BBC guilty of bias over benefits programme

A BBC television programme about the benefits system, presented by John Humphrys, breached the corporation's own rules on impartiality and accuracy, the BBC Trust has ruled in response to a complaint from the Child Poverty Action Group.

The programme, called 'The Future of the Welfare State', was broadcast on BBC2 in October 2011. Along with an accompanying article by Humphrys in the Daily Mail, the programme heavily emphasised the view that a 'benefits dependency' culture has grown up, with significant numbers of people 'perfectly happy' to remain out of work and living off benefits. As Humphrys put it in his article: 'Beveridge tried to slay the fifth evil giant and, in the process, helped to create a different sort of monster in its place: the age of entitlement'.

The BBC Trust ruling largely supported the programme's approach. But it admitted the programme had failed to supply the statistical information needed to allow viewers to make a proper assessment of their own, and had made misleading statements about benefits spending – thus breaching guidelines on both accuracy and impartiality.

Alison Garnham, CPAG chief executive, said: 'This programme, like too many media stories, failed the public by swallowing wholesale the evidence-free myth of a "dependency culture" in which unemployment and rising benefit spending is the fault of the unemployed'.

SourceEditorial Standards Findings: July 2013, BBC Trust
LinksReport | CPAG press release | Compass blog post | TUC press release | Daily Mail article (24 October 2011) | Telegraph report

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Publication date: 
Jul 30 2013