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BBC - Highs and Lows

By Alison Mclernon (Beyond Business) on January 09, 2014 at 3:12pm.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British national broadcasting company headquartered in London, employing over 16,500 people. The BBC's UK public service broadcasting activities are funded by license fees from UK households earning £3.7 billion (US$ 6.1 billion) in 2012/2013. The BBC Trust is the governing body of the BBC. BBC services reach 96% of the UK population. 

This year has been a year of highs and lows for the BBC. The BBC lists its broadcasting of the Olympic Games in London and the Queen's Jubilee celebrations among its highs, stressing the inclusive and accessible coverage of these major events in UK life in 2012. Conversely the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal and the ensuing troubles at the BBC were an indisputable low. BBC includes a special section, highlighted in the content index of the review, about the Savile affair, reporting the commissioning of three reviews and replacing the Director General of the BBC. BBC doesn’t hide that this scandal adversely affected audiences' trust in the BBC.

This report is primarily targeted to license fee payers and not surprisingly, includes significant coverage of the social role of the BBC through its work to support charities and leverage the reach of BBC broadcasting through partnering with educational organizations and industry. BBC helped charities to raise over £100 million in 2012. This outreach work makes up half of the report content and includes, for example, BBC's work to include audiences often forgotten by the media such as broadcasting accessible orchestral concerts staged by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, aimed at children with hearing difficulties, and the BBC News School Report, a project that allows 11 to 16 year olds across the UK to report on the news that matters to them. BBC's broadcasting of Comic Relief & Red Nose Day 2013 fundraising broadcasts reached a record high of £75.1 million. Also, BBC Media Action, the BBC's international development charity, supports broadcasting in countries where human rights are at risk. Broadcasts in 2012/2013 reached 49 million people with over 81 projects in Iraq, Burma, India, Kenya, Somalia and other countries, representing an independent voice and useful information to local communities.

All this is indicative of very positive impact in British society. However, the report rather scratches the surface of the true "brainprint" of the BBC's impact on audiences. In reporting news, and in BBC programming, the questions of social equality, discrimination, poverty, and coverage weighing of important political, economic and environmental issues are not discussed. The most significant aspect of the work of the BBC may not be not how it supports charities, but how it both reflects and influences public opinion, as a material element of this organization's corporate responsibility. It would be a high for this report if more airtime were given to this aspect of BBC broadcasting.

Another area in which more detailed reporting would be of interest relates to the BBC's environmental impacts. Apart from an impressive 81% reduction in waste to landfill since the base year 2007/2008, and the development of carbon calculator technology in a pilot programme to help reduce the carbon footprint of BBC productions, the BBC's environmental performance doesn’t appear to give license payers confidence that environmental stewardship is on track at the BBC. Energy consumption per FTE worsened over the past 5 years. Absolute carbon emissions reduced by 6% and emissions from transportation reduced by 5% since 2007/8. In both cases, 2015/16 targets are 20% reduction and the BBC does not report how it intends to bridge the gap. Water consumption per FTE reduced by 7% over 5 years, versus a 25% reduction target for 2015/16. We can commend the BBC for transparent reporting of this data, but the lack of narrative explaining underperformance versus targets leaves us wondering if the BBC has taken an advertisement break on this subject.

The BBC's second main focus in this review, The Way We Work, covers the BBC's ethical policies and positions as a significant UK employer. The BBC aims to "recruit and develop a diverse workforce that reflects the UK’s changing demographic". The employment level of black and ethnic minorities is a high, with targets and performance appearing to represent the UK demography. However, almost 19% of the UK workforce has a disability (Source: Disabled Living Foundation) yet the BBC's actual performance on disability hiring was 3.7% versus a 5.5% target, and this goes unexplained, representing another low for this report. Activities to encourage more women who are experts in fields such as politics, engineering, history and science to appear on BBC radio and television can be seen as a high.

The BBC has been reporting on corporate responsibility performance since 2006. Information is available online on the BBC Outreach website and as a shorter PDF download. The report makes for a good read but the online site is like a labyrinth, with numerous links to other parts of the website. Once redirected from the BBC Outreach section of the website, how to return is unclear. The only search engine available covers the entire BBC website which is not helpful in locating specific corporate responsibility information. The report itself contains no keyword index so finding specific information is not easy.

If you like good news about how BBC is making a social contribution to charity and outreach to underserved communities, this report is full of highs. If you want a thorough, detailed account of the BBC's brainprint and environmental impacts, this report has several lows. The "looking ahead" section mentions a few opportunities but refrains from declaring commitments. It cannot be disputed that the BBC makes a very important contribution to British society. Comprehensive coverage of more material issues is an opportunity for the BBC to reinforce the highs and translate the lows into an even more credible part of the BBC's reporting. 

1. Conduct a materiality analysis and focus reporting around material issues, not just positive social impact.
2. Increase navigability of the PDF and the online report. Add a content index, and a search engine specifically for the CSR section of the website.
3. Provide better, more specific information as to how targets will be achieved, particularly in the environmental sustainability section of the report.

Alison Mclernon is a Sustainability Analyst with a strong background in financial analysis of corporations and environmental research.  Beyond Business Ltd www.b-yond.biz