A full apology from the BBC, but questions remain
In November 2011, a BBC Radio 5 Live newsreader stated:
Employers are to be offered subsidies worth a billion pounds over three years to take on more 18 to 24 year olds. Companies will be paid more than 2,000 pounds every time they take on someone new.
This was an entirely false statement, and I lodged a formal complaint with the BBC. The complaint is here.
I have now received an apology from the BBC. The whole letter is scanned in below (with a courtesy name redaction) but the main part of the apology is:
Please accept our department’s sincere apologies for the long delay in replying, this is most unfortunate and regrettable as we understand correspondents appreciate a quick response.
We discussed your points personally with the senior editorial team responsible in Radio 5 Live, who have listened back to the headline sequences in question after reading your complaint. Having done so, we would like to offer an apology for the incorrect information contained therein.
We suggested the billion pounds was all for the employer subsidy programme, but this is clearly not the case.
The Press Release [from the Department for Work and Pensions] does outline a package of measures which add up to £1bn, but we did not give that impression – we should have made clear there are different elements dealing with different groups of people over a period.
We apologise for getting this wrong.
This is fine as far as it goes, and the BBC is to be commended for offering an unreserved apology after a thorough investigation, even if it did take longer than it might have done.
Nevertheless, it does leave a couple of questions hanging.
First, my complaint did specifically ask:
that the BBC now publicly retract the statement it put out in the 11.30pm bulletin, and any other bulletin in which it was broadcast, and make a public apology for misleading the public.
The response makes no mention of a public retraction, so I must assume none is planned. This means that a significant number of listeners may still be left with the impression that the government is planning to spend £1bn on employer subsidies, when in fact only 39.4% of that is planned. The fact that the BBC apparently has no duty to correct falsehoods, while the press does (to an extent) seems a strange anomaly.
Second, and perhaps more seriously, no-one at the BBC appears willing or able to challenge the Department for Work and Pensions over why it issued such an unclear, and arguably deliberately misleading, press release, in which a central item (the work experience programme) appears both uncosted and, by deduction, bizarrely expensive (at £1, 624 per 6 week work placement comparied with £2,275 per 6 month employment subsidy).