This article on the BBC website at the weekend quotes, in response to an expert assessment of the probability of rising food prices after Brexit, not one but two Tory Leaver MPs and no other political voices at all.
This is ludicrous, and is a classic example of the problem in how the mainstream media seek “balance”.
Frankly, there are only two reasons anyone should be quoted in such an article, or for that matter invited on to a topical programme – either they represent popular opinion (as evidenced by an electoral mandate) or they represent an expert view (as evidenced by qualifications or demonstrable expertise).
Mr Grayling was fully entitled to state his view as he represented popular opinion (and offers some guidance into government thinking). However, unless he represents at least two thirds of public opinion (which he plainly doesn’t), any further political opinion should come from someone of a different view. It is utterly bizarre that a further view is referred to from another politician of the exact same opinion. At the referendum 51.9% voted Leave and at the election 43% voted Tory – so there is no way that both politicians quoted in any piece should be Tory Leavers.
The justification for this presumably is that the expert view was in effect backed by traders – in other words, those carrying out the survey and those affected by it. However, this is just as bad – because it implies that “impartiality” means putting up two (similar) expert views against two (similar) political views as if both are equally valid. They are not.
Mr Grayling is someone elevated (for reasons which frankly baffle me) to cabinet level via politics, but he in fact offers no actual demonstrable expertise on the subject of food prices after Brexit beyond that which is already plainly slanted by his own political leaning. Nor does Mr Redwood. The job of an “impartial” report is to emphasise precisely that point – Mr Grayling has his opinion and has a mandate to express it, but it is not in fact shared by any experts we can find (to the extent that we had to find someone of exactly the same political background and bias to back him – in other words, the very story here is that no one with any actual expertise or without his pre-existing leaning would).
The whole purpose of the BBC – its mission – is to provide informative and impartial reporting. To do this, it must distinguish between expert opinion and partisan nonsense, and recognise that it is not its role to be “impartial” between them.
Social media is already full of people willing to spread partisan nonsense and thus deliberately to misinform and cause division. If the mainstream media cannot counter that with a determined effort to emphasise what is likely to be accurate and what is mere prejudice, it will have no purpose at all. Of all organisations, the BBC has to be up to the challenge of saving mainstream media and promoting informed opinion and expert viewpoints appropriately before it is too late.
Interestingly, since I drafted this piece, it looks like the article has been modified and Mr Redwood’s quotes replaced by those from a Labour Minister.
Better late than never!