BBC Trust praises Arab Spring coverage but questions breadth and context

Editor ©RapidTVNews | 26-06-2012

In a far reaching examination of its coverage of the tumultuous Arab Spring uprisings, a review by the BBC Trust has concluded that even though it regarded coverage as “remarkable”, the BBC could have further improved its programming in order to give a fuller picture of events in the region.

In the report, The BBC Trust acknowledged the challenges involved in the news gathering process, and what it called the “considerable courage” of journalists and technicians on the ground to bring stories to air.

Yet while the Trust’s review, the centre of which was an independent report from Edward Mortimer, Middle East expert and former UN Director of Communications, considered coverage generally impartial, it noted that coverage could have included more extensive follow-up of stories in some countries, a fuller examination of the different voices which made up the opposition to various incumbent governments, and in some places a broader range of international reactions to news events. It concluded that the BBC could aim to provide more context and background to complex stories, particularly in the main TV bulletins.

Other recommendations made by Edward Mortimer and approved by the BBC Trust include better use of references to the BBC website within broadcast items to provide context, and to look at giving greater prominence to the vetting processes to which images, film, audio and other content provided by the public are subjected.

Responding to the Trust’s report and examining how it will go forward in response, the BBC Executive has committed to re-evaluate how it tracks and allocates resources to major on-going stories, to ensure that they are covered as effectively as possible across the BBC's news output, whilst maintaining the editorial structure which gives editors of individual programmes autonomy over the stories they cover. The Executive will make particular reference to the role of Middle East Editor and the emphasis placed on his strategic guidance in covering events in the region. In addition, the Executive recognises that use of the word 'regime' can suggest a value judgment, and has committed to examine ways to develop a policy so that the BBC can achieve consistency in its use.

Commented Alison Hastings, Chair of the Trust's Editorial Standards Committee: "Achieving impartiality across a range of conflicting voices, all eager to command world attention, and where propaganda and fact are sometimes hard to distinguish, continues to present a unique set of challenges. It is remarkable and a credit to BBC News's commitment and bravery that the Arab Spring was covered in a way the audience found engaging, especially alongside a number of other major world news events like the Japanese tsunami.

"Within the limits placed by news resources, programme lengths and formats, and recognising the range and impartiality of the coverage overall, we're keen to see if improvements can be made. These would be both in the scope of coverage to provide a fuller picture of events, and in providing better context for audiences. We'll ask the Director of News to report back to us with an update in the autumn."