The BBC: Even when it’s balanced, it’s biased
I was listening to the Today programme early in November, and John Humprhys was doing a piece on the referendum on nationalisation of the electricity grid in Berlin. He interviewed one supporter, one opponent. So perfectly balanced, then? Not quite.
The case against nationalisation was based entirely on finance. Nationalisation involves spending a great deal of public money for no discernible economic benefit. The case in favour, on the other hand, was all about “fighting climate change” (though why fighting climate change necessitates nationalising the grid, I’m still not clear).
The two key points were made by the proponent of nationalisation: (A) we need to fight climate change; and (B) quoting Lord Stern, “the price of inaction exceeds the cost of mitigation”. No attempt was made to challenge either of these points. Both are highly contentious. Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with the general arguments on anthropogenic global warming. On Stern, this is just about the only substantial economic study concluding that costs of inaction exceed costs of mitigation. Most studies find the opposite. There is also a splendid and authoritative rebuttal of the Stern report by inter alia David Henderson and Richard Lindzen, which is well worth reading: here. But of course the BBC takes the Stern position as Gospel, and wouldn’t think of challenging it.
While we’re having a go at Humphrys, he did a piece on the Grangemouth dispute with the Unite union recently. In the course of an interview, he came up with the splendid line “But the Union wouldn’t have taken action without the approval of its members?” Of course trade unions constantly take action without the approval of members, which was why the law on strike ballots was introduced. But Humphrys kept digging deeper. “But the membership voted for Len McCluskey, didn’t they?”. Just think about it, John. You might as well say “The people voted for Margaret Thatcher, so of course they all approved of the Poll Tax”.