Tories demand bias rule in BBC charter

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The Independent Online
The BBC is facing demands from the Government to insert a clause governing impartiality into its charter as part of the renewal process which is nearing completion.

Although senior corporation executives insist their own editorial guidelines are sufficient to guarantee balanced reporting, they are prepared to accept a new clause as the price for mollifying accusations of bias from backbench MPs and ministers.

A BBC spokesman said yesterday that in addition to producer guidelines, the annex to the current charter agreed in 1981 included a resolution by the BBC's board of governors to "treat controversial subjects with due impartiality".

The BBC's requirement to act on impartiality accompanies demands by the Department of National Heritage on the corporation to accept a clause on taste and decency to curb violence in programmes.

Marmaduke Hussey, the chairman of the governors, has already announced a BBC seminar this autumn to assess how public standards of taste and decency have changed and how programme makers should respond.

However, government pressure for specific commitments on violence, bad language and sex suggest a desire by Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley, to grasp the initiative on issues that have historically been left to the BBC's guidelines and regulatory authorities such as the Broadcasting Standards Council.

In addition, Mrs Bottomley plans to meet the BBC and Independent Television Commission in the autumn to discuss exhaustive research by the University of Sheffield into television violence. The report, commissioned by the BBC and ITC, covers terrestrial and four satellite channels, including Sky Movies and the Movie Channel.

Roger Gale, chairman of the Tory backbench media committee, said: "We need the BBC to take a lead in self-restraint."

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