Hot off the presses, here's a BBC Editorial Complaints Unit ruling that partially upholds a complaint against the 'Today' programme:
22 January 2015: Editorial Complaints Unit finding - Today, Radio 4 (broadcast 1 July 2014) and Labour - working with or against business?, bbc.co.uk
Today, Radio 4, 1 July 2014 & Labour - working with or against business?, bbc.co.uk: Finding by the Editorial Complaints Unit
Craig Oliver, Director of Communications at 10 Downing St, complained about coverage of a Labour Party publication, “Mending the fractured economy”, in reports by Nick Robinson and news bulletins in Today. He maintained that, as well as being inaccurate in some respects, it had uncritically reported figures for private sector job creation which were incorrect and contradicted by data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), thus supporting a Labour narrative. The ECU acknowledged two inaccuracies, one of which had been rectified both online and on air. The other had been rectified online, but not on air, and the ECU upheld the complaint of inaccuracy in that respect. However, it noted that the discrepancy between the reported figures and those of the ONS arose from differences in methodology, not inaccuracy, and that those figures and similar data from the same source had been relied on by all the main parties on occasion. It therefore did not agree that the BBC’s coverage amounted to supporting a Labour narrative on the basis of erroneous data. Outcome: Resolved/ upheld/ not upheld
Craig Oliver, Director of Communications at 10 Downing St, complained about coverage of a Labour Party publication, “Mending the fractured economy”, in reports by Nick Robinson and news bulletins in Today. The publication’s claim that 80% of new private sector jobs created between 2010 and 2012 were in London had been reported as “stark fact”, whereas it was incorrect and contradicted by data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and it had been erroneously said to apply to “the past four years”. In reporting the claim uncritically and inaccurately in the first instance, the BBC had supported a Labour narrative, and in later coverage it had presented the matter as a dispute between Conservative and Labour about statistics, when it should simply have admitted error and made an appropriate correction.
The term “stark fact” was used only in Nick Robinson’s blog, though the early Today reports gave a similar impression that the claim in question was undisputed. When this inaccuracy was pointed out, Nick Robinson updated his blog to explain how the figures were contested, and reports later in Today were similarly emended. In the view of the ECU, this sufficed to resolve the issue of complaint. It was also acknowledged that the figures related to 2010-2012, not “the past four years” (a misunderstanding which originated from an error in the executive summary of the publication, perpetuated in the accompanying Labour Party press release), and Nick Robinson’s blog was corrected accordingly. However, items in subsequent news bulletins in Today repeated the error, and the ECU accepted that this was a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards in relation to due accuracy.
However, the ECU did not accept that the figures in question, taken from the Centre for Cities report “Cities Outlook 2014”, were incorrect or contradicted by the ONS. The apparent disparity arose from methodologies which differed, primarily in their definitions of the public sector and their use of different data sources. When “Cities Outlook 2014” was published in January it was prefaced by forewords by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Cities, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had cited earlier figures from the same source in his 2010 Budget speech. So, although the figures were in fact disputed on this occasion, they came from a source which appeared to have been relied on at one time or another by all three major parties, and the ECU saw no grounds for the view that reporting them implied support for the narrative of one party.
The Editor of the Radio Newsroom has reminded staff of the need to check press releases for factual accuracy, and of the importance of correcting errors as soon as they are pointed out.