Saturday 17 March 2018

Dale Farm: BBC apologises over 'unfair' One Show report on travellers' site

Andrew Hough

THE BBC is to apologise to Basildon council after an investigation found The One Show broadcast a biased programme about the controversial travellers' site at Dale Farm.

The popular early evening show had been accused of unbalanced journalism over its February report about the proposed site’s pending clearance.

After the five minute piece was broadcast, council officials complained to the public broadcaster, accusing the show of being ''inaccurate, misleading and biased in favour of the travellers''.

On Thursday, the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee (ESC) published its finding on the five-minute report following a lengthy investigation.

The investigation concluded the show had been ''duly accurate'' and ''had not knowingly and materially misled its audiences''.

But it found the BBC One programme had ''failed to clarify that the site had been developed on green belt land''.

The six-acre site in Crays Hill was cleared earlier this month following a decade-long row over unauthorised plots which has cost the local council and police millions of pounds.

The BBC Trust will now offer an apology to the local authority. But it is understood The One Show will not have to make an on-air apology.

As a result of its finding, editorial procedures have been “reviewed” and “strengthened” at the show, the BBC said.

The report also said it had been ''unfair'' to the council in allowing a traveller to allege the local authority was ''throwing us out on the road'' with ''nowhere to go'' without giving it a right of reply.

The committee also found a studio discussion between presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones and actor Neil Morrissey, who was a guest on the show, created an ''overall impression'' that was ''unfair'' to the council.

The report added that Morrissey, who speculated whether the land had been ''earmarked for development'', had ''been placed in a very difficult position'' when he was asked to comment.

“The cumulative effect of the filmed item combined with the live studio discussion that together left the overall impression that the programme had failed to achieve due impartiality,” the report concluded.

“The due impartiality of the content as a whole was also undermined by the two upholds recorded relating to the unfairness to the council.”

As a result the fairness complaint was “partially upheld”, upheld over its impartiality and dismissed over accuracy.

A BBC spokeswoman said that executives had noted the findings, which “we have taken very seriously”.

“Moving forward, The One Show has reviewed and will continue to strengthen its editorial procedures to ensure accuracy, fairness and due impartiality on all the programme's output,” she added.

Tony Ball, the Council Leader, said officials were “satisfied with the findings”.

“The site clearance of Dale Farm has always been about the protection of the green belt, but this was not accurately portrayed by the One Show report, nor the fact that we had made several offers of housing to traveller families,” he said.

“Since we made the complaint, these key facts have been more accurately broadcast, helping to aid the public understanding of what the whole issue was about.”

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