The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld a complaint against a BBC journalist who wrote the article titled “Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US – and its president”. The article was published in March and the journalist claimed President Trump had “narcissistic hunger for adoration”.
However, a reader complained that the article showed bias and was not in line with BBC Impartiality Rules.
The BBC impartiality guidelines say: “The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.
“Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.
“They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views on such matters publicly, including in any BBC-branded output or on personal blogs and social media.”
In the ruling, the ECU noted the journalist had used his knowledge and experience to provide informed and considered analysis.
The ECU also noted that the journalist had “sought to support his assessment of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis with evidence”.
But they accepted there were issues with the “approach and tone” of the item at certain points.
It noted that phrasing such as “ridiculous boasts”, “mind-bending truth twisting”, “particularly vicious assault”, “pettiness and peevishness”, “narcissistic hunger for adoration” and “the tricks of an illusionist” were not “attributed to sources other than the author of the piece.”
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It was noted this language “was closer to the language of personal views than that of professional judgement and, in terms of impartiality, was not offset by the limited, and relatively restrained, criticism of the Democrats, Joe Biden and Congress.”
It suggested that the article “could have been brought into alignment with the BBC’s editorial standards without a great deal of alteration”.
Concluding the ruling, the ECU said: “As it stood, however, and whether or not Mr Bryant was in fact expressing a personal view of President Trump, some of his observations were couched in terms which might well have led readers to conclude that he was, resulting in a departure from the BBC’s standards of impartiality.”
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Commenting on the ruling, the BBC said: “The finding was discussed with those responsible for the article and reported to the Board of BBC News, and the article itself was amended in the light of the finding.”
A BBC spokesperson, added: “We note the finding and the article has been updated accordingly.”