Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Making A Molehill Out Of A Mountain

The following is my response to Andrew Bell's letter explaining his understanding of my complaint regarding the BBC2 programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys, which was broadcast on 27.10.11 . I am using my real name for my complaint but have left this out. I've enlarged the text for easier reading.

Mr Bell, if I'm permitted to respond through this channel please let me know or specify a more appropriate one. I'll assume that an e-mail is adequate for now and write my response to your letter below.

I have read your letter and I believe your description of the concerns I have about the eleven specific matters concerning the programme are accurate. But they do not include my concerns about the entire programme itself. My original complaint about The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys was that the entire programme "lacked factual rigour". Every error or misleading statement, scene or 'sign-posting' and saw in the programme was serious and they were numerous, much more numerous than the eleven problematic examples I had pointed out to those handling my complaint in the first phase of the process. Immediately after watching the programme, I estimated that the programme had more serious factual errors and misleading claims than there were minutes. After failing to obtain a transcript and then making my own from the subtitles on the BBC iPlayer, a few readings of it did not change my original assessment. I gave eleven examples and I emphasis that they were merely examples of the problems with the programme. In summary the problem is there was absolutely no recognisable factual rigour in The Future State Of Welfare and I could write a list of them which would be close to or above sixty serious problems. Taken together, they leave very little within the programme that can be said to be genuinely informative, to challenge common preconceptions(it rather reinforces very common preconceptions) or stimulate national debate as the makers apparently claimed in response to my earlier complaints.

I have been writing a full-rebuttal of the programme for circulation among other campaigners on social security issues and if it helps resolve this complaint then I will hasten my work on it. It's my wish that the programme itself and in its entirety be looked at because individually the eleven examples whilst serious enough are not as serious as the reason why so many errors got into the programme which was then aired at a very sensitive time and in tandem with a similarly problematic Panorama programme 'Britain On The Fiddle'. I had to decide which to pursue a complaint about with my time and limited resources and decided that the John Humphrys programme was the more damaging because of the presenter's credibility with audiences. I believe there are so many errors because of a lack of factual rigour, but I do not know why there was am apparent lack of factual rigour and I was confused by the initial response to my complaint which characterised it as a complaint about bias. I do not know if the makers are biased and never alleged so(though in my purely personal opinion I think it is likely), only they can know that. But their responses(according to those managing my complaint in phase 1) they gave me little confidence.

 In the response to my complaint sent to me by Patrick Clyde(reference: CAS-085424-L6T1N8) they 'corrected' me when I identified their source for the claim that the welfare bill had grown by nearly £60 billion 'in the last ten years' as Iain Duncan-Smith speaking at the Conservative Party conference; their source in actual fact was David Cameron speaking earlier in February 2011. To me there are problems with this response, mainly that the programme makers were repeating the lack of factual rigour I had accused them of as a means of rebutting accusations of lacking factual rigour. First, David Cameron and Iain Duncan-Smith are for any practical purposes the same source: neither can be used to corroborate each other, second they are not an original source and third, they are not a neutral, non-partisan source. This was characteristic of all the answers the makers gave me through Mr Clyde and it was characteristic of The Future State Of Welfare and gave some insight into just how the programme was researched and fact-checked. Political speeches are not sources and when Duncan-Smith repeated the claim at conference, the fact-checking organisation asked him for his source and it was not so definite. The programme makers gave no indication to me that they had done any checking like this. It was certainly not well-sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and especially not presented in clear language as even claims that didn't overtly contradict the available evidence and data were presented as being far more solid and clear-cut than they actually are.

This is why I believe an investigation into the programme should not be limited to a set number of errors and scenes, but also look into the extent that the programme was researched in the first place. I feel this is justified on the basis of the sheer number of misleading claims in the programme. If eleven is not enough for this to be considered, I can provide more and keep going until there is not a minute in the programme which is not a blemish on the BBC.  If this is not acceptable, then I wish to amend my complaint to give notice that I have around fifty to sixty more points of concern to raise with The Future State Of Welfare and that it is taken into account that my resources are limited yet I must research every single one to be certain each is fair and should have been well within the means of the programme makers to fact-check during production. Thank you for your time.

Yours Sincerely, ******* ***********
I regard this matter with the utmost seriousness, so I was dismayed when I received Andrew Bell's e-mail reply to this, which I'll post tomorrow. 


  1. Hey look-

  2. WILSON ROOM-have they no shame.

  3. Apologies I am having a clock issue by about a year.


  5. Freud:I have to make the point that lifetime awards were abolished in 2001 and only in very rare circumstances would they be reviewed. At the moment in DLA, we have indefinite awards that can be reviewed at any time. On the other point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on the national benefit review, the only group excluded from that is the awards made to the terminally ill.