The BBC announced today it was undertaking a new project to improve how gays, lesbians and bisexuals are portrayed on television, radio and online.

Last year was arguably a bad year for the corporation’s treatment of gay issues. In December, there was outrage over a debate on the BBC website titled ‘Should homosexuals face execution?’, while Ofcom received complaints about a gay adoption joke made by Jonathan Ross in May.

In the last few years, Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles has been accused of making a series of anti-gay remarks and the BBC Trust recently ruled that a 2008 BBC3 programme in which lesbians were described as “munters” was crude and offensive.

The BBC said today that it had set up a working group to look at the issues of audiences and portrayal through surveys with audience groups and online.

Tim Davie, the director of BBC audio and music and the chair of the new group, said that this would include qualitative and quantitative surveys with all audience groups, including heterosexuals and faith groups.

He said: “It’s important that we talk to both more accepting and less tolerant audiences.”

The research, which is the first the BBC has undertaken in this area, is expected to be published in the summer.

It will look at humour, stereotyping, language and tone and BBC executives said it would be distributed to all programme-makers.

Davie said the research had not been commissioned in the wake of the disastrous Ugandan ‘gay execution’ debate, telling a press briefing this morning that the idea had already been in planning.

On the debate, he said: “Clearly, that headline was wrong. . . The debate was valid, the headline was wrong.”

But he added: “If you look at our record, it is definitely improving. I would absolutely defend our record in the last two to three years.”

One reporter asked whether Davie would be handing a copy of the research to Chris Moyles. He responded that all programme-makers would see it.

The research will only take into account lesbian, gay and bisexual portrayal. Davie said that trans representation had been considered but it was thought to be more appropriate to deal with gender issues separately, although he said the BBC had not ruled out a trans survey in the future.

A 2006 Stonewall report was highly critical of the BBC’s coverage of LGB issues and gay rights campaigners Peter Tatchell and Sir Ian McKellen have also criticised the corporation.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk: “We’re delighted that after four years of campaigning on the issue the BBC has finally admitted there is a problem.

“There has been a huge reluctance to admit that gays people have been underrepresented in all areas of BBC programming.

“We strongly believe that a licence fee which makes £300 million a year from lesbian and gay people is unsustainable unless they are served as well as everyone else. You can’t defend it when people are imprisoned for not paying their licence fee.”

To take the online survey, click here