The BBC has been criticised after initially deciding to omit lyrical performances of Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory from Last Night of the Proms this year due to concerns that the lyrics of these songs have associations with colonialism and slavery. While the BBC has bowed to pressure and announced that the songs will now be sung, the publicly-financed broadcasting corporation continues to be accused of not remaining impartial.

A strong plurality (48%) of the British public think the BBC has failed to be impartial in recent years, while less than a third (29%) think it has succeeded at remaining impartial. A notably smaller proportion now think that the BBC is impartial compared to mid-July, before the Proms furore, when 39% thought the corporation was succeeding in being impartial.

A plurality in each age group think the BBC has failed to be impartial, but younger voters are more unsure. 30% of 18-to-24-year-olds do not know whether the BBC is being impartial in its news coverage.

There is a notable political division evident in responses. A clear majority (59%) of 2019 Conservative voters believe that the BBC is failing to be impartial, compared to 42% of 2019 Labour voters. While Conservative voters are still significantly less likely to think the BBC is impartial than 2019 Labour voters, there has been a shift amongst Labour voters since July, when they were very divided on this issue.

The majority (58%) of respondents in Great Britain would support the abolition of the licence fee in favour of a subscription-based model, as used by Channel 4, Sky, and other broadcasters. Only a fifth (19%) would oppose the licence fee being scrapped.

Scrapping the licence fee garners the majority of support in all of the age groups. Nevertheless, older voters are more likely to oppose the idea–including a third (33%) of those over 65–despite concerns over the impartiality of the BBC being greater among the older age groups. Opposition to scrapping the licence fee, however, may not be due to the merits of the licence or the BBC, but the complexity of subscription services, which may be off-putting for older generations. Furthermore, many retirees receive help with their TV licence cost or may be hopeful that the recent decision to scrap free TV-licences for those over 75 will be overturned.

Again, there is little division across the political parties, with the majority of 2019 Conservative and Labour voters supporting a move to scrap the licence fee, and there has been little change in opinion since July.

Overall, the public are concerned that the BBC is not living up to its promise of impartiality. Significantly, a clear majority would support the licence fee being scrapped in favour of a subscription-based model. Scepticism about the BBC’s impartiality is a long-term issue. Nevertheless, the proportion of the public who think the BBC is failing to be impartial has increased since the Last Night at the Proms controversy.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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