The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is the world’s oldest national broadcaster and the largest by number of employees. It has published award-winning documentaries, broadcasts in 28 different languages, and offers comprehensive radio, TV, and online services. It is no surprise that such a large footprint and storied history faces some criticism. To explore BBC’s reputation, The Factual asked two questions: how Factual is BBC and how biased is it?

What Is The Factual and How Does It Score Articles?
The Factual identifies the most informative and least opinionated articles from thousands of sources across the political spectrum. It does this by using a consistent and transparent rating algorithm to evaluate articles based on their sources, writing tone, author expertise, and publishing site, ultimately producing a grade between 0 and 100 for each article. The Factual uses this data to explore trends across the media ecosystem as well as to inform our daily newsletter. To learn more about how we score articles, visit our How It Works page.

How Factual Is BBC?

Over a dataset of 1,000 articles, BBC scored an average Factual Grade of 65.3%. This is slightly above the average of 61.9% for all 240 news sources that we analyzed, placing BBC in the 63rd percentile of our dataset.

BBC’s high journalistic standards and unique funding model explain these reliable scores. Moreover, BBC’s larger than average workforce allows it to dedicate journalists to specific topics, leading to high author expertise.

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Like any news source, scores for articles from BBC varied widely based on factors like author expertise and cited evidence. For example, some scored above 90%, while others scored below 50%.

As part of each Factual Grade, The Factual measures how opinionated an article is using a sophisticated natural language processing algorithm, producing a score we call the Writing Tone. For this metric, the algorithm looks for signs of subjective commentary (e.g., first person pronouns, unnecessary adverbs), as well as the emotional nature of selected words, and sees how prevalent they are for a given length of text. Text which is less opinionated gets higher ratings, with “0” being the most opinionated and “1” being the most neutral.

BBC had an average Writing Tone score of 0.61, placing it in the 41st percentile in our dataset. This suggests that articles from BBC tend to be more neutral in tone, though some articles exhibit opinionated language.

How Biased Is BBC?

Based on assessments from media bias organizations, The Factual assigns BBC a “Moderate Left” bias. These provided ratings are relevant specifically to BBC’s online published content, not its television programming. However, we do examine bias may be relevant throughout the organization.

AllSides gives BBC a “Center,” rating although it notes the site sometimes displays a “Lean Left” bias. This is based on an editorial review, community feedback (55,345 ratings), a blind survey, and independent third-party analysis and research. While liberal bias is intermittently present, there is “no predictable pattern to publishing material that may favor either end of the political spectrum — conservative or liberal.” An August 2020 community survey found that “people from across the political spectrum on average view BBC’s content as on the borderline of a Lean Left and Center bias,” but the AllSides editorial team agreed that BBC has some left-leaning bias, mostly shown by bias by omission or bias by placement.

An editorial review by Allsides highlighted some examples of these biases. A team member with a conservative bias stated BBC is Lean Left “because of its story choice around summer of 2020 protests and riots in major U.S cities [which] featured attacks on reporters but did not focus on widespread arson, looting, violence.” Conversely, another team member with a liberal bias stated that they sometimes noticed sensationalism in BBC’s writing, but “it is not used in a highly partisan context—for example, ‘Obama and Trump rip into each other’s record.’”

MediaBiasFactCheck (MBFC) also rates BBC as “Left-Center”, based on “story selection that slightly favors the left.” It also receives a “High” score for factual reporting and uses a diverse range of sources. Though it has failed a fact-check, it promptly issued a correction and it “always sources its information.” Moreover, BBC uses “minimal loaded words” for its headlines, such as “Cautious welcome for US-China climate agreement.” As a result, it is widely viewed as impartial by its readers and partner organizations. 

Looking more broadly, BBC receives criticism at times, such as for its coverage of certain British politicians. During a popular Newsnight intro, a monologue on Dominic Cummings appeared to criticize his role as Chief Political Strategist to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit. After this incident, in an effort to assuage fears of buas, the BBC hired a third-party fact-checker to ensure its social media account was impartial. Furthermore, they created a complaint system to help address the British public’s concerns of bias.

These changes come amid an environment of uncertainty at the BBC. The corporation faces challenges as it cuts funding, tries to retain its viewership, and innovates in a new media environment. Many younger viewers eschew conventional news media for other commercial platforms, and some of BBC’s most popular shows have been canceled, leaving it cash-strapped. BBC’s leadership may be considering removing the “license fee” in favor of more commercialized contracts, which are viewed as toxic for its journalistic obligation by many in its newsrooms.

Who Owns BBC?

A Royal Charter established the BBC in 1922. Initially a private business, it transformed into a public broadcasting corporation in 1926. A significant majority of its funding comes from a public tax called a licence fee. The British Parliament can change this through legislation at any time. In 2019, BBC generated a total income of £4.9 billion ($6.3 billion), of which £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion) came from the licence fee. This fee has increasingly faced criticism as British viewership has decreased by 30% over the past decade. Its leadership consists of 13 members with broad experience across business, non-profits, and government. 

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How to Mitigate Bias

News articles are bound to have bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Political bias ratings are helpful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more beneficial to know how factual an article is based on quantifiable metrics that can be seen across the media ecosystem, such as cited evidence, author expertise, and writing tone. This is what The Factual ascertains. 

Reading several, highly rated articles from across the political spectrum helps counter the bias of any news source or story. To have the day’s most factual news stories delivered to your inbox every morning, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Article updated on December 12, 2021 to reflect new data.

Published by Zain Bali

Zain is a researcher, writer, and marketer at The Factual. He is interested in policy, mass media, and politics. Before joining The Factual, he earned a B.S. in public health from Ohio State University. He has worked as a social media manager for a healthcare advocacy group and food science researcher.