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Hat tip: “Bias at the Beeb?”

By Editor
August 16th, 2013 at 12:30 pm | No Comments | Posted in BBC

Hat tip: Here is a very interesting report compiled by the Centre for Policy Studies looking at BBC online reporting of think tanks. The report appears robust, relying on objective quantitative methods to examine reporting slant.

And the results are pretty conclusive. BBC bias is there for all to see.

If you are a left-leaning think tank you are more likely to be reported without qualification or described by the BBC as “independent”;  if you are a right-leaning think tank then you are much more likely to receive a “health warning” ( an indicator of the think-tanks ideological viewpoint e.g “right of centre think tank Y”).

The report also finds that coverage in The Guardian is a much stronger predictor of coverage by the BBC than is coverage in The Daily Telegraph. (That might be explained by just how many Guardian newspapers the BBC purchases).

The findings and conclusions are not new. But the approach taken by the author of this report appears to be far less subjective than previous studies, making these findings much more compelling.

Of course at face value there is a bit of a “so what?” about it. As the CPS recognises “…who, apart from the think-tanks themselves, really cares if the IPPR is more likely to be referred to as “independent” than the Centre for Policy Studies?” But issue here is that these findings could well be indicative of a much wider problem in areas of BBC reporting where slant is harder to measure. That should set a lot of people thinking.

If you find yourself with time over the weekend, this 14 page report is well worth a read.

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Cracking edition of Question Time

By Editor
March 25th, 2013 at 11:54 am | 2 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

If you missed Thursday’s edition of Question Time, do take a moment, if you can, to catch up on iPlayer. On the panel last week were Michael Gove (Con), Emily Thornberry (Lab), Natalie Bennett(Greens), Anthony Horowitz (writer extraordinaire) and Mark LittlewoodQuestion_time_logo (IEA).

Many will know that Mark Littlewood was founder of Liberal Vision so we were especially pleased to see him on the panel doing just a grand job – most particularly on the issue of press regulation. Though to be frank he served up aces for every question posed (budget/press regulation/education/Cyprus).

Many on twitter report that it was one of the finest editions of QT in a long time – and we certainly wouldn’t argue with that one.

ps Anthony Horowitz occupying the usual lefty writer slot was a very pleasant surprise indeed – sounded like a good liberal through and through. His comments on Hacked Off were truly top drawer.

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Minimum pricing – policy based evidence

By Guest
November 28th, 2012 at 9:42 pm | No Comments | Posted in BBC, health, pseudo science

Based on the output of the English media, one could be forgiven for not having noticed that Scottish ministers appear to have shelved minimum alcohol pricing ostensibly due to legal challenges. It will be unfortunate if minimum pricing is shelved solely on the basis of illegality because the lessons to be learned from the attempts to justify it via policy based evidence will then once again go unheeded.

We hear much talk of evidence based public health policy these days but what we actually get is “evidence” concocted to suit policy. The public health industry seems utterly incapable of delivering honest, objective, scientific evidence and the media contributes to the problem through lazy uncritical reporting combined with establishment bias. This was typified by the BBCs response to being caught out making wild claims about the number of lives minimum pricing would “save” amongst pensioners.  Rather than investigate the obviously questionable reliability of its source, the BBC simply accepted a lower but no more credible number.

The BBCs source was The University of Sheffield, which has now received involuntary taxpayer funding from two governments and a public broadcaster. On each occasion the motive has been the gathering of policy based evidence and it appears that neither the politicians nor the media appear to care how dubious the quality of that evidence is provided that it suits their purpose.

