Viewers say BBC bias favours Tories

Survey of opinions of television reporting contradicts claims of Labour partisanship
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Nearly three-quarters of viewers believe news reporting on British television is impartial, according to research published today by the Independent Television Commission. Where bias does occur, it is likely to favour politicians and government departments at the expense of trade unions, single parents, disabled people and the unemployed.

The annual surveyi will make fascinating reading for the BBC and Cabinet ministers such as John Redwood and Jonathan Aitken, both of whom have recently attacked what they perceive as the partisan bias of the "Blair Broadcasting Corporation". As in previous years, conspicuous numbers of people believe that the BBC is biased in favour of the Tory party.

The proportion of people saying that BBC1 favours a particular political party has increased by more than half from 18 to 29 per cent since 1979. Those who believe the channel's coverage has favoured the Conservative Party have nearly doubled from 12 to 22 per cent over the same period. Only 6 per cent believe BBC1 is biased towards Labour. Perceptions that coverage on BBC2 also favours the Tories has risen from 11 to 16 per cent since 1984.

The ITC says that in interpreting this finding it should be borne in mind that the BBC is recognised as having a strong establishment image, and this stereotype tends to colour many opinions about its services.

The figures for ITV and Channel 4 are relatively stable, with in both cases nearly 70 per cent of viewers believing that programmes are unlikely to favour any single party.

The survey also says that 60 per cent of viewers saw nothing to cause them offence on television last year, compared with 55 per cent in 1993. Where offence was caused, bad language was most frequently cited, followed by violence and sex.

As for controlling what children can watch, two thirds believe it is parents' responsibility, with only 6 per cent seeing it as solely broadcasters' duty.

Around 94 per cent of all homes with children have a video cassette recorder, with nearly half possessing a home computer. Young people are especially appreciative of what appears on television, with a quarter of 16-24 year- olds saying standards of programmes have improved since 1993. In contrast, among older viewers, who tend to watch more television, 37 per cent of those over 45 claim that standards have declined.