In a move that’s sending shivers down the spines of many Lonely Planet guidebook writers, the first bold move from new owner the BBC is a directive to move to the mainstream and become more politically neutral. The Age in Australia has the full rundown in Lean Times at Travel Bible.

“In a move that’s already igniting suspicion among writers, Lonely Planet is cracking down on political bias, especially in the history and culture sections of its guides. At least one senior journalist has been to the publisher’s Footscray headquarters to speak to commissioning editors about objective reporting. Lonely Planet’s global publisher, Alex Fenby, says a formal policy, which stems from an internal review that began in March last year, will be rolled out to authors next week.”

Is this good or bad? The article cites some really painful passages from some books that are pointedly left-wing and anti-American. This probably doesn’t sit well with the corporate parents, especially since many of the series buyers are beyond the backpacking phase and the U.S. is by far the biggest market for sales.

On the other hand, many have complained for years that the LP guides get blander and blander by the year, striking anything that resembles personality or opinion and making the books sound like they were written by committee.

“Some fear the policy is part of a wider cultural shift within the organisation that threatens to stifle the distinctive Lonely Planet ‘voice’ at a time when globalisation has drained the tourist scene of some of its spice and adventure.”

There’s also the issue that political problems are watered down in almost every guidebook to keep them from getting banned from local bookstores. Thus the political text you see in a guide on Cuba, Burma, or even Malaysia is seldom going to reflect the true reality of the situation and how it’s viewed in the world. The unvarnished truth is bad for business.

There are solutions though. First, you could just download the Lonely Planet chapters you want from LP then use something like Rough Guides for background. Or you could read the freelance articles the various Lonely Planet authors write to get the real story they can’t tell in the guidebooks. Here are some choice ones from Perceptive Travel and there are lots more on World Hum.

Burma story from Robert Reid

Romania story from Leif Pettersen

Northern Russia story from Robert Reid

Riviera Maya story from Zora O’Neill

Saigon story from Richard Sterling

(Thanks to Stuart at Travelfish for finding this news story.)