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Trust reveals 4% drop in number of adults consuming BBC news

Outgoing BBC Trust chairwoman Rona Fairhead has called for the organisation's journalism to be more "ambitious" following a drop in the number of people consuming its news output.

In its final BBC performance report before being replaced next month, the trust revealed a fall of 4% in the number of all adults using its news services across television, radio and online, dropping from 79% to 75% since 2013.

There was a faster drop among younger adults, with 63% of 16 to 34-year-olds now engaging with BBC news compared with 71% four years ago.

Ms Fairhead said in the report that the organisation must "explain the news, not just report it" at a time when "social media is exacerbating the risks of fake news".

She said: "Although the BBC remains far ahead of all other news providers when UK audiences are asked to choose a single source they trust, nonetheless some performance scores for BBC News are falling."

Ms Fairhead added: "The BBC's journalism must be ambitious in the seriousness and analysis of its reporting to ensure it continues to provide a distinctive, trusted offering to audiences."

She also repeated her concerns that funding plans laid out in last year's charter lack transparency and outlined challenges the organisation faces in becoming "better value for money".

Ms Fairhead said: "Although the framework of independence is sound, the new board will need to continue to protect the BBC's position robustly in the face of future challenges.

"One area of particular note is the licence fee funding settlement.

"The process of the previous two settlements was unsatisfactory and the new charter provides some improvement on this, including requiring the Government to consult with the BBC on any future funding deal.

"However, what it does not yet do is provide any public transparency from the Government before those funding settlements are decided. To me, this remains a concern."

Ms Fairhead said the "need for reliable and impartial information to inform our democracy" lies at the heart of the argument for a publicly-funded broadcaster.

She also called on the BBC to ensure it represents all sections of society across the UK, with a particular focus on reaching younger adults and those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background (BAME).

Citing the BBC's successes, Ms Fairhead said the likes of David Attenborough-narrated Planet Earth II and record ratings in the final series of The Great British Bake Off give cause for "considerable confidence in its future performance".

She praised Radio 4's Today programme for its "authoritative and impartial reporting" during the fallout from the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump as US President.

The report reiterates the BBC's target of £800 million of cuts by 2022 in order to live within its means and deal with inflation in the costs of sports rights and drama commissioning.

There was also a failure to meet a target set in 2011 reducing the number of employees earning more than £150,000 by 20%, which the Trust put down to higher wage inflation than expected.

The report said the target was now deemed "neither...meaningful or deliverable" but said another failed target, which would restrict those in senior manager roles to 1% of the workforce, would likely be met after organisational restructuring is complete.

The restructuring has also prevented the £150,000 target as the Trust said as well as wage inflation, its failure was caused by an increase in wages for larger roles created by the combining of some senior management positions.

However, the Trust said they were ahead of target in reducing senior manager roles which have dropped from 484 to 326 since 2011 while pay had been cut from £57.4 million to £44.5 million.

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