Saturday 30 January 2021

Blackpool Council complains about Mark Easton pushing a narrative

Misery on the sea-front

This morning we posted a transcript of Mark Easton's News at Ten report from Blackpool without being aware that Blackpool Council had denounced it - and the BBC - in no uncertain terms earlier in the week.

(It was also broadcast on the BBC's News at Six and on the BBC News Channel).

There are some serious allegations against the BBC here:

The Leader of Blackpool Council has condemned the BBC for its “wholly misleading” coverage of COVID-related death rates in Blackpool. 

The corporation broadcast reports on its main news channels suggesting that Blackpool had one of the highest death rates in the country, but did not take into account local factors such as age of the population, which distorts comparisons with other areas. 

Although these “standardised” rates, which take those factors into account, were provided to the BBC team, demonstrating that Blackpool had relatively low rates compared to other parts of the North West, they chose not to use them

Cllr Lynn Williams said: “We are dismayed by the BBC’s coverage. It was very apparent from the get-go that they had a particular narrative in mind and did not want to engage with anyone who might cast doubt on that narrative. We offered to put forward our Director of Public Health to give the programme team the right context but again they chose not to accept. 

“The end result was a wholly misleading report, without any real purpose and was an affront to all of those people who are working so hard to protect vulnerable people in Blackpool from the impact of the pandemic. As a resident of Blackpool, I am tired of this sort of lazy journalism that repeatedly misrepresents the town

“Whilst the BBC might argue that the broadcast was about Lancashire in general, it was very clearly rooted in Blackpool, creating a false impression about the resort and its response to COVID. It is somewhat ironic that a news item that purported to be about inequality was in itself so unfair and unbalanced.” 

Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health for Blackpool Council, added: “We went to considerable lengths to try to explain to the BBC journalist that the statistics it was so intent on using were out of context. Had they used the recognised Age Standardised rates of death due to COVID, the figures show Blackpool at 199 compared to a North West average of 207. 

“Using a different set of statistics to support a pre-ordained narrative is irresponsible and can only alarm people and undermine those who are working tirelessly in the community. 

“Had the BBC wanted to portray a more balanced picture, it could also have pointed to Blackpool having the lowest infection rates across the whole of Lancashire, currently standing at 280 per 100,000 of the population compared to 423 for the North West and 403 for England respectively, or to the speed at which we have rolled out one of the UK’s biggest vaccination hubs at the Winter Gardens. Sadly, that was not part of the agenda.


That was posted on 27 January, a day after Mark Easton's report. Wonder if the BBC has responded yet?

That old Mark Easton favourite - the person on the mobility scooter (with Blackpool Tower in the distance). There was another one later.

For ease of comparison, here's that transcript again:


Mark Easton: In the year since Covid first swept across Britain's shoreline, it has killed 100,000 people, among the worst death rates of any country in the world. The corner of northwest England around Blackpool has proved particularly vulnerable. So, could this part of Lancashire help explain why Britain has been so battered by the virus? There are political questions, of course - too little, too late, is the criticism - but the germs of this pandemic catastrophe were here long before Covid washed up. The poorer you are, the more likely it is that Covid will kill you. And while Britain is a rich country, it's also a very unequal one. The virus death rate in England's most deprived neighbourhoods is 2.5 times higher than in the richest areas, and this part of Lancashire has some of the poorest communities in western Europe. Cath Powell works with a charity that delivers food and blankets and hope to what she calls 'the left behind' on Blackpool's Grange Park estate. 

Cath Powell, Grange Park Community Centre: We had no idea how many people were behind these doors. Really lonely, really isolated, and who are really struggling but, actually, nobody knows about. Nobody knows about them, and they are the forgotten people. And, as a society, I don't know how we let that happen. 

Covid preys on people with existing health problems, particularly those who are overweight. Britain is among the most obese countries in Europe. In this part of England's Northwest, poor diet, smoking, hazardous drinking and a lack of exercise has contributed to a quarter of the population living with a long-term health problem or disability. 

Dr Mark Spencer, GP: We have created ideal conditions for this virus. I believe by not paying attention to public health. This has been decade after decade after decade. I've been a GP here for 30 years and, despite all of the advantages in health care over those 30 years, the health of this community's got worse. 

Mark Easton: Why, though? Why, we are a rich country! 

Dr Mark Spencer, GP: We are a rich country but the richer communities are getting substantially more benefit than our poorer communities. 

Mark Easton: And that left us wide open to Covid? 

Dr Mark Spencer, GP: Absolutely wide open when Covid came. 

Age is a measure of your vulnerability to Covid. Britain is actually younger than most European countries but our system for caring for the elderly has been in desperate need of reform for decades, and it proved disastrously vulnerable when the virus arrived. More than 30,000 care home residents have died after contracting Covid. This Lancashire home has been virus free but the manager remembers how it felt when the government sent a box of out of date facemasks as the pandemic raged back in March. 

Adam Purnell, Kepplegate Care Services: Fury, anger, upset. We are drowning in lack of money and lack of support. There is a pandemic now, and you've sent us out of date PPE! You know, do you really respect us that little that you can't actually give us the stuff that we need? 

With the UK at the forefront of developing and administering Covid vaccines, there is hope the country can emerge from the virus nightmare earlier than others. But there are 100,000 reasons why, as well as offering immunity, we should seek to fix the inequalities that left Britain so exposed to the pandemic's deadly power. Mark Easton, BBC News, Lancashire.

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