Inadequacies of BBC coverage of the EU financial crisis.


Increasingly, the quality and content of the BBC news comes under criticism. Lip-service is paid to BBC ‘balance’, but in fact the parameters of their political debate only extend from ultra-right to no further than moderate centre. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate some of the analyses of the EU financial crisis which never reach the mainstream television and radio news.  The media sets the limits to public discourse. ‘They may not always mold opinion, but they do not always have to. It is enough that they create opinion visibility, giving legitimacy to certain views and illegitimacy to others’.  The media have the power to determine the issue agenda, the information flow, and the parameters of political debate. 

So the BBC have yet again enjoyed a week’s ‘jolly’.  This time in Greece, following on from their spring and summer sojourns on the north African coast.  They are currently moving on into Italy and presumably into Portugal. Meanwhile, the public are no more informed of the underlying structures by the dramatic mainstream news reporting of Papandreou’s vote of confidence, than they were by the irrelevant commentaries on that perpetual view of Tahir square, or the sex of Gaddafi’s grandchild born in exile. (I exclude the superb Paul Mason from my criticism.)

The implicit assumption of most of the Greek crisis reporting, is that the EU bailout plan is a good ‘thing’… an imperative even.  This assumption is hardly questioned, although admittedly it is questioned to a greater extent than our supposed ‘powerlessness’ to resist the will of ‘the markets’.

‘It would be good if the BBC could actually challenge the ‘accepted’ financial/political view rather more rigorously than they have done lately. Writers/investigators like David Malone or Nicholas Shaxson might be able to offer a useful counterbalance to some of the empty rhetoric we hear so often from people whose jobs depend on us not questioning the rationality or sustainability of the current financial system.’ (comment from thread)

There is also a little acknowledgement of justifiable concerns for the blindingly obvious trampling on sovereignty and the democratic process by the Troika.  Once or twice, it has been mentioned that elected Greek ministers have had their offices taken over by the technocrats but there is no questioning over the decision to form a supposedly ‘non-partisan caretaker’ government whose only real purpose is to impose the Merkosy plan regardless of Greek public or political opinion

The composition of the Greek government is not that important. The Greek government is not really in charge of fiscal policy anyhow; Greece has largely ceded its sovereignty to the troika, which will be setting up shop in Athens going forward. It is only crucial that any government in place is willing to approve the second bailout package so Greece can receive its next tranche of funding before €8bn in debt comes due in December, thereby avoiding a disorderly default….

… Even if the Greek government passes and implements the second bailout package, however, the endgame for Greece is unlikely to change. Greece can either undergo a decade of recession/depression to regain competitiveness or it can exit the eurozone and reissue the drachma. The latter option would be painful, but would allow Greece to regain competitiveness almost overnight and return to growth in a matter of months. Ultimately, I think this is the option that any Greek government—whatever its composition—will choose.

….if any such ‘Commission’ is created and given the powers over Finance and Debt that I expect, then Greece will have become a vasal subsidiary of the financial system. It will be run by and for the banks. The Greek government will be there to wear authentic costumes and pose for the tourists except when it is required to inflict a little pain on those who might need reminding of their place in the new post democratic Greece Plc.

Democracy in the EU is now virtually a dead letter.   It was always precarious: neither the Council of Ministers nor the Commission are directly elected.   Now what has been highlighted is that when it comes to the really big decisions neither the European Parliament nor the peoples of Europe have any say in them at all….

 …Governments run by technocrats are not non-political, they are run by highly marketised politicians.   Nor will they necessarily succeed, whatever mandate they may ascribe to themselves.

No BBC criticism is voiced, that this bailout plan has absolutely no mention of job creation, only austerity and cuts. Employment creation has to become a top macroeconomic priority …Which can only mean one thing – there has to be more public spending – which should be targeted at maximising the growth of decent and stable jobs.


All the economic news at present is bad. Eurostat released its latest labour force data which shows that the Euro area unemployment rate has risen to 10.2 per cent in September 2011 (0.1 rise over the year) which shows how persistent the crisis is in that region and that is is slowly getting worse…..

…. most disturbingly, the ILO has just released a – G20 Briefing – which was co-published by the OECD and predicts a “massive jobs shortfall among G20 members by next year” if the current slow-down in the world economy continues. There is a major demand (spending) shortfall in the advanced economies and only one sector that can do something about it – the public sector. But politicians are being pressured to spend less. I cannot understand how we have been so caught up in an ideology that caused the problem in the first place and is now being seen as the solution despite all evidence to the contrary. The ideology that caused the problem cannot be its solution

Are the British public in the same position with the BBC news as the Harvard students who took the decision to boycott their introductory economics lectures (Ec10)?

Professor Bill Mitchell backs the Harvard students because instead of the traditional faire for students in economics which included courses in economic history, history of thought, comparative systems as well as what went for mainstream principles, the universities have suppressed a broader debate and have concentrated on just one approach – which is based on the free market perspective. Like the Harvard students, we are not offered alternative ideas or approaches.  The BBC is similarly locked into the free-market ideology.

