THE BBC HAS PUBLISHED A REVIEW of its coverage of taxation, public spending, government borrowing and debt. The review assessed whether due impartiality is being achieved across its coverage of these topics, and whether a breadth of voices and viewpoints are being reflected.
The review was launched after 24 leading economists wrote to the BBC’s Director General Tim Davie, to protest against the “inappropriate” use of household analogies during coverage of the Chancellor’s 2020 autumn spending statement, and more broadly across the BBC’s news output.
One of the review’s main findings was: “We think too many journalists lack understanding of basic economics or lack confidence reporting it…Some journalists seem to feel instinctively that debt is simply bad, full stop, and don’t appear to realise this can be contested and contestable.” Also: “Too often, it’s not clear from a report that fiscal policy decisions are also political choices; they’re not inevitable, it’s just that governments like to present them that way. The language of necessity takes subtle forms; if the BBC adopts it, it can sound perilously close to policy endorsement.”
The reviewers, Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot, also noted that: “broad interests that lack political salience can be neglected. The taxpaying interests of people on low incomes and whole areas of the UK where incomes tend to be low are a striking example of this neglect. We think it fails the test of broad impartiality.”
Carys Roberts, executive director of IPPR, was one of the signatories to the letter which prompted the review. On publication of the review she responded: “As the national broadcaster, the BBC’s role as a trusted news source is critical to the functioning of our democracy. It’s vital that the BBC is evidence-based and reflects well-informed debate in its coverage, and leads the way across the media sector.
“At times, it has fallen short of this ideal, in particular in how its reporters have discussed economic policy and government spending. That’s why in 2020 I joined other economists in challenging the BBC on its use of the ‘household analogy’ to describe public finances, and in its likening of government borrowing to a credit card. These metaphors are inaccurate, do not reflect current economic debate, and mislead the public, with an outsized impact on our politics.
“This authoritative review recognises that the BBC has, at times, fallen short of providing broad impartiality in its coverage of fiscal policy, and failed to reveal the political choices being made.
“The BBC’s upcoming action plan must prioritise a more diverse set of credible economic perspectives in its coverage, ensuring that those reporting on the issues have a good understanding of them, as well as considered use of language to describe and explain economic events. Only by doing so will the BBC be able to perform its function of aiding public understanding and holding politicians to account.”
* Read: Review of the impartiality of BBC coverage of taxation, public spending, government borrowing and debt here.
* Read the letter of complaint from economists here.
* Source: Institute of Public Policy Research