UKTN journalists “have no knowledge of basic economics,” according to an independent survey of the company’s economics coverage.
Impartiality is at risk because some journalists at the company make assumptions and have gaps in their knowledge, the review concluded.
The thematic research was commissioned by the UKTN Board and looked at the broadcaster’s coverage of taxes, government spending, government borrowing and government debt.
The authors, economic experts Michael Blastland and Sir Andrew Dilnot, were tasked with assessing whether the necessary impartiality had been achieved in these areas.
They said: “We think too many journalists don’t have a basic understanding of economics or don’t feel confident reporting on it. This entails a major risk to impartiality.
“During the period of this review, it mainly affected debt. Some journalists seem to instinctively feel that debit is just bad, period, and don’t seem to realize that this can be contentious and questionable.
“Several common assumptions seem to be lurking unnoticed or uncorrected. Others that outsiders noted in UKTN coverage were ‘more government spending is good’ and ‘tax cuts are good’.
“While these viewers may seem intuitively logical, they all prefer some interests over others.”
The report quoted an on-air statement in which a UKTN journalist said the government “will have to…”
“We appreciate that this was made live and may have been unintentional. Still, UKTN journalists must be extremely careful before suggesting that a government ‘should…’ raise taxes, cut taxes, increase spending, increase spending, reduce debt, increase debt, etc. – in any area.”
The authors also identified “an occasional temptation to hype – and we think hype is an issue of impartiality. We don’t want to be bored either, but see breathless stories or headlines that seem to drive excitement through skewed data or evidence.”
Occasionally, they said, data was presented in “the most alarming way” possible.
The report said their criticism was aimed at “non-specialist” reporters, but said “even senior journalists” have shown they don’t fully understand all the arguments.
In response to the review, the UKTN Board said: “This has given us new insight into how we understand and deliver the necessary impartiality in this vital area of public policy.
“The review as a whole provides clear guidance on how we can improve editorial standards and impact on audiences as a result.”
The board said it had asked Tim Davie, the director general, and his executive team to address the issues raised and prepare an action plan.