Tuesday 20 September 2005

Research, facts, that sort of thing.

The BBC, apparently, are one of the greatest news organisations in the world, and we're lucky to have them. Smaller companies often don't have the resources to fact-check rigorously, but the BBC are always able to present us with the facts.

So explain this:

The Institute of Directors and The Forum of Private Business have been among groups calling for a cut in fuel duty which they say now accounts for 65% of the cost of a litre of diesel.

One leading haulage company said fuel prices had risen 20% this year and fuel duties in the UK were out of line with the rest of Europe, leaving British firms at a disadvantage

Forget the subject matter. This has nothing to do with whether you're for or against current levels of fuel duty — and, anyway, it's a representative example of the BBC's reporting on most matters these days. This is a simple matter of facts, and the BBC's ability to report them.

The level of duty on diesel is a fact, not an opinion. It is published every year in the Budget, and the BBC report on it then. All they need do to get the facts of the matter is to check their own archives. But they don't. Instead, they report the claims, the opinions, of two lobby groups, without then telling us whether those opinions are right or wrong. This isn't a discussion about the nature of the soul or something. It's a real, easily discoverable fact, but the BBC seem unable to tell us what it is.

The amount by which fuel prices have changed this year is another real discoverable fact that the BBC do not report on, even though they're writing about it. They tell us the opinion of a leading haulage firm, but, again, don't report on the fact of the matter, so that we can't tell whether that opinion is correct or even remotely accurate. Are fuel prices in the UK out of line with the rest of Europe? Again, this can be reported on properly: a comparison of, say, average petrol prices in the UK, France, Germany, and across the whole of the EU would be easy for the BBC to do. But they haven't done it.

The BBC often claim (when explaining, for instance, why they shouldn't use the word "terrorist" to describe terrorists) that it is important for them not to take sides in political disputes — which is why they so scrupulously avoid misrepresenting Tory policies. But they have become confused between saying that something is good or bad and saying what it is. Whether fuel duty should be decreased, increased, or left as it is is a matter of preference, and the BBC are absolutely right to report such matters as a series of competing claims and opinions. But to represent fuel duty itself as a matter of opinion is either deeply lazy or deeply stupid. I'm honestly not sure which the BBC are, but, either way, it should be recognised that this is not top-class news reporting.

No comments: