Tim Davie urges BBC reporters to avoid ‘sizzle of partiality’

The BBC must avoid the "sizzle of partiality" and stick to honestly reporting the facts, its director-general has said.

Tim Davie said BBC reporters must be "activists for impartiality" but stressed that they should not take that to mean they should give up on compelling storytelling and produce dull reports.

In polarised times, and with a proliferation of alternative news sources springing up online, the BBC "can no longer take for granted that people still understand our intent", he said.

Speaking to the Reuters Next summit, Mr Davie said: "Do you need the sizzle of partiality to cut through in this space? I think it’s really important to say that impartiality isn’t dull.

"It’s not the dry bit of reporting, it is absolutely a real appetite for evidence, for truth, for testimony. It can be really good, flavoursome reporting and I think we mustn’t give up… we’ve had some amazing investigative journalism, very compelling reporting for some of these situations around the world and we want to keep making it interesting.

"And I really think it’s very important that those of us fighting for impartial media, for truth-telling, should not give way to: ‘We have to do this in a way that gets the maximum clicks immediately’, but also doesn’t give up on the theatre of it, the emotion of it, all the things we want to bring."

Mr Davie reasserted the importance of BBC guidelines which state that presenters and reporters must not voice controversial opinions or indulge in "virtue signalling" on Twitter, but he said that did not mean stars must adopt a bland presence on social media, saying: "I’ve always been a fan of big personalities, so I like my editors and people to have personality. I like them to be out there on social media.

"The issue was to reaffirm our vows around social media being just one outlet for our impartial journalism."

Mr Davie also said social media can be a toxic place for BBC journalists, particularly women, adding: "In social media we’re seeing significant abuse, unacceptable abuse, of journalists. 

"I have to say that this is particularly prevalent among women reporters – over 50 per cent in a recent survey said they were facing abuse online – so I think we’ve got to be active in this and forthright and also supportive of journalists wherever they are around the world."

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