The BBC follows the government on the economy

Yesterday the BBC did move from ignoring the idea of cutting public spending, to mentioning it in pejorative terms. At the same time they started pushing out the government propoganda that the UK exceeding the 40% limit on government borrowing should be viewed alongside Italy where government borrowing is 100% of GDP and France where it is 50%. It’s typical of the lazy or biased reporting we get used to from the BBC on the economy and this government.

Of course the BBC should report the government’s spin line, but it should not be presented as fact. They could, for example, have said the following:

“The government today sought to reassure that raising the ceiling for public borrowing above 40% was reasonable at a time of slow down, especially as France has already reached 50% of National Income and Italy 100%. The Conservative’s Economic Policy Review pointed out that in their view the government has exceeded the stated target for public borrowing if you include all the off balance sheet loans and the unfunded pension liabilities, and put the total already at around the Italian level of 100%. City expert Mr X said he would not himself chose to compare the UK with Italy, a slow growth economy in considerable trouble, and said that the faster growing economies tend to be ones with lower levels of public spending and borrowing as a proportion of National Income than the UK”

That would be a better balanced piece, and leaves the listener free to decide the government is right or the Oppositon is right or business is right, or some combination of them.
It is a disgrace that they just assert the government’s spin line as true and sufficient.

It is all part of the systematic misrepresentaiton of economic matters. This includes:

1. Telling people that the only option for Northern Rock was nationalisation, without setting out other options that were available prior to that dreadful decision. Nor did they expalin that nationalisation was the option that made the mortgage position worse and would lead to more redundancies at the Rock.
2. Telling people the Bank of England is independent, when it was badly damaged and its powers reduced by the Brown reforms.
3. Equating cutting public spending with cutting schools and hospitals or teachers and nurses – ignoring all the wasteful and less desirable spending the government carries out.
4. Concentrating on so called “new money” in arguments about public spending, which implies that the only money that matters is additional spending over and above the additonal spending that has already been announced!
5. Believing that spending less means doing things less well – no understanding of productivity and the favourable impact of new technology on costs and quality.

I woudl be happy to set all this out on the BBC anytime this week-end but am not expecting to be asked. They usually ask me to go on to talk about topics I know less about and never write about!


  1. Kit
    July 19, 2008

    And when the BBC wants to talk economics they get Will Hutton or Tony Jupiter! Just contrast BBC economic coverage to US broadcasters – the difference is shocking. The BBC is one-dimensional and dumbed-down. Political bias is one reason but I think they want their coverage to be “accessible”. Whereas in the US they want to attract viewers.
    If anybody from the BBC reads this blog, sadly unlikely, can we have real economists, real business leaders and real financial experts all with holding contrasting positions – it might do wonders for your viewing figures!

  2. Mark Wadsworth
    July 19, 2008

    Crikey, you're up early!

    What also irritated me were the headlines in FT and on BBC yesterday saying that 'The Treasury' was going to relax fiscal rules, rather than saying 'The Government' or more to the point 'The Prime Minister'.

  3. mikestallard
    July 19, 2008

    I am now so fed up with the BBC that I was surprised when they even noticed that the economy was bombing! I actually stayed up last night to watch Newsnight – which is unusual nowadays, I must admit.
    If you politicise the BBC, which is what has happened, then, when the government changes – and I look forward to a huge change with Labour simply disappearing from the map along with 60s Liberalism – in a year or so, they will be left high and dry.
    All the great Paxman wannabees will disappear in favour of people who reflect the new times. Their income is already very much on the line after their appalling presumption to everyone who pays them ("We know where you live") and rudeness to a lot of influential people who do not own TV sets.
    Why should I subsidise a lot of Guardian readers anyway?

  4. Tim
    July 19, 2008

    Several times on the BBC they explained the deficit by siting the example that it was equivlent to a household borrowing 40% of its income via loans and credit cards.

    This is clearly misleading as the true parallell is that the government is borrowing close to 100% of income even when it follows the fiscal rules, as the percentage of GDP consumed by the public sector is say 44% GDP.

  5. Julian Nicholson
    July 31, 2008

    What nobody seems to mention is that the governments 40% figure does not take into account

    a) the public sector pension liability
    b) the Northern Rock liability,
    c) or the PFI contracts
    d) or the Network Rail money.

    Surely their 40% rule was broken years ago?

    As for the lack of impartiality of the BBC, thats not really anything new.

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