Here's the news, but not in Wales

20th June 2008 at 01:00
BBC's 'bias' confuses public over education policy, says watchdog
BBC's 'bias' confuses public over education policy, says watchdog

More than 40 per cent of the British public believes Ed Balls, England's children, schools and families secretary, is responsible for education in Wales, according to a broadcasting watchdog.

The independent BBC Trust concluded in a highly critical report, published last week, that most stories in the UK national headlines are sidelining Wales, as well as the other home nations.

It makes a special case for education, adding that London-led "bias" makes education coverage confusing for some teachers. In Wales, the Assembly government is responsible for all education issues, apart from teachers' pay and conditions.

But the BBC Trust Impartiality Report says there is too much confusion over devolved areas, especially education and health. There was just one education correspondent for BBC Wales, based in Cardiff, at the time the report was being compiled, who also covered TV, radio and the internet.

Market research commissioned for the BBC Trust reveals 82 per cent polled thought it was important to know what was happening in the devolved home nations. The Welsh polled were most likely to say they wanted to know what was happening elsewhere.

The report is supported by research from Cardiff University, which found that of 136 education-related stories in national BBC coverage, none was applicable to Wales. The Cardiff team, headed by Professor Justin Lewis, said none of the stories explained clearly, or often enough, which countries they applied to.

But the watchdog does say the BBC is impartial in its coverage, still generally held in high esteem.

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said the BBC was not alone in not reporting devolved issues clearly enough.

"Programmes and newspapers often report on legislation and additional funding which only applies in England.

"I have to point out to our members that it doesn't apply to Wales. We have the option of taking on new legislation passed in England, but there can be a time delay of around two to three years."

One example cited in the report was the scrapping of "stressful" GCSE oral exams last February, a move that did not affect Wales at the time. The report criticised the BBC for failing to find out whether the change would apply to other parts of the UK.

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, said in a statement people should be able to compare what is happening in their region to the rest of the UK. He said the BBC's popularity dropped the further it got away from London. The report recommends London-based journalists get to know policies and politics in the regions better.

David Evans, NUT Cymru secretary, agreed that distinctions between stories about Wales and England should be made clearer.

But Rex Phillips, regional organiser of the NASUWT Cymru, said BBC regional news did its job fairly well. He said teachers tended to get the latest professional news from newspapers or magazines.

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, threatened to withdraw his licence fee to the BBC last year over its lack of coverage.

"London-centricity is like a neurological disease. Maybe one day even London executives will know there is more to Wales than quirky Pot Noodle adverts," he said.

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