BBC impartiality at risk because journalists ‘lack understanding of basic economics’
BBC journalists “don’t understand the fundamentals of economics,” according to an independent survey of corporate economics coverage.
The review concluded that impartiality is under threat as some corporate journalists make assumptions and have gaps in their knowledge.
The feature review was commissioned by the BBC Council to cover the broadcaster’s coverage of taxation, public spending, public borrowing and public debt.
Its authors, economics experts Michael Blastland and Sir Andrew Dilnot, were tasked with assessing whether proper impartiality was being achieved in these areas.
They said: “We think that too many journalists lack understanding of the fundamentals of the economy or are hesitant to cover it. This entails a high risk of impartiality.
“At the time of this review, this was especially true for debt. Some journalists seem to instinctively feel that debt is just bad, period, and don’t seem to realize that it can be challenged and challenged.
“It seems that several general assumptions are hiding either unnoticed or uncorrected. Others that outsiders noticed in the BBC reports were “more government spending is good” and “tax cuts are good”.
“While these viewers may seem intuitive, they all prefer certain interests over others.”
The report notes one on-air statement in which a BBC journalist said the government would “have to…”
“We appreciate that this was done live and may not have been intentional. However, BBC journalists should exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the government “will have to…” raise taxes, cut taxes, cut spending, increase spending, reduce debt, increase debt, etc. – in any area.” .
The authors also identified “an occasional temptation to hype—and we believe that hype is a fairness issue. We don’t want to be bored either, but we see breathtaking stories or headlines that seem to chase excitement at the cost of distorted data or evidence.”
At times, they said, the data was presented in a “most disturbing way.”
The report stated that their criticisms were aimed at “non-specialist” reporters, but stated that “even senior journalists” demonstrated that they did not fully understand all of the arguments.
Responding to the review, the BBC board stated: “This has given us new insights into how we understand and ensure proper impartiality in this vital area of public policy.
“The review as a whole provides clear guidance on how we can improve editorial standards and the resulting impact on audiences.”
The Board said it has asked Tim Davey, CEO, and his executive team to address the issues raised and come up with an action plan.”