Monday, August 24, 2009

Journalistic ethics (part 1)

Two years ago Jeremy Paxman told a meeting at the Edinburgh International Television Festival that blogs don't operate by conventional journalistic rules, such as accuracy (see blog 'Checking facts' on 31 August 2007). It seems that the BBC's journalists are sometimes guilty of that problem. Certainly Newsround on Friday was at best confusing, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Newsround Friday CBBC Channel 3.55pm -

Sonali: Hi there, I'm Sonali and this is Newsround. First up we're talking school uniform - apparently it can cost your parents around £700 a year. Supermarkets and other shops might have cut price deals on the stuff you need, but some schools only sell their uniforms and kit through particular shops. Leah's been checking out the story.

Next we heard Richard Kemp from the Local Government Association, who told Leah that parents had to spend up to £170 to send each person back to secondary school. Richard wanted to see more choice of outlets for school uniforms.

However the story was reported in a different way at 5pm on BBC One -

Sonali: Hi there. First up today we're talking school uniform. It might make life easier for you not to have to think about what to wear every day, but it can be a right old dent in your parents wallet. That's why, today, there are calls for the cost of uniforms to come down. Leah's been investigating.

Leah's report which followed dealt with school uniform and sports kit costs. Leah said "Shirts, skirts, and trousers - just a few of the things you need to get kitted out for the new term. Add to that sports gear and shoes, and the price can really stack up. It's reckoned that parents have to spend around £700 a year making sure you have everything you need for primary school. And when you start secondary, that goes up to around £1200 ...."

Newsround report on 21 August 2009
In fact the Government Report - Cost of Schooling 2007, published earlier this year, has a detailed breakdown on page 34, and it turns out that uniform and sports kit accounted for about 30% of the cost of schooling. Newsround didn't explain that the £700 (actually £683.79) also included school trips, class materials, stationery items, swimming lessons, school fund, school lunch, travel, school photos, charity contributions and the cost of other activities/items.

We are entitled to expect reasonable ethical standards of the BBC. So was Newsround negligent, or did they mislead their audience simply to hype the story? I might get in touch with the new editor of Newsround, Owenna Griffiths, to ask if there is another plausible explanation.

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