BBC fails viewers with biased and inaccurate benefits coverage

Wed, 31/07/2013 - 14:25 -- nick

The BBC has been rapped by its own watchdog for failing viewers of the programme 'The Future State of Welfare'.

The show, fronted by Radio 4 attack dog John Humphrys, was shown in October 2011, and was found to be both innacurate and biased.

It was made to consider the government's welfare reform bill which was going through parliament at that time, and spoke to a range of claimants including those on incapacity benefit, the long-term unemployed, people on housing benefit and lone parents.

The BBC Trust's editorial standards committee did not believe Humphrys had directly supported the government's welfare reforms, but found that viewers were likely to think there was a "healthy supply of jobs overall" in Britain because no information was given on the ratio of jobs to unemployed people.

This was despite this information being freely available but little publicised: there are now around five jobseekers for every job in the UK, meaning charges of 'laziness' cannot account for the number of unemployed.

The Trust found the programme was fair despite not balancing facts with the opinions shown on screen, some of which were not accurate.

However, it found that viewers may have believed that the benefits being targeted by the government, particularly those relating to worklessness, "were largely responsible for the view held by some that 'the welfare state is in crisis'."

It concluded that due to "the absence of sufficient complementary statistical information to underpin contributors' accounts, viewers were left unable to reach an informed opinion and the accuracy guidelines had been breached".

The Child Poverty Action Group, which brought the complaint along with an unnamed person, welcomed the Trust's findings.

"We welcome the BBC Trust's recognition in its ruling that the programme broke rules on accuracy and impartiality in ways that fundamentally misled viewers," said Alison Garnham, chief executive of the charity.

"This programme, like too many media stories, failed the public by swallowing wholesale the evidence-free myth of a 'dependency culture' in which unemployment and rising benefit spending is the fault of the unemployed.

"The reality needs to be reported that only 3% of welfare expenditure goes on Jobseekers Allowance, and that aside from the direct effects of the recession, social security expenditure on working age benefits has not increased as a proportion of GDP in recent years," she said.

Biased media coverage of the issue has become more widespread. The Guardian found recently that the number of newspaper articles including the word 'scrounger' - a hate word that UnemployedNet campaigns to get rid of - went up from 173 in 2009 to 572 in 2010, the first year of the coalition government.

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