”

On the use of embedded reporters, 69% agreed they were an important way of showing the reality of war. But there was concern that such journalists would be less likely to remain fair and objective.

The largest single news audience was for ITV1’s 9 p.m. bulletin on March 24 with 9.2 million viewers. Overall, however, the Beeb’s 10 p.m. bulletin was the most popular, drawing an average aud of 6.2 million viewers in March and April, compared with ITV’s 4.7 million.

Rolling news services came into their own as the war became a 24-hour event. Sky News outstripped all dedicated news channels, achieving a 29% share of all news viewing at the expense of BBC1 and ITV1.