Petr Skrabanek in his 1994 work The Death of Humane Medicine cited Nobel laureate Irving Langmuir from 1953 when making a case against the “science” that underpins public health. He wrote that it “accepts evidence not according to its quality but according to its conformity with a foregone conclusion”. It seems that his wise observations have been ignored because the ersatz science that provides the “evidence” for policy interventions is nowadays more prevalent than ever. The University of Sheffield study provides a classic  example of this anti-science in which every supportive scrap of data, however poor in quality  is treated as “conclusive” or adding to a “growing body of evidence” and every contradictory piece as “flawed”, “controversial” or “in need of further research”.  Evidence at odds with the authors’ predetermined conclusions is often simply ignored. Take for example evidence statement 13:

“There is consistent evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption is associated with substantially increased risks of all-cause mortality even in people drinking lower than recommended limits, and especially among younger people. High levels of alcohol consumption have detrimental effects. The evidence is more equivocal, however, where it relates to establishing cut-off points for lower risk versus harmful levels of consumption. There is an ongoing controversy as to whether or not there are beneficial (cardio-protective) effects at low levels of alcohol consumption.”

This statement is an extremely misleading interpretation of the available evidence. There is no excuse for this form of words appearing in a document paid for by public funds and intended to guide politicians who are not versed in the subtleties of public health disingenuity. Hiding behind theoretical and contestable risk factors, the authors peddle the scientifically improbable but politically powerful concept of “no safe level” whilst ignoring a large body of evidence showing teetotallers to have lower life expectancy than moderate drinkers.  I could write extensively about the “controversy” they refer to but Christopher Snowdon already covered it in some detail.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated example in a production that goes to extraordinary lengths to provide policy based evidence.  The other “evidence” statements display a similar lack of objectivity and, despite using the Household Survey data provided by the ONS as a basis for much of their modelling, the authors ignore it when considering consumption at the population level.  They open their section on areas for possible future research (and of course more taxpayer funding) with the typically convoluted sentence:

Given the trends in consumption over the past ten years it is unlikely that a ‘do nothing’ policy would result in no change to the consumption of alcohol in the population.

It is hard to tell, but I think that they are trying to say that consumption is trending up so government MUST act. This is a remarkably inept statement to make in the middle of a trend that, according to the ONS has seen household consumption decline by 20% in a decade without any significant government intervention.

I find it hard to understand why politicians continue to pay homage to what Skrabanek described as healthism despite the huge flaws in the “evidence” that underpins it being repeatedly exposed. Perhaps Skrabanek gives some insight into the reasons when he writes:

Politicians find the facile rhetoric of healthism rewarding. It increases their popularity at no cost, and it enhances their power to control the population. It meets no resistance from the opposition, who promise to improve the ‘health of the nation’ even more.

Robin Fox, former editor of The Lancet describes Skrabanek as a “humorous man of immense culture and learning” in the Preface to The Death of Humane Medicine and despite not completely agreeing with Skrabanek’s pessimism, goes on to add that he “speaks many truths that we should heed”. I cannot help but feel that the world would be a better place if politicians, journalists and others did heed the words of this humorous, cultured medical man above the strident clamour of the health zealots. After all, without aggressive healthism there would be no need to insult our intelligence with pseudo-scientific policy based evidence and I sincerely doubt that the public would bemoan redundancies amongst the social “scientists”, non-practicing medics and psychologists who contribute to its socially divisive message. I doubt that these commenters on the BBC’s umpteenth plug for minimum pricing would mind at all:

For anyone who empathizes with Bauer and /or who is interested in a more liberal and less miserable future I recommend reading Skrabanek’s book which can be downloaded for free here.

By Chris Oakley. Chris’ previous posts on Liberal Vision include:  Alcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Lies, damn lies, statistics &…

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A short conversation that says so much

By Angela Harbutt
October 23rd, 2012 at 9:53 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in BBC

My eye was drawn to the most bizarre exchange between Lord Patten, (BBC Trust chairman), and Maria Miller (Culture Secretary) today, that just makes you wonder what planet politicians (and the BBC Trust) are actually living on these days.

Miller is reported to have contacted Patten following George Entwistle’s less than impressive performance in front of MPs today. She said that full public trust in the BBC’s inquiries into the Savile affair was of “paramount importance“.

