Saturday 16 June 2018

Another bouquet (containing a hidden brickbat)

Here's another bouquet for the BBC - something I missed at the time but found yesterday via a comment at Biased BBC.

Back in early Mark on The World This Weekend made a major thing of something that wasn't true. 
The bones of the English local election results have been picked clean by now but here's one under-reported result: Nearly 4,000 people who wanted to vote were stopped from doing so, according to the Electoral Reform Society.
(Obviously the bouquet isn't for Mark Mardell here!)

We expressed scepticism about it at the time, questioning how 'under-reported' it was and, more seriously, questioning why The World This Weekend took that dodgy-sounding ERS figure at face value. We wondered, 'Was it a case of "fake news"?'.

What I didn't realise was that Radio 4's More or Less debunked the ERS's figure a few weeks later and played a clip of Mark Mardell saying what I quoted above. It turns out that the ERS - and, thus, the ever-so-trusting Mr Mardell - were wide of the mark by a factor of ten. 

More or Less made it clear that it was another BBC reporter, namely Newsnight's David Grossman, who first smelt a rat at the BBC. His journalistic instincts told him that the figure sounded suspiciously large. He dug into it and did the calculations. A BBC News website article followed with the final findings that only around 340 people had been turned away. 

It's good that one part of Radio 4 is prepared to expose "fake news" at another part of Radio 4, with a little help from BBC Two. That said, although More or Less played that Mark Mardell clip at the beginning, it was the ERS who found themselves on the sharp end of the programme's criticism. The World This Weekend was never mentioned again, and no apology came from them. Therefore, especially in the light of those alarm bells that rung in David Grossman's mind, I'll repeat he question I put back in early May: 
Why did Mark Mardell take the ERS's figure at face value and not probe it?
Another question might be: Should Mark Mardell go for some urgent journalism training with David Grossman?

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