When I write about what I call mediamacro, which includes bad reporting of macroeconomic issues by the media, I often receive comments suggesting that the importance of the media’s bias against Labour is exaggerated, and anyway there is nothing that can be done about it. Now of course the print media is biased against Labour, and what evidence we have also suggested a BBC bias against Labour under Miliband. But most of the time when I complain about BBC and other non-partisan media reporting on macroeconomic issues, it is not a bias against Labour that concerns me, but a bias against the facts.
Take the proposition that austerity was required because Labour borrowed too much. That proposition is simply false. The increase in the government’s deficit occurred in 2008/9 and 2009/10 as a result of the recession caused by the global financial crisis. As I noted most recently here, the Labour government before the recession was clearly not profligate in the normal meaning of that term. So when Conservatives constantly talk about having to clear up the mess Labour left, and this goes unchallenged in the media, that has the effect of legitimising a false statement.
What we have in this case is a variation on what they call in the US a ‘shape of the earth: views differ’ style of reporting. In that case one side claims the earth is flat and the other side says it is round, and the media in an effort not to appear politically biased report it as a disputed fact. If you think that example is too wild, think about climate change, or maybe wait until the US election where Trump is one of the two candidates. Was Obama a US citizen: views differ.
What we get as a result is a bias against the facts. In the case of Labour and the deficit, because Labour chose fatefully not to challenge the Conservatives on this, the media takes this as confirmation that it must be true rather than checking the facts themselves, or shy away from presenting the facts because that would be seen as ‘too political’. Myth then becomes a fact that even some Labour MPs start believing, and when someone actually stands up for the facts they are assumed to be dishonest or a slightly mad professor. So the BBC fails in its mission, which is to inform and educate as well as entertain.
I was going to advertise my talk in Bristol at this point, which will also explain how this failure played a major role in the 2015 election, but I see that it is now sold out. If there is sufficient demand I will write up what I say and publish it here.