BBC coverage of devolved countries improving says trust

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The Independent Online

Significant improvements were made to the BBC's coverage of the devolved nations - but concerns remain about "misleading or confusing" news items, the BBC Trust found today.

The governing body's follow-up report into BBC network news coverage of the four UK nations found a "significant" increase in BBC coverage of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just on devolution-related issues and especially on television.

Researchers found 14.2% of news items on BBC television related to these nations during their study carried out in 2009, compared with 7.8% in research published two years ago.

Location reporting in these countries also increased - to 12.3% on BBC television compared with 7.7% in the earlier research.

Researchers said that perhaps the most dramatic change was in the number of explicit or implicit references BBC reporters made to devolved powers generally - 480 in the latest study compared with 71 two years previously.

The BBC Trust report is based on research carried out by Cardiff University.

It follows on from a study published in June 2008 which found that the BBC needed to improve the range, clarity and precision of its network coverage on what was happening in the different UK nations and regions.

The previous report found the BBC was "falling short of its own high standards" and failing to meet its core purpose of helping inform democracy.

The latest report is based on a sample of four weeks of news and current affairs coverage gathered in October and November 2009.

Researchers examined thousands of news items covering television, radio and online, including Newsnight, The Politics Show, The One Show, Today and items on the "UK" and "politics" pages on BBC online.

The report also raised concerns about stories which fail to make it clear they apply only to England rather than the UK as a whole.

It found that four out of 10 BBC network news items about issues relating only to England, or England and Wales, failed to make this clear.

BBC radio was more likely to lack clarity over this issue than BBC television or online.

Researchers pointed out that the problem is exacerbated by English institutions and Westminster political parties often announcing policies and initiatives without being clear about where they applied.

One of the standout figures of the original research was that out of 136 BBC network news items about health and education every one related only to England.

Of the 112 BBC items monitored on the subjects this time around, 104 related to England and eight to the other three nations - showing that the situation is changing to some extent.

But all network news stories sampled about business, the arts and policing related only to England.

The BBC executive said it accepted criticism of the failure to make the reach of certain stories clear.

It said the head of news programmes and the head of the multi-media newsroom would remind editors of their responsibilities and a daily "devolution reminder" section would be added to programme running orders in the newsroom computer system.

Programme editors will also be reminded to compare and contrast policies in the devolved nations.

The executive insisted the quality and richness of BBC reporting remained the most important priority.