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Trust on the slide, Chris Moyles on the up at BBC

Annual report shows serious navel-gazing

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The only quibble with all of this is that new technologies are grouped together under the heading of “Future Media & Technology”. Well, no - they are current technologies, and this kind of misapprehension of what the future is about may be one sign that the Beeb has not completely outgrown its fuddy-duddy roots.

So is all else sweetness and light? Not quite. The BBC Trust notes, rather ruefully, that ongoing trust levels in the BBC appeared to have fallen following a series of unfortunate “incidents” in the summer and autumn of 2007.

Chief of these was the discovery of dodgy voting practices - money that should have been donated to charity as a result of phone-in voting was retained by BBC subsidiary Audiocall. Other votes were fiddled – most famously on Blue Peter. However, in a masterpiece of spin, details of the Blue Peter story were remarkably absent. Instead, programme Editor Tim Levell described the event as a “catalyst for good”.

Other complaints were on the rise, as in 2007/08 a total of 56 breaches of “editorial compliance” were upheld - up from 38 in the previous year.

Concern was expressed about editorial inaccuracies in respect of online journalism. Meanwhile, a serious own goal was represented by swearing on air during the Live Earth concert broadcast in July 2007. This followed similar editorial breaches during the Live 8 concert in 2005 – and has since been compounded by even more swearing during Live Earth in April of this year. Ofcom is not amused.

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Further fears were raised about Southern/London bias - a survey supported the view that political coverage was seen as unduly focused on Westminster in volume and style, with audiences perceiving a general bias in favour of stories about England or telling stories from an English perspective.

Then there was navel-gazing about “artifice” vs. “deception”. TV audiences were found to have a sophisticated understanding of the boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable. Viewers accept a degree of artifice – especially in entertainment – but, unsurprisingly, they prefer factual programmes to be fairly factual.

There is, of course, far far more to the reports than this. Between them, they stretch to a magnificent 200 pages. No doubt analysts will be poring over them tonight, prising additional nuggets out from the dross. For example, a close reading of the production figures shows BBC2 has reduced its education programming by almost half – from 1374 to 785 hours. No doubt this change has some underlying significance.

Chris Moyles continues to be popular - his breakfast show yet again increased reach and share in the first quarter of 2008 with 7.7 million weekly listeners, up by nearly 700,000 on a year ago – a new record high.

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, is keen to explain that the biggest training course in the BBC’s history – designed to regain the trust of the public - was not, as some papers mischievously reported, ‘integrity seminars’, but a “conversation” involving no less than 17,000 BBC people. Slapped wrist, therefore, to the Blue Peter Director who talked about attending a “trust seminar”.

Finally, good news for those of geekish tendencies. In contrast to former BBC controller Michael Grade, Mark Thompson comments that for his family, the highlight of the week “remains the amazing Doctor Who.” Now that’s the sort of nugget that really does make a difference. ®

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