By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
It is rarely as much fun for a publicly funded news agency to report the ambiguity of fact -- or a politician to deal with the loose ends of sometimes awkward and inconvenient but necessary action -- as it is to pander to unfounded hopes or cherished prejudices. It’s never a win-win and kind of feels like going to the dentist.
A little nudge
We all sometimes need a little nudge to help us do so. So I’ve decided to help BBC and David Cameron with a nudge. The nudge takes the form of a Daily Report Card on issues that languish unaddressed or unresolved.
The format of the Daily Report Card is a series of Tweets on Twitter to David Cameron and the BBC, “copied” to Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband, the BBC Trust and the Channel 4 News Team. These tweets call attention to issues which in my honest opinion (to use the lingo) languish, inadequately reported by the BBC and inadequately addressed if at all by David Cameron.
You may ask yourself, why the two together, Dyer?
There is sometimes a remarkable degree of similarity between BBC and David Cameron in describing some issues. For example, Office of National Statistics reports monthly estimates of employment and unemployment. Just 15 January I reported what I considered misleading claims concerning these ONS reports contained in both BBC’s analysis and David Cameron’s claims during Prime Minister’s Questions. On 23 January both BBC and David Cameron simultaneously changed how they packaged their claims in - it seems to me -- exactly the same way and word choice. I don’t mean to be paranoid. I'm not suggesting conspiracy. I just notice they both suffer from the same misapprehensions I will detail subsequently. So I choose to inform both of this outstanding issue on the same report.
Well, then, why the BBC Trust?
It is the job of the BBC Trust to safeguard the license payer's interests. It is decidedly not the Trust's job for the Trust to interfere in editorial policy. Indeed, it would be wrong. I certainly wouldn’t want that. But it is the responsibility of the Trust to monitor BBC to ensure the interests of the license payer and the public generally are safeguarded. It is appropriate for the Trust to nudge BBC regarding issues of concern to the license payers. The rest is editorial decision and entirely the responsibility -- and the accountability -- of management. I copy BBC Trust so it is informed of the ongoing concern of at least this license payer.
And Channel 4 News Team?
The Channel 4 News team is IMHO the most perceptive and thorough television news team in the UK. Together they remind me of the old Huntly-Brinkley-John Chancellor era at NBC. They cover the issues the Daily Report Card covers. It seems to me only appropriate everybody knows what everybody else knows. There isn’t room on a Tweet to include ITV and Sky news so I exercised some editorial discretion.
What sorts of issues does the Daily Report Card cover?
As of this writing the Daily Report Card nudges include the unaddressed recommendations of the Leveson Report. It appears to too many that the entire issue has been "kicked into the long grass" all too traditional for such reports.
The DRC also reminds all of the grass growing under the report of Tyrie’s special committee on banking . Regular readers may remember I reported on this special committee some months ago in conjunction with the LIBOR scandal. The committee wrapped up its business in December, finding that planned banking reforms do not go far enough to adequately address the problem.
Then there is that nagging problem of the employment statistics. Briefly rehashed, BBC and the Prime Minister still describe these as “Job Statistics” that show increasing employment and as good signs concerning the economy.
ONS itself paints a far more ambiguous picture. These are not actual jobs but estimates of the number of people “in employment” based on reports not audited and in accordance with criteria under which one person who works for pay only one hour or more a week is considered one person in employment. In theory, 1,000 FTE salaried positions could be laid off, 1200 ten hour a week casual seasonal labourers employed at minimum wage and BBC and the Prime Minister would characterize the result as 1200 jobs with the implication 200 of them were new.
The ONS does provide more detail as to relative changes in part time and full time employment but this information isn't definitive nor analyzed much less thoroughly in the presentations of either BBC or the Prime Minister. Both the BBC and Prime Minister have adjusted word choice -- and BBC its total "change" to an "increase" of 552,000. But both continue to say these estimates are "job figures" and indicate good things about the economic outlook.
It is far more accurate to say we don’t really have a clue from this information how the economy has been impacted or whether they reflect increases either in FTE productive work or aggregate income. It could just as well be the inverse- and therefore very bad news rather than good news. That certainly would be more consistent with the balance of economic indicators.
A new issue in the Daily Report Card is Parliament's debate just the 23d concerning reports Britain's leading contractors blacklisted over 3,000 people, including currently serving Members of Parliament, for various "offences" ranging from union activity to reporting health and safety violations to, in one case, supporting Nelson Mandela. I will report more on this in a subsequent Article.
Why is this so vital?
First, important issues languish unresolved, not to the credit of government in general nor this government in particular. Second, misleading information is bad for maintaining both the credibility and the democratic accountability of government. Third, in the case of the employment statistics, this use of inaccurate statistics seems to be misleading both the public and decision makers on vital economic decisions. It also misleads both in evaluating the arguably related Conservative agenda called "competitiveness." That neutral even scientific sounding word translates as serious reductions in employee wages, hours, benefits and rights, an issue made even more relevant in light of the developing blacklisting scandal.
I will continue to report each of these unresolved issues for as long as each remains unresolved. I am certain both BBC and the Prime Minister will appreciate the daily nudge, but even if they do not, it is something that simply has to be done by someone.