Media also have role in promoting financial responsibility

4,000 jobs could go in NI health cuts” screams the main page of the BBC NI web site currently, adding in the subsequent report (without quotation marks in the original, thus a statement of assumed fact): “The elderly and the most vulnerable will be the worst hit as a result of the NI executive’s health budget”.

The evidence? The Health Minister and the head of UNISON. Did it not strike the BBC that there may be another side to this story? Did it not strike anyone among the reporting or editorial team that the under-pressure Health Minister may just, for example, have questions to answer about his competence given 14 swine flu deaths so far this winter? Did it not strike them that the head of UNISON would maybe have her own agenda?

Interestingly, one of the “top 10” stories advertised in the sidebar links to another story: “Lucrative NHS overtime for consultants questioned“. Ah… so there may be an area where the NHS is not totally and utterly efficient, then? The report contains specific details, clear records, and numerous interviews.

Let me be clear, I’m proud of BBC NI. Its coverage of the conflict was exemplary, its journalists are blatantly underpaid for what they do (much of it well outside hours), and it runs excellent information services above and beyond TV and radio. It offers a level of professionalism and skill which far exceeds what we have a right to expect in a region of just 1.7 million.

However, in the midst of a financial crisis we need from BBC NI and indeed all media is responsible reporting of financial issues. For example, who says 4,000 jobs are at risk? How precisely does this correlate with putting the “elderly and most vulnerable” at risk? Where is the added research, not least the reference, for example, to 920 people in the service in NI earning over £100,000?

There is far more to reporting financial issues than taking the Minister’s biased word for it and trusting the Unions to provide a balanced analysis. I suspect 4,000 is a vast overstatement; that whatever job losses there are will not correlate in any way to putting the “elderly and most vulnerable [there’s that word again, as ever totally undefined]” at risk; and that levels of efficiency of service could and should be vastly improved within the NHS (a close relative of mine, who as a pensioner presumably counts as “vulnerable”, still awaits news of a vital scan two months after he was told he would know about it within a week…)

The Minister should spend more time focusing on efficiency and less time whining about a budget which is more generous than for any other department; the Unions should prepare for reality and stop pretending there’s more money out there than there is; but, in this case, most of all the BBC and other media should ensure that stories are not presented in a biased and uninformed way. The voters have big decisions to make in May, but they must at least be properly informed before they make them.

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6 thoughts on “Media also have role in promoting financial responsibility

  1. NorthernIrishRanger says:

    Ian,

    It was also reported yesterday that DARD HQ would be relocated and 80 jobs would be lost. The Dept of Education effectively place building new schools on the back burner too. Obviously the ‘4000’ figure is more dramatic so it has been pushed higher as ‘news’.

    Monopolies are bad. Why are is our education and health monopolised?

    The BBC in general is a bloated leftist mess and in the era of Sky TV we should not be paying so much for a TV license nor for BBC online services.

    • I have researched the “4000 job” line. Outrageously, it consists of McGimpsey’s reckoning of the budget shortfall divided by the average wage…

      I’m a big fan of the BBC, by the way, genuinely one of the best things about the UK. Frankly, I think it needs to pay its Director General less and its reporters more – then they may be motivated to do the full research to show just what bunkum some of the politicians come up with.

  2. NorthernIrishRanger says:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-12190057

    Looks like they have recycled much of the earlier story with all their dramatic speculation added.

    Strikes me as strange that they seem to be pressing ahead with the building of this radiotherapy unit in the full knowledge that they cannot staff it. A bit like the UK’s aircraft carriers without aircraft.

    It seems that people from Londonderry with cancer have to travel to Belfast for current treatment. An inconvience that they could probably do without but treatment is not being withdrawn.

    There is a great focus on the impact on Londonderry but what of the impact on the likes of Enniskillen? Or generally speaking the rural Northern Ireland that the media seem happy to ignore.

    Is 40 or even 80 miles too far to travel? I expect in England and probably the Republic of Ireland that they distances are nothing. These stories highlight the entitlement culture that Northern Ireland citizens have in that they expect the best of everything handed to them without a second thought of how to finance it or the effect it may have on their neighbours. Secondly it shows that the BBC are happy to rush out speculative stories of horror at the expense of proper journalist intent.

    • With you on all points, and they are all important.

      Firstly, there is obviously no point in building something if you cannot subsequently use it (it’s part of my case for road tolling, for example, so that the maintenance is covered).

      Secondly, 80 miles is not an unreasonable distance to travel at all. We have this daft notion that there are areas of NI which are “remote”. Try Namibia!

      Thirdly, if we really do want radiotherapy units and airports for every settlement above 100,000 then, as you say, we’ll have to pay for it. Tell me about those free prescriptions again…

      The frustration is that BBC NI *can* do it. This time last year it ran a Spotlight programme on Iris Robinson which was truly world class journalism. However, the media are hardly helped by politicians talking bunkum. The SDLP says this “will have ramifications for people right across the island of Ireland”. Right across the island of Ireland?! How, exactly, will it have ramifications for people in Cork?! Nothing like a pointless cross-border reference to throw us off the trail of fiscal responsibility…

  3. slug says:

    The local media do need to rebalance. The BBC and other local outlets have now too many “political correspondents” and not enough “economic correspondents”. Jamie Delargey is very good, though, on UTV, when it comes to economic issues.

  4. NorthernIrishRanger says:

    Slug,

    I can’t think of BBC NI’s economic correspondent? Does it have one? It has 4 or 5 political ones though.

    Ian,

    With the pressure on the Ministers for Health, Regional Development, Education and Social Development is it time to ask why pressure isn’t being applied to the First Minister?

    Have people forgot that he referred to the evidence to the Department’s legal team and they apparently said everything was ok? Nice and transparent!

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