Saturday 30 November 2019

Unreality check?

Ah, a BBC reality check!

Did Samira Ahmed give the BBC's Chris Morris a tough time on 'Newswatch'?

Reality Check
The claim: That Samira Ahmed really put the BBC's Reality Check chief reporter Chris Morris through his paces on 'Newswatch' this week.
The verdict: No, she didn't, It was a very soft interview. But our boss did great.
Well, maybe not...

Here's a transcript of this week's Newswatch main interview:

Samira Ahmed: Disputes over facts and figures are part of any election campaign but this time around, the arguments seem more numerous and acrimonious than ever - hence the need for independent and neutral verification of the claims made, by organisations such as the charity Full Fact, Channel 4 News's FactCheck, and Reality Check on the BBC. The latter is usually fronted by Chris Morris, and recently, he's been very busy man. Here he is on Wednesday scrutinising Labour's claims that the NHS was at risk under a post-Brexit trade deal with the US:
Chris Morris: Of course, there's going to be pressure - that's what trade talks are all about. There will also be trade-offs. If the UK turns down some of these American requests, then we can expect the Americans to reject some key British demands for access to their market. But none of this is really proof that the NHS is somehow for sale, even if the US would like it to be on the table. But producing a definitive verdict on what the politicians are saying is not a straightforward affair. 
The adjudications of Chris Morris have themselves faced judgement, with journalists from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph over the past fortnight criticising his findings. And, of course, the whole business of fact-checking has come under the spotlight since the Conservative Party entered this area for last week's leaders' debate on ITV, as Jessica Parker reported:
Jessica Parker: Looking online, what to take at face value? Last night, a brief rebrand of a Conservative Party Twitter account to factcheckUK. The Conservatives say it was still clear who is running the account, but one senior Labour figure said Twitter should have taken it down. 
Well, undeterred by such self-styled entrance into the fact-checking market, Chris Morris from BBC Reality Check is with me now. Thank you for making the time. I know you're busy. 
Chris Morris: Hi, Samira. 
Samira Ahmed: Has this election already been particularly angry and more contentious when it comes to doing Reality Check? 
Chris Morris: Yeah, probably. I mean, elections are always times when there's a lot of attention on exactly what politicians say, a lot of numbers come out in manifestos, and obviously, this election is seen as one of the most important for decades. So there's been an awful lot to check, and what we try and do basically is if we see things which we think - where we think politicians have either misspoken, said something that's incorrect, said something that's misleading, we'll write about it. Do we spot all of them? No, because there are a lot of them about and there are only so many hours in the day. Do we get it right all the time? Possibly not. You know, no-one is infallible. But I think the point is we are trying to hold them to account for what they say. And if somebody says something and then keeps repeating it, then we will try and go back and say again, "We still think this is wrong. We said it last week, we're saying it again now". 
Samira Ahmed: Well, as you've hinted, there are a lot of claims being thrown around out there, so how do you choose which ones to investigate? 
Chris Morris: It's partly things which do get repeated. I mean, politicians have their stump speeches, whether it's Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. If there are numbers in there which we think clearly don't really stand up to scrutiny, those are things will we investigate... 
Samira AhmedSo this might be something like nurses, or something? 
Chris MorrisNumbers of nurses, numbers of police officers. And the thing about statistics as well is that you can present them in different ways. So one of the things you can do is say we are putting another 20,000 police on the streets, but maybe not mention the fact that in the last nine years, 20,000 - the police numbers have gone down by about 21,000. So it's partly putting numbers into context, as well, because numbers don't always tell the whole story. 
Samira AhmedOK. Are you happy to say something is a lie, or to call someone a liar? 
Chris MorrisA lot of people get very exercised about this on social media. My personal view is it doesn't actually help that much for us to call people liars. I think what we should do is say, "This is what somebody said. Here is what we believe are the facts of the situation". And I think the audience is smart enough to decide whether somebody is lying or not. I think me going on, into a studio like this and pointing at a politician and saying, "Liar, liar, pants on fire" - that's more reality TV than Reality Check. 
Samira AhmedIt is interesting, because obviously the editorial policy director David Jordan has said exactly that - it's not the BBC's job to be calling out politicians as a liar. 
Chris MorrisWell, I don't think it is. And I think that's partly because I think a lot of what we're dealing with at the moment - and other people disagree. The head of Channel 4 has made the point that we should be calling people liars, Dorothy Byrne. My point is a lot of what we're dealing with at the moment is not necessarily so much lying. It's bluster, it's smoke screen, it's - I probably can't say to the full word on a family show like this - but it's BS. And the thing about that is it's not so much trying to conceal the truth, it's about not quite caring what the details of the truth are. And I think if you start throwing around labels like "liar," it almost gets in the way of saying it's really difficult sometimes to pin people down on these things. That, of course, then raises a whole other question of well, is there any point in fact-checking if they're gonna keep saying things? And I think there is a debate to be had about how useful fact-checking is. But I do think our primary purpose has to be to focus on the facts as we see them. 
Samira AhmedYou will know that your fact checks themselves have been disputed by some newspaper commentators. Is it also the reality that some fact checks are disputable, they're not just black-and-white? 
Chris MorrisThey can be. There's always been political spin, and so there should be in any vibrant democracy. There's always gonna be people trying to persuade their part of the electorate that you look at the numbers and you lean this way, or you look at these numbers and lean that way. So spin is part of the process. But I do think it's increased in recent years - that's partly because social media amplifies everything. Partly because also social media means parties can very easily sort of put out little bits of video or audio, little bits of - which are almost unfiltered. Now, they might say "That's good - we can get past the bias of the media". We would say "Actually, it's bad, because then you can spin it too much without us being able to say - and it's our job - to say 'We think you've gone too far with this one'." 
Samira AhmedWell, you mentioned the filter of the media. A lot of viewers are concerned that Reality Check masks a failure in the first place by BBC News journalists to adequately analyse before reporting politicians' promises. And by the time Reality Check gets to dealing with them, these claims have been out there for several hours. Oh, you know, this leader has promised this, and that has not been challenged until you get around to it. 
Chris MorrisI don't think any presenter can be expected to be an expert in absolutely everything. So one of the roles I have is to come after and say "We heard all of that but those numbers there, we don't think Whether it be a Labour claim of you're gonna be spending £500 million extra a week on NHS medicines after a trade deal with United States, or whether it be the Tories saying Labour's spending plan adds up to £1.2 trillion. You know, there are numbers you can dispute, and I think it's very difficult for a presenter to interrupt every time somebody gives a number, otherwise an interview would never get anywhere because as well as numbers, you do want to hear opinions. 
Samira AhmedChris Morris, thank you. 


  1. Your intro was hilariously on point! And the interview was hilarious in its own way!! Double hit!!!

    Oddly, Morris states he has only a "belief" that his understanding of the facts is correct: "Here is what we believe are the facts of the situation." Why is your belief better than mine Chris? I've pointed out numerous errors, distortions, misdirections, sloppy logic, selective fact choice and so on in your absurd "Reality Checks". But unfortunately I don't have a £500 million licence-fee paid platform from which to challenge those appalling inaccuracies. [I hope he dips in every now and then and reads that... :)]


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