You can now listen to my SPERI/New Statesman prize lecture in full here, or even watch it all here. The talk looks at recent UK history, involving austerity and Brexit, to argue that there are serious problems in how the broadcast media treats economics.  The two main problems I talk about are exclusion and balance. Exclusion, where academic economists are simply ignored because they are not part of the Westminster bubble, can lead journalists to assume statements made by politicians are true even though an economist knows they are false or at least highly questionable. I give a number of examples in the talk, including after the 2013/14 floods where Cameron said there had been no cuts in flood prevention when there clearly had been cuts. Balance is where a view that represents a consensus among academic economists is treated as just another opinion, to be balanced by the opposite view. This simply devalues knowledge. The costs of Brexit is a clear example.
Solutions to these problems must start with academic economists themselves. It is asking too much to expect journalists to know whether a view put forward by an economist represents a consensus among academics or an idiosyncratic view. An obvious way to remedy this is through regular, topical polls of as many academic economists as possible. (I prefer this approach to sampling selected academic ‘leaders’ for reasons I may discuss in a later post.) The example I have in mind was the poll of Royal Economic Society members undertaken by the Guardian during the Brexit campaign. What these establish is whether a consensus exists or not on key issues. They are much better at doing this than letters to newspapers.
The reason why this is far better than getting more academics on programmes like Newsnight (not that I have any problem with that) is that it can then prevent the problem of balance. I use in the talk the example of climate change to show how the broadcast media could treat a consensus view among economists (90% or more agreement) as knowledge, not as simply an opinion to be balanced against another. Getting the broadcasters to do that will not be easy, but academics first need to remove the objection that journalists cannot know what economic knowledge is. Our target audience should not be Newsnight but the 6pm or 10pm news programmes, which may be the only non-partisan news that readers of the right wing press ever see. We need political correspondents to routinely say what the economic consensus is, and use it to interrogate politicians when they deviate from it.
Economists could learn a great deal from the physical and medical sciences on how to use collective pressure to ensure media policy is changed. Climate change is the obvious example where the media began to treat knowledge as just contested opinion (because that is the media’s preferred format), but it was changed as a result of pressure from the scientific community, working through existing institutions that represent scientists. This can be effective not just with the big ticket issues like Brexit, but also where an individual piece of research is misrepresented in the media.
Only once this pressure is brought to bear on the media will we see the media begin to improve its own capability in the area of economics. As I note at the end of my talk, the BBC trust recently commissioned a report on the use of statistics, and most of its recommendations could equally well be applied to economics. To achieve that requires pressure and help from economists as a collective.
The broadcast media should be a defense against populism, not the means by which populism takes hold. If you treat knowledge as just an opinion, of course people will vote for whatever sounds good to their ears. Let’s cut government spending: we should all tighten our belts. Let’s keep immigrants out so there will be more jobs for natives and better access to the NHS. As I explained in my lecture, this was not just a problem involving the EU referendum: because the broadcast media accepted the Conservative narrative on austerity by excluding the views of the majority of academic macroeconomists they helped them win an election. 
The referendum story is far from over: key decisions on issues like the Single Market have still to be made. We cannot expect people to make sensible decisions about these issues if expertise on these issues (not just economic, but legal, constitutional etc) is kept locked away in specialist programmes they will never see, or ignored altogether. We must stop allowing politicians to dictate what is knowledge and what is just an opinion.
 The lecture and this post are about the UK. Although the general points I make about expertise are universal, my specific recommendations only apply to a broadcast media that is not under government control and is regulated to prevent partisan broadcasting. Although my knowledge of the US is far less, it seems to me the problems there are deeper still, particularly now we have a POTUS and Congress who show no respect for truth.
 Someone asked me recently what had gone wrong with the media, but as I say in my talk this problem has been there for decades (see this post on Jay/Birt in the 1970s). What has happened is that, because of underlying social and economic trends, and simply because politicians have learnt how to play the media, media rules that kind of worked when politicians played by the rules and respected truth fall apart when they do not.