Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Case #3: Something Stirs

Just received this message from the BBC:

"Dear Audience Member

Reference CAS-1110929-X07FRL

Thank you for contacting the BBC.

We wanted to let you know that we've received your recent complaint and will respond as soon as possible, however we hope you understand that the time taken to do so can depend on the nature of your complaint and the number of other complaints we're currently dealing with.

We issue public responses to concerns which prompt large numbers of significant complaints and these can be read on our website at:

We would be grateful if you would not reply to this email - in the meantime, we would like to thank you again for contacting us with your concerns, we appreciate your patience in awaiting a response.

Kind Regards

Leigh Mallon
BBC Complaints"
This is in response to the third complaint I made to them, which included in it a handful of examples of the factual errors in the programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys. I had received an automated reply earlier confirming my complaint had been received, so that this second one actually has a name attached to it suggests to me that they are actually looking at those examples I gave. This time, my complaint might be being treated with the seriousness it warrants: every factual short-coming in the programme is serious and they are numerous, warranting in my opinion a full retraction of the entire programme by the BBC. The frequency and extent to which false factual claims feature in the programme indicate that there was absolutely no rigour in the research and fact-checking for the programme if there was any at all. No researchers are named in the credits, John Humphrys is credited as the sole writer and Express Syndication, Scottish Daily Mail and Solo Syndication (a company of two people joined at the hip with the Daily Mail) are credited for 'archive'.

My complaint was not about balance or bias, as the copy-pasted template response sent to virtually every one of the 136 people who complained stated. Many did complain of bias, but mine didn't. My concern was entirely with factual accuracy, which was not addressed at all except for a cavalier statement that the BBC believed the programme to be accurate and that was that. There is bias and lack of balance in the programme, but for me this is an inevitable consequence of a lack of serious fact-checking: when virtually every factual claim in a programme(and many are made) is wrong, it's impossible that the result can not be biased because the production is not self-limiting it's choices with inconveniences like factual accuracy. I consider factual short-comings to mean: outright false claims, claims which are out of context because of facts being omitted and (in the BBC guidelines on bias) the way information is 'sign-posted' in the programme to mislead the audience.

I do not really find the few minutes John Humphrys spent criticising Larry Mead's dreadful US experiments as adequate for balance, not because I think Humphrys is biased, but because there is a vast amount of accurate factual criticism of Mead's ideas and John Humphrys manages to avoid nearly all of it and resort to hyperbole. The one factual thing Humphrys grasps is that 40% of those referred onto Workfare simply 'disappeared', they are neither claiming assistance but neither did they find a job during the 18 months that they were monitored. They could be living by crime, in prison, working in a black market, in an institution or dead for all anyone knows. Humphrys still somehow manages to find room to cast doubt on this figure by calling it 'one figure', when it's practically the best and most authoritative there is: even Mead does not dispute it yet unlike almost every other factual claim in the programme, Humphrys doesn't state it as fact but as the opinion of someone unnamed. Off the top of my head, this is the most accurate factual claim in the whole programme and Humphrys manages to imply it is less rigorous or authoritative than the many dozens of claims he has already shown, which are wrong.

I am hoping that the BBC will take this matter so seriously, they will be interested in the line-by-line criticism I am writing so that they can assess the extent of the problems with the programme and make a decision on what should be done to remedy the damage the programme did to public debate on welfare in Britain.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for pursuing this. I was absolutely seething watching that program and I am counted in as one of the 136 who complained. The response was as you say cut-n-paste.