Thursday 26 November 2020

Only, just, controversial

I was reading some comments on Twitter earlier about last night's BBC One News at Six concerning the BBC's coverage of the Government's decision to cut the UK's overseas budget from the sacred figure of 0.7%.

Tweeter 1: I've just watched the BBC News item on cutting foreign aid. The opening clip shows food being dropped directly to the people. That's the image they want you to take in - not grants to NGOs and Governments. Manipulation.
It continued with such comments as:
Tweeter 2: Said exactly the same thing myself when I saw that last night. They also opened up with the comment ‘widely criticised policy’ as opposed to ‘widely supported’ which it undoubtedly is across the UK. Total bias yet again in the way they portray/report!
The latter was referring to longstanding polling evidence that the public supports cutting the UK's foreign aid budget - a public mood reflected in YouGov's latest polling (from yesterday) showing that 66% of the public support cutting overseas aid while a mere 18% oppose the cut.

Naturally, I thought I ought to see that BBC report for myself. Were they being unfair to it?

Well, no, they weren't. Far from it. This really is classic BBC. 

It begins, as noted above, with the dubious contention that cutting overseas aid is "controversial" - despite all the polling evidence, which goes completely the other way:
BBC NewsreaderOne of the more controversial aspects of the spending review is the Chancellor's decision to cut - for the time being - the amount of money the UK gives in aid to poorer countries. Mr Sunak told MPs that to carry on spending abroad when we have a domestic emergency would be difficult to justify to the British people. Here's James Landale.
Of course, it might seem "controversial" within the BBC and its bubble, but that's the point of the comment above: The vast bulk of the public believes it's "controversial" not to cut overseas aid, and the BBC is, yet again, massively out of step with public opinion on this.

As the first commenter said...

Accompanied by footage showing food being dropped directly to the people, a senior BBC reporter then sang what virtually amounted to hymn of praise to British overseas aid: 
James Landale: For years, the sight of a plane delivering British food and medicine has brought hope to millions. The humanitarian assistance and development that can, for some, mean the difference between life and death.

Isn't British aid wonderful!

James LandaleBut now the Government has decided it's got to cut back. 

How  awful of the Government! 

After that first op-ed came a brief 'balancing' quote: 

Neil O'Brien MP, Conservative: This is not something anybody wanted to have to do, but the truth is the NHS and helping people who are unemployed has to be the priority next year.  

James Landale then 'contextualised' it. But just look at his language: 

James Landale: Last year, the UK spent £15 billion on foreign aid, about 0.7% of national income. Now the Government wants to cut that legally binding target to just 0.5%. That means spending only £10 billion on aid next year. This will leave the UK spending less in Germany on 0.6%, but more than France on 0.4%. 

The use of "just" and "only" there is loaded language, language that sends a message that 0.5% is both not much and not enough. 

It's not neutral language. 

A nod towards balance then followed, swiftly pursued by the first of James's onslaught of critics:

James LandaleThe aid budget has long faced questions about priorities, such as why some goes to India, with its own space programme. But those who work to reduce poverty and disease say today's cuts will bite deep, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Romilly Greenhill, One Campaign: Cutting aid will make it harder to get vaccines to people all over the world, harder to get the treatments people need and ultimately it will extend the lifetime of the pandemic. 

The onslaught continued: 

James LandaleThe Archbishop of Canterbury said the aid cut was "shameful and wrong".

The onslaught went on: 

James LandaleThe Foreign Office Development Minister Lady Sugg resigned, also saying it was fundamentally wrong. 

And on: 

James LandaleAnd her old boss, the man who enshrined the targets in law, was equally unhappy:
David Cameron: Well, I think it's a very sad moment. It's not just that we are breaking a promise to the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world - a promise that we made, a promise that we don't have to break - it's that that 0.7% commitment, it really said something about Britain.

And then came another op-ed, hymning UK overseas aid and raising concerns about the cut: 

James LandaleFor years, Britain's had a reputation as an aid superpower.  And that's got Britain a hearing on the international stage. It's opened door for ministers and officials here at the Foreign Office. The question is what impacts today's decision will actually have on that reputation just as Britain tries to carve a new role for itself after Brexit. 

And then, finally, came this more factual-sounding bit of reporting: 

James LandaleTo spend less on aid, the Government will also have to change the law. That means a long Parliamentary battle ahead. James Landale, BBC News.

Does this feel like impartial reporting to you? 

It doesn't to me.

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