The BBC is Getting Economics Lessons

BBC Broadcasting House, New Building

With all eyes on what UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will do in his Autumn Statement later this month, the BBC is getting some economics lessons. The New Statesman‘s Anoosh Chakelian reported that a number of economic think tanks and experts are contributing to discussions to help the organisation cover key fiscal matters. This review was apparently already underway long before the phrase “Trussonimics” had been coined, but the results take on even greater significance now.

Comparisons with household budgets, used for years by both the media and politicians, including the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition, are out:

On 28 November 2020 24 economists wrote to the BBC about a metaphor used for the UK economy. In a discussion of borrowing forecasts, Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor at the time, had said: “This is the credit card, the national mortgage, everything absolutely maxed out.” While the letter writers acknowledged that Kuenssberg and fellow BBC journalists had also mentioned other views of the economy, they feared “household budget” analogies greatly influenced “the public’s understanding of economics, even though they do not represent economic reality”.

One thing that stood out to me from the very detailed reporting was the acknowledgement that economic correspondents/editors might be better placed to discuss these issues than those who see them solely through a political prism:

Concerns have also been raised about treating economic stories as “politics-first”, when economic correspondents may be better-placed to report them.

I noted in a recent newsletter that while political journalists had treated the recent economic fallout from Liz Truss and Kwasi Karteng’s “mini-budgets” as part of the back-and-forth that goes on in Westminster, economics and business journalists tended to provide a calmer, more insightful analysis of events. Given the decisions that might need to be made in the coming weeks, it will be essential that the BBC and others have the right people reporting on the right things.

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