Episode 3 (2008) by Renzo Martins, one of the artists shortlisted for this year's Artes Mundi Prize. Anderson questioned why the award has never received network coverage from the BBC. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Fons Welters

BBC criticised for lack of impartiality in arts coverage

Geraldine Kendall, 28.07.2014
Culture outside London overlooked, says NMW director
David Anderson has criticised the BBC for lacking impartiality in its coverage of culture in the UK’s nations and regions.

Anderson, director general of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museums Wales (NMW) and president of the Museums Association, described the BBC as having a “London-centric perception of the world” and called for its commissioning powers to be devolved.

In an open letter on his blog, Anderson challenged the corporation to give more network airtime to culture in the UK’s nations and regions, and to recognise how the arts sectors in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have transformed since devolution.

He said: “Many of the key decisions that determine profile for the arts are made by publicly funded organisations based in London, such as the BBC and Visit Britain, which appear to have little knowledge or understanding of what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom, and especially the devolved nations.”

Using Wales as an example, Anderson said that while coverage provided by the corporation's Welsh division, BBC Cymru, was “hugely important to the arts ecosystem”, airtime for Welsh culture on the BBC’s UK-wide network programming was “almost non-existent”.

Anderson said: “Why does the Tate's Turner Prize - widely perceived in the contemporary art world to be tired and outdated - continue to get blanket coverage on network BBC, when the critically more highly-regarded Artes Mundi Prize in Wales has never in 12 years had any network coverage?

“Research by the BBC itself shows that this lack of impartiality in its coverage of the arts in the nations and regions of the UK is the norm rather than the exception.”

Anderson said that this lack of impartiality was exacerbating the longstanding imbalance in cultural funding and provision between London and the rest of the UK.

He said: “Imagine a BBC that is not dominated by a London-centric perception of the world, and that better reflects the diversity of our nation's arts and cultures, our values and our debates. Without us - we who are outside London - not just the BBC but democracy itself will suffer, if we continue down the road we are on.”

Anderson called on the BBC to establish a centre of excellence in the arts in Wales, to monitor and publish annual data on geographic impartiality, and to fully devolve governance and funding so that network programmes could be commissioned by people on the ground in the nations and regions.

He said: “The nations and regions of the UK need the BBC to give us equality and parity of respect, and to free us to represent ourselves, in our own places and across the nations within the UK and abroad.

“We want to commission London, not London (when it chooses) to commission us.”

The BBC Trust recently held a seminar to discuss impartiality in the corporation's arts coverage. Following the meeting, trustee Alison Hastings said: "Those who work at the BBC are enthusiastically committed to producing the highest-quality arts coverage and bringing it to the widest possible audience.

"They recognise the challenge of ensuring it should be as gloriously diverse as the audience."

The BBC launched a new strategy earlier this year to improve and expand its arts coverage, though this has also faced criticism for being too biased towards the capital.

David Anderson will be speaking at the Museums Association Conference and Exhbition 2014 in Cardiff.