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BBC whitewashes ‘government propaganda’ NHS story



Back at the end of September the BBC News website ran a story on 91-year-old Harry Smith’s speech to the Labour Party Conference, in which he detailed the miserable state of healthcare before the arrival of the NHS and stated his fears for the future of the service under the Conservative Party.

This was all fine. What a shame Auntie’s unnamed reporter had to spoil it by adding in two extra paragraphs that parroted – almost word-for-word – comments made by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that seemed to contradict what Mr Smith had said. Tom Pride, over at Pride’s Purge, put the statements into an image, allowing people to compare Mr Hunt’s statements with the BBC’s. That image is reproduced again here:


The BBC report was clearly paraphrasing Mr Hunt’s words. No attempt was made to indicate that this was the government’s side of the issue; the offending paragraphs were stationed at the end – as statements of facts that contradict Mr Smith’s words.

That’s blatant government propaganda, in the view of this blog – especially as both statements are false.

That’s right – analyse the facts and Mr Hunt’s/the BBC’s assertions fall apart.

Did the government increase NHS spending in the UK? The BBC attitude was that it has, because the amount of money spent on the NHS – in England alone – has increased.

But Mr Smith wasn’t talking about England alone. Look at the BBC article (which has been revised since Vox Political complained) and you’ll see he refers to “the Britain of my youth”. The final paragraph (as it is now) does not separate England from the rest of the UK.

You may think that’s nit-picking. Try this instead: A “money-terms” increase in NHS spending is not what the Coalition government promised. The Coalition Agreement of 2010 promised a “real-terms” increase and that is what Jeremy Hunt said had happened in the comment from 2012. But spending on the NHS has fallen in real terms.

The BBC’s complaints director, Richard Hutt, in a letter of October 31, admitted as much: “My research suggests that spending on the NHS has increased marginally in terms of the amount of money spent… but as you are aware, if GDP deflators are applied a slight decrease is shown.”

But, following on from a previous BBC response in which we were told, “your blog talks about real-terms spending. Our original article did not, and had we wished to refer to real-terms spending, we would have said so,” he continued: “Nothing in the article indicated that the intention was to refer to “real-terms” spending and so I have difficulty in agreeing that this is how it would have been understood.”

Then what was the point of mentioning spending at all?

The promise was to increase “real-terms” spending, and “real-terms” spending has in fact decreased. Any reference to spending other than in “real-terms” is therefore irrelevant to the debate and can only confuse the issue in the minds of the public.

In the face of the facts, Mr Hutt – it seems – isn’t having this. Doesn’t that suggest that he has been told to whitewash the BBC – deny any wrong-doing, no matter what?

Let’s move on.

Does the Coalition support the founding value of the NHS that nobody, regardless of income, should be deprived of the best care? The easy answer to this is no, it doesn’t.

It was the work of a moment on a search engine to find a story demonstrating the opposite. It was this Daily Mail article, detailing the predicament of a gentleman who has been forced to pay £450 per month because his local Clinical Commissioning Group (brought into being by the Coalition government) would not provide him with a drug that is available free on the NHS elsewhere in England. Ironically, the cash-starved NHS in Wales is reported to have agreed to provide the drug.

In response, the BBC changed the wording of the last paragraph slightly, claiming that this changed the meaning. It didn’t.

The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit has done nothing but whitewash its story.

Never mind; there was still one more bullet in our gun. An email has just been sent to Mr Hutt, pointing out the words of Tom Pride that kicked off the whole affair:

“These are not facts. They are the opinions of a government minister being reported as facts by the BBC.

“That’s not news. It’s propaganda.

“Mind you, I don’t know why the reporter who wrote the article is so keen to remain anonymous.

“I mean, we all know that the reporting of unattributed propaganda from government ministers is a sackable offence for professional journalists in reputable news organisations.”

It’s best not to expect a reasonable response.

It’s clear we aren’t dealing with a reputable news organisation at all.