Speculation as news...Statistics as fact
For days and days now we’ve had speculation and innuendo sold to us as news, and it is really beginning to grate. Presenters and newsreaders compliantly accept such speculation as fact, never challenging and never putting an alternative view.
For example, why didn’t Andrew Marr challenge Andrew Neil this morning? Neil clearly rattled through the scenario of resignations and motivations as if he was quoting proven facts when he was clearly only conjecturing. Why didn’t Marr ask for his source, ask him how he KNEW that his version of events was true?
Sad truth is that the division between fact and speculation has been blurred to the point where those who put news together can’t tell the difference, leading to us, the people, being offered conjecture as fact. It wouldn’t be allowed in a court of law, so why should we accept it as print and broadcast news?
Which leads me on to my other current bugbear...the use of statistics and indices as fact? Later on I talk about house price indices, which, suffice to say, I find to be a false and badly misleading indication of the true situation. However, we are given an array on figures, from FTSE 100 to fluctuations of retail activity.
Now, we are in the middle of a recession, certainly the worse for 80 years and possibly the worse for over 120 years (why does no-one talk about the long depression of the late 1800s?) but we are fed a diet of statistics and figures which are intended to take the place of debate and analysis. It is as if a detailed analysis would be beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, but give them a single figure and they understand.
This certainly reached a nadir Tuesday a week ago when the BBC TV Business news presenter said that he had been asked what the FTSE 100 was and he said it was the share price of the UK 100 largest companies!! WRONG!! Nobody challenged him, and no-one asked why this was relevant as a measure of the recession anyway! The FTSE 100 has risen in recent weeks, mainly due to the increase in oil prices, but it is certainly not an indicator of how the recession is effecting the ordinary working man.
When The Apprentice started it was a minority interest programme, a chance for some wannabe entrepreneurs to try and show how they could rise to a series of challenges with the aim of landing a job within a major corporation, from which they could learn from one of the UKs nest known entrepreneurs.
Following a move to prime time a BBC1 slot it has become a Big Brother clone, a kind of ‘I’m a not very successful salesman but I want to be famous so get me in here’ show. Now, the focus is less on how the assembled wannabes can rise to the challenge, and a traditional reality show mix of catchphrases, pantomime villains and not to subtle backstabbing. There’s the bitch, the quiet one, the sultry one, the gobby one, the nice guy, the fanciable guy, the quiet guy, the posh guy etc etc.... and the tension is not created from the challenges but from the personality clashes.
The reason for this is simple...the machinations of big business are not very interesting to the ordinary person, they’re actually quite boring. To gain a prime time audience BBC feels that it has to offer the public the same old reality schtik.
This is anchored by a performance from Alan Sugar which is rooted in the 1980s...a JR Ewing for the noughties, all snarling, self important bullying complete with a ‘not time for losers’ style catchphrase and demeanour.
Whoever wins, they won’t last. No winner ever seems to last in Sugar’s organisation for very long. And no-one who spends their time in a 2009 sales led organisation will recognise any of the contestants, nor any of the boardroom platitudes, as being part of modern day business practice.
So the obsession with house prices and house price surveys continues. It always seems very straightforward to me - a house is ‘worth’ what someone else is willing to pay to buy it. In well over 90% of cases this means that it is worth how much a bank is willing to LEND someone in order to buy it. Now I won’t start banging on about free market asset bubbles fuelled by unsustainable lending, suffice to point out that the banks are no longer in a position to lend the kind of amounts needed to sustain high house prices, and won’t before for a long time.
This should be common sense to business commentators, but it isn’t. Hence this week’s Nationwide house price survey, which showed a rise in property prices over the last month, generated much triumphalist coverage in the print and broadcast media.
It’s nonsense, of course. The Land Registry survey, which is the only real indicator of what prices are actually being achieved, will show another drop, and will probably continue to show overall monthly drops for a year or so yet.
I don’t really get the BBC – they talk up the Nationwide survey, making it a major feature of their news and business coverage, as if this somehow signifies an end to all the recession gloom, yet one click on their website http://tinyurl.com/pm4zpu will lead you to a page explaining why you should treat these surveys with caution, especially those conducted by Nationwide and Halifax.
Why not just report the truth.