The BBC Trust says Radio 5 live should ensure that discussions and features should have an obvious link to news or topical issues.
The guidance comes from the Trust’s service review of the station, which also says it should cover more minority sports that commercial radio does not.
As part of the service review process, UTV Media – the owner of commercial rival talkSPORT – has been arguing that 5 live is failing to meet its current requirement for 75% of the station’s output to be news and current affairs.
Today the Trust reported that 5 live has ‘breadth, depth, wit and intelligence’, and 9 out of 10 listeners rate sports coverage on the station as high quality. Audiences also praised the station as a reliable source for breaking news and said it had ‘knowledgeable presenters who make stories accessible without trivialising them’.
BBC Trustee Alison Hastings, who led the review, said: “In a year that has seen so many major news stories hit the headlines, it’s great to see that 5 live’s approach to news coverage and breaking news really stands out for listeners. We’ve set out ways in which we think 5 live could build on this to ensure that all of its journalism continues to meet the high standards that audiences expect. The station also has an unmatched reputation for sports coverage among licence fee payers. Given the BBC’s unique position we think the station could do more to cover the less mainstream sports that other stations can’t, and we look to the Executive to decide how best to achieve this.”
Last week, the BBC Trust announced as part of its DQF interim report that 5 live’s proposals to reduce current affairs programming shouldn’t go ahead. Today, it adds that the other cost-savings outlined for the station should be retained within the overall DQF strategy – namely reducing the cost of overnight programming, using smaller teams of presenters at sports events, reducing 5 live’s team of regional journalists in England and working more closely with other parts of BBC News.
talkSPORT operator UTV Media, which last year highlighted ‘significant and valid questions about what constitutes news on 5 live’ said it hoped BBC management would act on the Trust’s findings.
Managing Director Scott Taunton told RadioToday.co.uk: “We welcome the BBC Trust’s findings, and in particular its decisions to strengthen 5 Live’s commitment to 75% news, and to ensure coverage of minority sports. Whilst the Trust has set out a number of important actions, we will need to wait and see whether this has a material impact on 5 Live’s performance and distinctiveness. We will therefore be watching the response of BBC management closely.”
Taunton added that figures on the Trust’s report showing 5 live’s expenditure on sports programmes was higher than that on news programmes were ‘surprising’. “We welcome the Trust’s recommendation that expenditure should be rebalanced towards news and restate our offer to participate in an appropriate benchmarking study to help BBC management identify efficiency opportunities,” he said.
RadioCentre – the organisation which represents many of the commercial radio operators in the UK – said the BBC Trust had missed an opportunity to provide the ‘step change’ needed for 5 live.
Its Chief Executive, Andrew Harrison, said: “This is a worthy and thorough analysis by the BBC Trust. Its recommendations suggest some modest changes to 5 Live’s operation but miss the opportunity to provide the step change that some had called for. 5 Live should always be a beacon of excellence in delivering the BBC’s highest editorial priority, to provide the best journalism in the world.
“The report highlights several areas, identified by listeners and commercial radio broadcasters, which will enable 5 live to fulfil its public service remit more effectively. We welcome these. Particularly encouraging are measures to prioritise high quality news coverage and feature minority sport more regularly, factors that should help distinguish it from other services. Reducing the future amount of non-news items and Premier League Football coverage on the services are also a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, at a time of intense public scrutiny on journalistic standards this seems like a missed opportunity for the BBC.”