May 24, 2016
Brexit: in praise of Wikipedia (BBC beware)
So, the other day, I was listening to Radio 4 covering “The Brexit Debate”. Topic of the day was whether or not we should worry about Turkey joining the EU. A Steadfast Remainer reassured us that we need not worry, as we can block Turkey’s membership at any point. A Vote Leave interviewee said the opposite. The BBC interviewer (I think it was Nick Robinson) made no comment or intervention either way. Apparently, this counts as quality journalism: hosting two people contradicting each other.
Really? Is adding to our confusion part of the BBC’s role?
I am taking no sides on Brexit in this blog. However, surely the BBC has a duty to do better than making no comment either way. There are facts in this instance, as a quick trip to Wikipedia and its footnotes will reveal. It is a fact that Turkey’s accession to the EU requires unanimity from those who lead all 28 member states. Just as it is a fact that excess sugar makes you fat. Some things are not about debate, and journalists should surely cut debate short when the facts are not embraced.
And there are other facts that might be handy to bear in mind. Turkey has to pass at least 33 tough social & political tests before joining. Since applying for membership in 1987, just one of these tests has been passed (involving standards in science and research). That leaves 32 far tougher nuts to crack. Would it not be useful to know this – as a fact?
Is it not slightly concerning that Wikipedia can give us more of the facts than a journalist hosting the Today Programme? I love the BBC, but their end of term report must surely read “must do better”.
POST SCRIPT: June 6th: Since this blog was uploaded, Radio 4 has made immense efforts to make its “fact checking” more visible. This work goes some of the way to answering the concerns raised above. That said, there are still many examples of interviewers overlooking factual inaccuracies in real time. Maybe this is down to the sheer pace of broadcasting? Maybe it’s down to budgets being cut on good old-fashioned research? Either way, the updated report now reads: “great progress, but given your pedigree, we know you can do better still !” Thoughts?