The BBC Trust have decided to not uphold a complaint made by talkSPORT owners UTV about the level of news content on BBC Radio 5 Live.
But the Trust says the issues highlighted by UTV do raise 'significant and valid questions' about the network which will be looked at in the forthcoming planned service licence review of the station.
UTV had originally raised their concerns with BBC management last year but weren’t happy with the response so took up the issues with the BBC Trust in February. The Trust has considered all the points raised by UTV and decided that 5 Live is operating within the terms of its current service licence.
The commercial broadcaster had raised three key points, namely:
[blockquote]A) That news does not represent around three-quarters of 5 Live’s output each year.
B) That 5 Live is broadcasting an excess of speech content which lies outside its published remit as 'BBC Radio’s home of continuous news and live sports coverage.'
C) That 5 Live is neglecting minority and secondary sports and fixtures.[/blockquote]
The main disagreement between UTV and BBC management surrounded what constitutes 'news output', with the BBC using guidelines that would mean a programme like the Richard Bacon afternoon show would all be counted as news. UTV argued that while it contains elements of news and news-based discussion, much of it is actually things like celebrity interviews and listener text-ins which have no link to news or current affairs. The Trust’s General Appeals Panel determined that a 'more nuanced method of monitoring the proportion of news output' would be desirable.
The Trust also found that UTV's complaint raised ‘constructive questions’ about 5 Live's editorial focus, and reports that the forthcoming service review will be tasked with ‘assessing the public value of speech output on the station that is neither continuous news nor live sports’. The Trust says the service review will also need to deliver greater clarity on the station’s commitments with regard to minority and secondary sports.
BBC Radio 5 Live has welcomed the rejection of the complaint. Controller Adrian Van Klaveren said: "We’re pleased with the BBC Trust’s findings that Radio 5 live is compliant with its service licence obligations to provide 75 percent of its output as news, rejecting UTV’s claim that this was not the case. Radio 5 live will fully engage with the Trust’s scheduled routine review of the Service Licence of BBC Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra this year, which is unrelated to the complaint from UTV."
UTV Media's Managing Director Scott Taunton told RadioToday.co.uk that he's pleased with today’s report, despite the complaint not being upheld. "The findings leave us in no doubt that the BBC Trust has major questions about 5 Live’s provision of continuous news and a home for minority sports, and that it wants to see – through the licence review – a significant tightening of its remit in these areas," he said.
Mr Taunton said that he was particularly pleased that the Trust had recognised potential flaws in the BBC's methodology for measuring what proportion of output should be counted as news. "It's clear to us that the BBC should set the standard for news, rather than adopting a broad definition which includes interviews with celebrities or trivial listener anecdotes," he said. "It's also good to see that the BBC Trust has committed to look at the mix of sports on 5 Live, including whether 5 Live is doing enough to support minority sports."
He added: "The technical detail of our complaint was always secondary to these broader issues about 5 Live's remit and performance and I'm pleased that the BBC Trust has agreed to address the substantive points we raised in the course of its service review."
The latest round of service reviews being done by the BBC Trust are expected to begin next Wednesday and will include Radio 5 Live, 5 Live Sports Extra, the Asian Network and BBC Local Radio.