BBC economic news ‘shows bias towards both left and right’

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The BBC’s economics reporting veers between left-wing and right-wing stances and can be influenced by groupthink, a report has said. The review also asked why coverage puts more focus on income tax, when many people pay more VAT than income tax.

It also questioned why spending on railways gets more coverage than spending on buses, which is the only transport option for many.

The analysis, which its authors said also largely applies to the rest of the UK media, found “too many journalists lack understanding of basic ­economics or lack confidence reporting it” – particularly on public debt.

It revealed the BBC’s economic ­coverage at times shows bias towards both the left and the right, making “a charge of systematic political bias in this area hard to sustain”.

The review said “the main issue is lack of impartiality caused by ­uninformed groupthink and lack of confidence to challenge arguments, often given an extra twist by hype”.

It said some journalists “feel ­instinctively” debt is bad and do not realise this is a contestable ­position.

It questioned the ­influence of politics on reporting, often ­meaning economics is reported on by Westminster journalists.

Reporting often leaves judgment to established names such as the Bank of England, Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Resolution Foundation, the report claimed.

It added: “BBC journalists should beware saying or implying that a ­government ‘must’ raise taxes, cut debt, cut spending, raise spending etc – in any area.

“These are choices. To imply a ‘must’ might sound to the journalist like a statement of economic ­necessity, but it’s often to side with one political choice over others.

“This is not impartial. Governments often claim choices are acts of necessity.

“This does not make them so.”

The report, written by broadcaster Michael Blastland and economist Sir Andrew Dilnot, argued for the BBC to be clearer about uncertainty in ­economics and trade-offs between ­different types of public spending.

The report said: “Several general assumptions seem to lurk like this, either unnoticed or uncorrected.

“Others observed in BBC coverage were ‘more public spending is good’ and ‘tax cuts are good’.

“Whilst these views might seem to make intuitive sense, all favour some interests above others.”

In response, the BBC board said: “The reviewers found widespread appreciation for BBC coverage of tax, public spending, debt and borrowing, and they did not find evidence of political bias in this output.

“However, the review as a whole provides clear indications for how we can improve editorial standards and audience impact as a result.”

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