Saturday 16 February 2013

Accountancy Professors Uncut

Accountancy professors

In an earlier post I dwelt on Evan Davis's decision to introduce a guest on tax avoidance-related issues merely as "a professor of accountancy at Essex University". My concern was that it risked misleading listeners into assuming that Professor Prem Sikka, the guest in question, is a disinterested expert. Prem Sikka, however, is emphatically not a disinterested expert. He plays a significant role in the left-wing campaign the Tax Justice Network which target multinationals, Tory donors and the like.

This wasn't the first time that Professor Prem Sikka had been introduced in this way. An attempted Panorama hatchet job on Tory donor Lord Ashcroft introduced him in much the same terms whilst using him as a key independent-sounding expert throughout the programme. (He was highly critical of the Tory donor). To compound the problem, one of the programme's other key experts, Nicholas Shaxson (also highly critical of the Tory donour), was merely introduced as a “financial journalist”. Googling quickly dispelled that illusion, however, as Mr Shaxson is also part of the self-same Tax Justice Network. So, presenting two campaigners as disinterested experts? And in such a highly politically-charged edition of the programme? Yes.

That was worth a complaint to the BBC. (You can read their reply on that earlier post).

Going back to Evan's 'failure to disclose', I'll re-quote here the question posed by Umbongo over at the Biased BBC blog:
Sikka was not on Today as a disinterested expert on the mechanics of tax; he was on as an advocate of the policies the TJN espouses. Why would Evan choose not to disclose Sikka’s lobbying background? It’s hardly irrelevant. Doesn’t the failure to give such information concerning Sikka strike you as odd behaviour by an outfit claiming to be “impartial” in such matters?
I made the point, however, that Prof. Sikka's campaigning zeal on that edition of Today was so obvious that most listeners would have surely assumed that he is campaigner. However, that was just pure luck on Evan's part, so to speak. Prof. Sikka could have toned down his rhetoric while still putting his Tax Justice Network-approved points across and the audience might well have been none the wiser, assuming disinterest on his part. It would have been far better if Evan Davis had taken the precaution of telling his listeners that Prem Sikka is affiliated to the left-wing campaign group the Tax Justice Network so that they could see that he has a large dog in the fight, perhaps saying something like "And we can now speak to Prem Sikka, a professor of accountancy at Essex University who is a senior advisor to the Tax Justice Network." It would have taken a mere 3 seconds of precious airtime to add that highly relevant piece of information, so there was time and it didn't entail reading out his entire C.V.!

I'm re-hashing all this because the news that the UK, France and Germany are coordinating attempts to tackle tax avoidance featured as a main story on this morning's Today and guess who they invited to comment?

As soon as James Naughtie began introducing the topic I thought "I bet it will be someone from the Tax Justice Network". Would it be Prem or Richard Murphy? It's usually one or the other on the Today programme - "on speed dial", as BBC critics often say!

Well, it turned out to be Professor Prem Sikka and, yet again, James Naughtie introduced him merely as a professor of accountancy from Essex University without any mention whatsoever of the Tax Justice Network:
Professor Prem Sikka is professor of accounting at the Essex Business School at the University of Essex. Good morning.
Unlike Evan's interview, Prem's discussion with James Naughtie today was conducted in a very seminar-like fashion. The accountancy professor didn't sound anywhere near as stridently campaigning this time. Listeners might very well have assumed we was merely an accountancy professor, giving a disinterested point of view. His message, however, was just the same - that of the Tax Justice Network. 

I think we should have been told about his involvement with that pressure group. Don't you?

Also unlike Evan's interview, Prem's seminar was a purely 1-to-1 affair with James. There was no John Redwood to counterbalance the professor's left-wing point of view this time. Tut tut. 


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