Saturday, 2 April 2016

Of cabbages and things


One of my favourite Radio 4 programmes, More or Less, began its latest run this week.

As it's a statistics-based programmes, I wonder what the chances were (statistically-speaking) that its opening item would be something about the EU referendum? 

And, as an additional question, what do you reckon the chances were that its first Brexit-related item of the series would debunk a pro-Brexit statistical claim (made this week by a right-wing thinktanker on Twitter and a right-wing journalist)? 

Here's the offending tweet:


And here's how the More or Less website introduced the feature:


Now. I think it's beyond reasonable dispute that More or Less absolutely rubbished this claim about EU cabbage regulations. (They rubbished it, flushed it down the toilet and then dropped one of Kim Jong-Un's nuclear bombs on it). And the story they told of the evolution of the myth was absolutely fascinating (and well worth listening to).

But....

A quick search of the internet shows that this is a myth which Uncle Tom Cobley and all (including his sister Charlotte) have been debunking since the dawn of time, and before. 

In other words, it's a piece of 'low hanging fruit' that More or Less seized on here (albeit very tasty 'low hanging fruit'). 

Claims of EU bureaucratic absurdity have long been a staple of the EU debate here in the UK - from EU-prescribed straight bananas to straight cucumbers. Pro-Brexiteers cite them and anti-Brexiteers deride them....and thus has it been for forty years or so now. 

bananas

So, speaking oh-so-objectively, More or Less was obviously 'helping' the anti-Brexit side here, in that they debunked a claim made by (some) Leave supporters.

However, as you know, this was just one episode and the BBC tells us it is about due impartiality.

In other words, it's no use moaning about just one episode. You have to judge a BBC series over time to see BBC 'balance' in action.

Therefore, as it's easy and not very time consuming, let's do that very thing...

Let's listen to this whole series of More or Less and count the number of features debunking a pro-Remain claim and the number debunking a pro-Leave claim, and then see what happens. Will it demonstrate impartiality or bias?

I'm hoping the result will be a dead heat (or something close to it) - like 5 debunkings for each side perhaps?  How 'impartial' would that be!

Time will tell.

So let the tally begin...

Debunkings of pro-Leave claims: 1
Debunkings of pro-Remain claims: 0

8 comments:

  1. That fruit is so low-hanging it's growing in the ground. So the quality of the items they cover will be something else to watch. I expect this show's coverage of the EU referendum will be as balanced as Newsnight.

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  2. They could have looked into the claim of "3 million jobs at risk if we leave" as put about by the Remainers - they chose not to. Choices are always the best guide to bias.

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    1. The thing to remember is the BBC does not have the time, or space, to cover everything.

      So they have to prioritise. It's how they do this that reveals their renowned editorial integrity in all its glory.

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  3. This is worth a look as some on here make the cabbage one look good even for a myth like the 17.000+ on Tractor emissions or30.000+ on naming cloth !
    https://fullfact.org/sites/fullfact.org/files/EU%20Business%20Regulation%20-%20Briefing%20Note.pdf

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  4. I heard it on the grapevine today (from someone who knows) that UKIP have been complaining for years - particularly to the 'Today' programme - about its repeated use of the cabbages myth as a means of debunking criticism of the EU.

    So it looks as if the BBC has something of a history here too.

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    1. If that's verifiable (meaning, if we can find a few examples over a few months or years), it will be evidence of a pattern of the BBC holding up one error over and over again as if it's proof that the whole Leave argument is flawed. Reminds me of the behavior of a couple defenders of the indefensible over at B-BBC.

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  5. More Or Less already has chosen which side of things it needs to be on.
    So when it comes to global warming, EU membership,NHS,schools etc-they invariably go to some trouble to scotch any attacks on the above.
    But when it comes to the lies of the Remain campaign, immigration, deceits in Labour facts re education and the NHS...well, they don`t get any meaningful survey-at best an arched eyebrow.
    Reckon their link-up with the OU finished any REAL attempt to test figures on all sides without fear and favour...now it`s just lefty crap as per.

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