Professor Bill Mitchell concludes:

There are many examples of why Ec10 at Harvard misleads its students and prepares a particular approach to the economy – one which has lead to policy changes which allowed the inherent and destructive dynamics of the capitalist system to manifest in the form of the crisis…The point is not the bias. Ec10 purports to be an introductory explanation of how the economy works. In many instances, it doesn’t even get to first base. It is a disagreement about facts not ideology 

Furthermore, when on the  BBC have you heard any information that equates to Professor Michael Hudson’s evaluation?

Only now are Europeans having the discussion that they should have had 10 or 20 years ago. Nobody wants the Greeks and Portugal to starve. The question is, what’s the best way to help them? Is it simply to give money to their governments? They would simply pay their bankers. Supporting bond prices by buying bonds in the market would reward speculators. If the aim is to support Greece, why include the financial sector or gamblers?

Treasury Secretary Geithner is reported to be pressuring the Europeans to bail out the banks because Goldman Sachs and others American banks have gambled that Greece and other countries can pay, and written default insurance. It seems that if these U.S. banks lose the bets that they’ve made, they’ll go under and Washington will have to bail them out. So Mr. Geithner is telling Europeans to sacrifice their economies so that U.S. financial casino gamblers won’t take a loss.….

…. Countries that have let themselves become post-industrial service economies are finding out that if you don’t make things, you can’t live forever by going to Las Vegas. The casino always wins – and today’s casino is Wall Street. It’s a zero-sum game for the economy – with the economy’s losses plus Wall Street’s gains netting out to zero.

When has the BBC considered an economic analysis such as that presented by Richard Murphy at Tax Research:

.. the process of money creation, and how new money is allocated within the economy, is widely misunderstood by economists and policymakers, and yet needs to be reformed if future financial crises are avoided.

The UK’s money supply is created by commercial banks when they extend or create credit, giving such institutions vast power over our economic destiny

This system over-expands the money supply during booms, causing credit bubbles, and reinforces monetary contraction during the bust, causing longer and deeper recession

Quantitative easing (QE), as currently practised, is highly ineffective in stimulating new employment and investment

There is no strategic regulatory guidance to ensure that commercial bank credit supports productive investment rather than speculation, in contrast to previous practice in the UK, and widespread current practice among our industrial competitors

I level my criticism specifically at BBC news reporting because it is funded by the tax payer but much, and often worse, criticism could be spread across the whole of the mainstream media.  The importance of this situation could be summed up by the maxim  ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’. Knowledge, facts and understanding are imperative to achieve any sort of democracy; and, as is shown by the EU crisis bail-out plans, democracy is profoundly inconvenient to the operation of neo-feudalism/plutonomy.  The BBC colludes with the current dominant ideology in contradiction of its mandate to inform…. and so perpetuates a ‘false consciousness’:

“Even if the [media] does not mold our every opinion, it does mold our opinion visibility; it can frame the perceptual limits around which our opinions take shape. Here may lie the most important effect of the news media: they set the agenda for the rest of us, choosing what to emphasize and what to ignore or suppress, in effect, organizing much of our political world for us. The media may not always be able to tell us what to think, but they are strikingly successful in telling us what to think about … the media teach us tunnel vision conditioning us to perceive the problems of society as isolated particulars, thereby stunting our critical vision. Larger casualties are reduced to immediately distinct events, while the linkages of wealth, power and policy go unreported or are buried under a congestion of surface impressions and personalities.

In sum, the media set the limits on public discourse. They may not always mold opinion, but they do not always have to. It is enough that they create opinion visibility, giving legitimacy to certain views and illegitimacy to others … This power to determine the issue agenda, the information flow, and the parameters of political debate so that it extends from ultra-right to no further than moderate center is, if not total, still totally awesome.”

Inventing Reality Michael Parenti

Any democratic government seeking to remove the institutional blockages of neoliberal capitalism will also need to ensure and protect access to a plurality of ideas and information.  To what extent the paucity of information reflects the narrow base from which reporters are drawn or to an inherent bias is a matter for speculation.  However, at no point has the BBC offered the alternative view of taking the banks into democratic ownership, and of a massive publically funded programme of job creation, which could be directed towards tackling the immediate and much more intractable threats of climate change and peak oil production.

Related Think Left posts:

Peak Oil, NeoLiberalism and Think Left ( Think Left: A socialist Britain in a greener world)
Co-operative Keynesianism (Dr. Tristan Learoyd)

We do the work, someone else takes the wealth (CJ Stone) 

NeoLiberalism is direct attack on Democracy and workers’ rights. (Dr Sue Davies)

The Tax Haven at the Heart of the IMF (Dr Tristan Learoyd

The market has a name – it is Goldman Sachs (CJ Stone)

Why Labour should support an EU referendum. (Garry Kitchin) 

 The Truth? Censored! Understanding our World.  (Pam Field)

Labour should be the party of civil liberties (Julian Gilbert)  

Tory MPs: Abstaining better method than withdrawal Tom Pride

Red Labour must address the elephant in the room (Dr. Sue Davies)