External Review Of Decisions 2020 - Accuracy Standard

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Date published: 9 July 2020
Reviewer: Emeritus Professor John Burrows, Media Law specialist


The BSA invited Prof Burrows to undertake an independent review of five decisions issued by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) under the accuracy standard. The review was commissioned to provide feedback to the BSA, so that it can consider any areas for improvement in the delivery of its functions, or its application of the standard as well as any areas where the Codebook should be updated.

The decisions reviewed were:

Results and BSA Actions

Prof Burrows agreed that the reasoning in all decisions was valid and not hard to follow. He also considered all conclusions were tenable. However, he preferred the minority view in BSA Decision No. 2019-067 and may have been inclined to treat two of the decisions (BSA Decision No. 2019-067 and BSA Decision No. 2019-044) as cases of ‘balance’ only. 

The key feedback included:

  • Fact v Opinion Cases – When assessing what constitutes fact versus opinion (for the purposes of accuracy standard), the critical question is how listeners would perceive a statement. The various factors identified in the Codebook assist with this assessment but do not carry equal weight. One or two may be so strong in a particular case that they carry the day.
  • What can be assumed about the audience? – Prof Burrows questions whether broadcasters are entitled to expect that their audience is a discerning one which can be expected to check what they have heard or seek out other perspectives. Broadcasters should take responsibility for what they publish.
  • Misleading by Omission Cases – The accuracy standard’s requirement that programmes ‘not mislead’ is usually directed at situations where critical facts have been omitted (creating a misleading impression) rather than at cases which leave out alternative views or opinions. The latter cases are more squarely matters for the balance standard.
  • Prof Burrows provided feedback on the accuracy standard, guidelines and commentary which will be taken into account in the next Codebook review.
  • Prof Burrows also provided useful insights regarding the style, structure and consistency of decisions.

The BSA will take the recommendations into account in future decisions and also in the pending review of the Codebook.