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The Guardian view on BBC independence: compromised at the top | Editorial

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Evidence of capitulation to political pressure shows how vulnerable the national broadcaster has become

Governments and oppositions have always complained that the BBC is too generous to the other side. In the past, that charge has not been sustainable for long enough to think the corporation is systemically failing at impartiality. Its news output is generally fair and balanced, especially when compared with the frothy partisanship in many newspapers. It is not an organ of state propaganda. That independence is maintained by regulation and internal rules, but neither of those mechanisms is sufficient without a wider political culture that values the BBC on its own terms and does not seek to undermine it.

The current Conservative government is unreliable on that score. Evidence of capitulation to political pressure, reported this week by the Guardian, demonstrates the hazard. Senior editors discouraged the corporation’s news outlets from using the word “lockdown” to describe social restrictions at the start of the pandemic, at Downing Street’s behest. Alternative terms were used instead on the BBC website. Leaked messages show editors passing on one government request that the newsrooms “turn up the scepticism” about Labour’s pandemic response. Others urged generous interpretation of comments by Boris Johnson comparing Ukraine’s resistance to Russian invasion to Brexit, and congratulated staff for avoiding a story about Mr Johnson’s alleged affair with Jennifer Arcuri.

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