Martine Croxall: Trust, Impartiality and the BBC

A discussion with Martine Croxall about a career with the BBC and the issues of trust, impartiality and transparency in contemporary news


On 21st November, The Tab joined St Catharine’s College Politics Society for a discussion with Martine Croxall, a BBC News and BBC World News presenter. In these roles, Croxall has covered many major events, including the November 2015 Paris terror attacks and the death of Prince Philip in 2021. Alongside this, she is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has won an episode of Celebrity Mastermind. She joined us to discuss Trust, Impartiality and the BBC.

Trust and impartiality

Trust and impartiality are core issues facing modern journalism and the media. In recent years, news organizations have faced a significant decline in public trust. A survey by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism revealed a fall in trust ratings for the BBC from 75 per cent to 55 per cent between 2018 and 2022. The study revealed that efforts towards increased transparency, reduced bias, and better coverage of issues affecting daily lives are all methods that will help to restore trust in the news.

In light of this, Croxall began with an emphasis on how building trust is a fundamental value of the BBC: “We need you to trust us. If we don’t have your trust, if you don’t believe we are accurate, we may as well pack up and go home.” She examined how an integral way to build this is by maintaining impartiality, a characteristic quality of the corporation.

Despite continuous pressures from major political parties, Croxall maintained that the BBC has “to have that sense of independence and impartiality to make sure that we are not cowed by politicians. This is the idea that underpins the BBC. We are there to inform, educate and entertain.”

Martine Croxall delivering a presentation to St Catharine’s College Politics Society (Image credits: Millie Moore)

The importance of impartiality

The question of impartiality is particularly pertinent to the BBC because of the corporation’s unique source of funding through the licence fee. Croxall argued that since “everybody pays the licence fee, we have to be relevant to all of them. The only way to do that is to be impartial”. This has been the particular mandate of the BBC’s current director-general Tim Davie.

Croxall qualified this issue further: “It is not just impartiality, it is due impartiality” which is “an important qualifier”. Although all views must be represented, Croxall discussed how when a view becomes particularly marginal: “You can’t keep offering false equivalence. You cannot keep providing opposing views when the balance is so far towards one side of the argument.” She provided the example of climate change deniers as an instance of when “false equivalence” should be avoided.

When asked at what point a view is deemed sufficiently legitimate to platform, Croxall pointed to use of the Overton Window. She argued that “it’s fine to air” more marginalised views “but sparingly”. She stated that “just because you don’t agree with someone, it doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t put them on air”, because “it’s not for us at the BBC to tell anybody what to think”.

A lively Q&A (Image credits: Millie Moore)

The issue of impartiality has become particularly problematic with the rise of social media’s role in disseminating news. Croxall emphasised how “something can take off on social media that just isn’t true, and it’s really hard to pull it back”.

It is for this reason that the BBC must devote particular attention to verification. Croxall highlighted the role of the BBC Verify team, who dedicate their time to ensuring everything produced by the BBC is accurate. However, this can be a “painstaking process”, especially when “the world is moving so fast, everybody wants an answer in a split second. We can’t always give people that”.

Croxall also emphasised the importance of legal correctness in journalism. She emphasised the need to stay “on the right side of the law”, complying with important policies including the Contempt of Court Act, Sexual Offences Act, Defamation Act, Human Rights Act, and the Representation of the People Act. The latter, she stated, will be particularly important in the General Election which will likely take place in 2024 (or possibly early 2025). She foretold how the political parties are “going to be quite rightly insistent that we are scrupulously impartial, scrupulously accurate.”

Martine Croxall with the student committee of St Catharine’s College Politics Society (Image credits: Mimi Henbrey)

News avoidance

Despite efforts from the BBC to maintain both trust and impartiality, recent years have highlighted a decline in public support. Scandals including the resignation of Richard Sharpe as BBC Chair after he failed to declare his links to a secret loan made to Boris Johnson, have contributed to this rising sentiment of distrust. Croxall also described how “there is a huge issue with news avoidance” because “people are sick of hearing how bad it all is”.

Croxall believes that news avoidance is a “frightening” issue that confronts contemporary society. If people are “not engaging with the news, they’re probably not engaging with elections. They’re probably not turning out to vote. And I think that is a massive concern.”

These issues have led to a rise in “solutions journalism”, a style which attempts to promote an increased sense of positivity and control for viewers. Croxall believes this concept is “going to be an antidote to news avoidance. You’ve got to give people hope and agency as otherwise they’re just going to switch off.” She believes that efforts made to maintain impartiality and transparency “will help to improve trust”.

Trust, Impartiality and the BBC (Image credits: Caitlin Devenport)

A career in journalism

Croxall finished by discussing the need for a wide variety of people from different backgrounds in a newsroom; “I want historians and economists and engineers and chemists and tech experts and geographers.” This is because “we are broadcasters. We need to talk about every subject under the sun”, and the best way to be able to do this is to have “a newsroom that is full of people who’ve got tons and tons of different perspectives, backgrounds, education.”

Ultimately, Croxall reflected on how she feels “hugely privileged to do the job I do”, as the BBC is “a force for good”. In a time when there is such rapid change in the contemporary media landscape, she believes the basic values of the BBC, centring on trust, truth and impartiality, “are going to become […] even more important.”

For information on future events with St Catharine’s College Politics Society, follow the Instagram page @catzpolsoc.

Featured image credits: Mimi Henbrey

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