Wednesday 4 September 2013

A New Year's Resolution for the BBC?

The third-placed story on the home page of the BBC website this morning is: 
4.8m Britons 'earn below living wage'
The number of UK workers earning less than the so-called living wage has risen to 4.8 million, a report by the Resolution Foundation think tank suggests.
It's one of those stories which only the BBC rates as being that important. 

The BBC report outlines the think tank's findings and quotes its lead author, economist Matthew Whittaker, but also gives a lot of space to Labour's attack on the government on the issue, with the government's response being buried away (briefly) at the very bottom of the piece. 

It doesn't, however, directly tie the the Resolution Foundation's report to Labour's response. When the article says "In a speech on Tuesday, Labour frontbencher Rachel Reeves..."  it fails to say who she was giving that speech to and BBC website readers would easily be forgiven for assuming the two things were coincidental rather than directly connected.

The Guardian, however, reported yesterday that there was nothing coincidental about it: "Reeves, in a speech to the Resolution Foundation, will announce plans to generate living wages..."

The BBC's tendency to give the Resolution Foundation's reports a heavy boost is something we've noted here before (such as here), and the corporation's habit of presenting the think tank as if it were merely 'independent' is also an ongoing issue. 

The Resolution Foundation think tank's findings on 'the squeezed middle' (so helpful to the Labour Party and widely reported by the BBC), might benefit from context being given as to the centre-left nature of that particular think tank - plus the links of many of its senior figures to the last Labour government. 
Indeed, it might be time to resurrect a comment I posted on Biased BBC nearly two years ago:
January 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm
How ‘independent’ are they? Who are ‘the team’ behind the independent Resolution Foundation think tank? 
Well, there’s chief executive Gavin Kelly, former advisor to prime minister Gordon Brown, for starters. 
Then there’s Vidhya Alakeson, research and strategy director, who has worked for several left-leaning think tanks (some with links to Labour, such as Policy Network and the Social Market Foundation) and, like Mr Kelly. also worked in the prime minister’s policy unit under Labour. 
There’s also James Plunkett, Secretary to the Commission on Living Standards, who has written for the Guardian attacking Michael Gove’s education policies as “tired old Tory ideology” and elsewhere attacking the “malevolence” of “the Nasty Party”. He worked in Gordon Brown’s strategy unit from 2008-09. 
Then there’s senior economist Matthew Whittaker, who also serves as a “wise man” on the Labour-aligned IPPR’s New Era Economics panel
Also Felicity Dennistoun, external affair assistant, who was a parliamentary assistant to Labour’s Emily Thornberry, and Joe Coward, research and communications assistant, who came from the centre-left Demos think tank.
Guido got the main piece of the jigsaw quite some time back. The man who founded the Resolution Foundation, insurance tycoon Clive Cowdery, is a Labour Party donor. 
The Resolution Foundation looks set to join the IPPR and Demos as a favoured think tank of the BBC. Given the links so many of its key figures have to the last Labour government and their ties to other left-of-centre think tanks, would it be too much to ask BBC presenters/reporters to say things like, “A report today from the left-leaning think tank, the Resolution Foundation, found that….” or “Former advisor to Gordon Brown, Gavin Kelly/James Plunkett of the Resolution Foundation, said….”?
The author of the think tank's latest report, cited by the BBC in their article today, Matthew Whittaker, gets a mention there.

Shouldn't the BBC be clearer about the connections between the Resolution Foundation and the Labour Party?...Or else the Centre for Policy Studies will be after them again!

So, there are several charges here:

(1) That the BBC is reporting this story much more prominently than anyone else - and more than the story merits.
(2) That the BBC tends to report the Resolution Foundation's findings more widely than most other think thanks.
(3) That the BBC article is weighted in favour of the opinions of the Labour Party and against the government.
(4) That the BBC fails to make clear the links between the report and Rachel Reeves's speech to the Resolution Foundation.
(5) More generally, that the BBC fails to make clear the links between Labour and the Resolution Foundation. 

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