Er no. Finding out what actually happened; who knew; who covered it up; whether others were also abusing children in the BBC; & why the BBC decided not to broadcast what they knew… these questions and others are of  paramount importance. Not public trust in the BBC or its well crafted internal inquiries.

Pattern then effectively tells Miller to back off.

I know that you will not want to give the impression that you are questioning the independence of the BBC.

The sheer nerve of the guy … sorry Mr Patten, I don’t know where you’ve been these past few weeks since this story was broken (by ITV!) the BBC has done nothing but drag its feet, obfuscate and lie. You are in no position to start talking about “the independence of the BBC”. I certainly hope expect Miller to  question the Beebs independence on this matter. To allow them to run their own inquiry is an outrage. It  lost its right to run its own inquiry a long time ago.

I am not quite sure when the BBC and politicians will wake up to the level of public outrage felt by the public on this one. But this bizarre conversation between two of them suggests that it may well be a while yet.

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If News International had employed Savile how different things would be

By Angela Harbutt
October 22nd, 2012 at 6:44 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I see that Tory MP Philip Davies wrote a few days ago to Ofcom boss Ed Richards demanding that the BBC face a “Murdoch style” investigation “the BBC (should) face the test into their probity following the Jimmy Savile sex abuse revelations and the subsequent cover up that has emerged in the last few weeks“.

Spot on.

Given how (a) tardy and (b) inaccurate the BBC has been in supplying information to date on this issue and (c) the scale of the News International inquiry, we should all be demanding that the BBC should NOT be allowed to run its own “independent” reviews. If News International had been the orgnisation at the centre of this scandal we would rightly expect that any investigation be conducted, and overseen, by an arms length organisation. Indeed there would already be further widespread calls to investigate whether Sky/News International were “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting license. We should expect no less a standard of scrutiny of a state broadcaster.

Phone hacking is a considerably lesser crime than any of the following (a) failing to take all available steps to protect children in your care, (b) failing to investigate thoroughly suspicions of abuse of minors by your staff, (c) failing to forward such serious suspicions to the police for investigation. These appear to be the very accusations that have already been laid at BBCs door.

Add to that, the deeply worrying incident of a Newsnight item on Savile being pulled. It has been said by the editor that the reason for not broadcasting the item was based purely on their belief that they had insufficient evidence to broadcast the item. Now we learn however, that the BBC has been forced to issue an embarrassingly lengthy correction to his blog saying it was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects”.

Frankly, anyone who has ever worked in broadcast journalism will have already raised an eyebrow at the suggestion that an item had actually filmed before the decision was taken that there was insufficient evidence to broadcast.   There is also the serious question as to why they did not pass their files to the police? And we have yet to find out just how much George Entwistle (recently appointed Director General) knew of the Newsnight item. Maybe the BBCs Panorama documentary tonight will shed further light on the matter? Although I for one do not wish to be told by BBC journalists what actually occurred on Newsnight (and certainly not one as inept as this) any more than I want BBC appointees to tell me what occurred elsewhere.

All of this just feels too cosy for my liking. Who is willing to bet that we will see little more than a couple of token hacks hung out to dry (i.e. pensioned off),  much hand-wringing and an assurance that current  child protection and whistle-blowing policies are fit for purpose.

Not good enough in my opinion. We cannot have one rule for the state (broadcaster) and one rule for everyone else.  If phone hacking deserves a Leveson inquiry, then unchecked wholesale child abuse and journalistic cover ups deserves Leveson++.

In a shockingly lame reply to a question in the House last week, Nick Clegg said

“I certainly accept there may be a case for an inquiry and if an inquiry were to be held which is as broad ranging as you suggest it should be, it should be independent to look at the full range of the shocking revelations as they have come to light”

Not good enough Nick. Nowhere near good enough. What are you waiting for?

UPDATE: Excellent post here from Liberal England on how the BBC lied, and lied, and lied.

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