Sunday 24 March 2019

A sob story swallowed by the BBC

BBC image

So what have I missed this past week?

Well, for starters various Conservative MPs took umbrage with the BBC after an interview on the Today programme with a headmistress from South London where she claimed to have cleaned the toilets and served in the canteen at her school because of budget cuts. Various newspapers, however, reported that the school’s accounts showed that the cleaning budget rose by £27,000 in the year 2017-18 and that her own salary rose by at over £10,000. And when she told The Sun (in response to such points) that the pupil population of the school has increased significantly since 2017, The Sun looked at the official figures and found that the school had fewer pupils in 2018 than the year before. It's quite a story!

Now, the BBC defended the Today programme, saying "We are confident this interview complies with our editorial guidelines", and adding that she was questioned and pressed. And, in fairness to the BBC here, how could her interviewer know that she was being economical with the truth if - as happened - she insisted what she was saying was true?

Here's a Twitter exchange on the matter: 
James Cleverly MP: She forgot to mention, when telling the story about how money was so tight that she was forced to clean toilets in her school, that her cleaning budget has risen 90% in a year - and she's had a £10k pay rise.
Alex Deane: I remember this interview. It really stuck with me because after she asserted that the sky was falling in it was put to her that funding is actually up. Her only reply, which the presenters naturally found unrebuttable, was “I am not making this up.” Well...
Melindi Scott: Radio 4 Today treated her like a messiah.
Alex Deane: They did at least ask her the question. She effectively asserted “it is true, as I am saying so.” Without further particulars it would have been very difficult for the interviewer to out and out call her a liar.
Melindi Scott: The point at which she was discussing the funding of her school theatre should possibly have rung alarms.
I agree with Alex. The interviewer couldn't really call her out.

However, if we can excuse Today, what about the BBC News website? 

The story is still up: 

A head teacher says she has had to scrub the toilets, clean the school and work in the canteen because of school funding shortages on schools. 
Siobhan Lowe, head of Tolworth Girls' School in Surbiton, south London, spoke of the embarrassment of not being able to fund support for her pupils. 
She says she has already sold off land, cut subjects and a deputy head post to stay afloat, as budgets tightened.
And Newssniffer shows that her tale was made the main angle on the story for the BBC after that Today interview - with the headline changing from Heads angry at minister's school funding 'snub' to Head teacher talks of cleaning loos amid funds shortfall. Even odder, seven days later the headline changed again to Head teacher talks of cleaning toilets in funding shortage - the only change made to the article in that final version.

So why hasn't the BBC website updated this article to put the points found out by the newspapers about the 'toilet-cleaning head teacher'? Why didn't the BBC check the facts of the story themselves, instead of just regurgitating it whole? 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Criag, I can remember thinking at the time that it was a load rubbish glad I can still trust my instincts.


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