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)

23 thoughts on “Inadequacies of BBC coverage of the EU financial crisis.

  1. Spot on Sue.

    There has been so little challenge to what is clearly the world the political and financial elite ensuring both Greece and Italy get their man, and the neo liberal measures demanded are delivered. It is doubtful these measures would be passed if subject to a vote of the people.

    Yesterday on Radio 4 Julian Rudd (pro-European) was pitched against Bill Cash MP, and it was alarming for me to agree with much of what Bill Cash was saying. However, this means that the case against these anti democratic moves is labelled as being the looney right, which totally misses the arguments made by the libertarian left.

    I have another concern. What happens when (not if in my opinion) the reforms really hurt and people take to the streets. Will these temporary unelected Leaders remain longer than planned? Who decides this? What is the exit strategy and the road to normal elections? of this, I have heard nothing.


  2. Thanks Garry. There is a very interesting conversation between Paul Mason and Gillian Tett in the Guardian which mirrors much of your concerns…. but again their urgency has not been matched by BBC coverage… apart that is, from last night’s Newsnight which albeit only 15 mins long seemed nearer the mark.

    Re: these leaders staying longer than intended. I believe negotiations with the first Greek banker fell through because he wanted a full term … so I totally agree with your worry.

    I also share your reaction to Bill Cash. However, in this respect, the left of the LP and the right come together. I believe that the Soc. Campaign Group and People’s Pledge MP, Kelvin Hopkins often accompanies Bill Cash on parliamentary fact-finding trips to the EU and that they are very much in agreement on many aspects of the EU.

    My surprise is the Euroscepticism of the Tory MPs … The EU is run by fanatical ‘free-marketeers’ so what is there for them not to like… However, whenever I have heard Cameron speak at EU events, he does sound every bit as enthusiastic as Tony Blair about opening up still further, the single market …. yet again, one hears one voice for Parliament or the cameras, and another in Europe.


    • Sue,
      as you express surprise at the Euroscepticism of some Tory MPs, have you considered how those on the political Right are so often the prisoners of their own emotions, particularly their own fears and negativities … or their own greed and desire to rule? The Tory Party may have an internal division between those who distrust and do not want to be ruled by – for want of a better word – foreigners… and those who are in the pockets of the transnational corporations and who wish to rule?


      • You are right Phil … Conservatives comprise at least two factions. Those Eurosceptics who are traditional Queen and Country … and the neoliberals who are prepared to sacrifice country for the transnationals but oppose the HRB and social legislation from the EU Parliament.


  3. Great article, Sue. Very impressive range and I totally agree with your concerns. I also thought today’s discussion in the Guardian between the excellent Paul Mason and Gillian Tett is food for thought too.


  4. Excellent article, as ever!
    Very well researched and written; very powerful stuff which all needs saying.

    For what it’s worth, my own personal view is that the BBC is too close to the Establishment, and has a slight deferential bias towards the govt of the day, and the status quo, so the BBC tends to have a reinforcing influence… rather than be the challenging, investigative, informative organisation that it should be.


  5. Fantastic post. Well researched and informative, makes a change after the stale analysis of the mainstream media.

    PS: Is it just me, or does this blog take ages to load? I don’t have problems with any other site except from TL which freezes my computer for about 2mins.


    • It doesn’t take me a long time for TL but I’ve experienced the delay with LeftFutures in the past … on Safari… resetting tends to work emptying cache and cookies. Pain because you need to log into everything again.


  6. One of the most basic points which are never mentioned in the media with regards to unemployment, is that typically 5.5% unemployment is maintained at all times either by central banks or governments to “prevent inflation”. Whenever the BBC or other media outlets report on unemployment, they interview unemployed people asking why they, specifically, are unemployed, and never mention the fact that much of it is generated by neo-liberal policy quite deliberately.

    Given that the NAIRU is mentioned in most economics text-books (hidden in plane sight), I would suggest commentators and loggers launch a campaign to force media outlets such as the BBC to discuss it openly.


    • That is such a good point … and as a non-economist was unaware of until recently. (NAIRU = Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment)
      Prof. Bill Mitchell says ” My conclusion: any model that relies on a NAIRU is a crock!” but as you say it has a central place in neo-liberal mythology.

      This notion of deliberately engineering 94.5% employment instead of full employment, makes the feckless ‘benefit scrounger’ tag profoundly cynical. Unfortunately, the new Greek ‘Prime Minister’s PhD thesis was written up in the very paper which introduced the term NAIRU into the economics profession (Modigliani, F. and Papademos, L. (1975) ‘Targets for Monetary Policy in the Coming Year’, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Number 1, pp. 141-163). However, it seems unlikely that his tenure will be more than temporary.

      Your suggestion about a campaign is a very good one… and the response to this article suggests a great deal of disatisfaction with BBC coverage.


      • I like the idea of a campaign to publicise the Nairu and its consequences.
        This whole article has got me wondering if the BBC interpret ‘balance’ as being a duty to report the words of the LEADERSHIP of the 3 main parties … which would exclude the Green Party and the TUSC.
        Also, as the BBC sometimes give attention to the words of the inappropriately-named TaxPayers Alliance, should the BBC be pressed to report the words of the Other TaxPayers Alliance? Maybe the OTPA should re-name itself as the Licence Payers Association? (lol). Maybe the TUC should write open letters to the Labour leader, in the way that the IOD and others write to the Chancellor?

        Off-topic :
        Sue, I agree with you – the Neoliberals’ cynical use of the feckless ‘benefit scrounger’ rhetoric is profoundly dishonest. The neoliberal experiment of the past 30 years has required mass unemployment, as a tool of economic and social control.
        Further, the actual TYPE of employment also has to be taken into account. Thatcher chose to run down manufacturing industry, alleging it was uncompetitive or uneconomic. The ‘hidden’ reason was that such jobs were relatively well-paid and highly unionised. As Trade Unionism was seen as a driver of wage/ price inflation, Thatcher sought to reduce drastically the number of people employed in unionised industries, and to oversee an increase in non-unionised jobs in the generally lower-paid services sector (retail, leisure etc). Thatcher’s politico-economic aims were to weaken the Trade Unions and dampen inflationary demand. Thus, (mass) unemployment was deemed to be a price worth paying.


  7. Good comments Phil. I agree and as you know, it seems to me, that this time, Osborne is deliberately wrecking the economy in order to massively re-jig UK financial and social relations to create a plutonomy or neo-feudalism. Only the super-rich and the transnationals are significant… the rest of us are irrelevant. I do wish that more of the ‘sensible’ Tories eg. Charles Moore would stand up and be counted. I’ve pretty well given up on expecting most LDs to see the wood for the trees.


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