Thursday, August 18, 2016

The BBC’s use of statistics and Gaza casualty ratios - by Hadar Sela

...One can only hope that this review will prompt the BBC to take the subject of verification of data originating from political NGOs and terrorist groups much more seriously than it has done in the past and that the focus will from now on be placed on meeting audience expectations of provision of accurate, verified and impartial data rather than the promotion of deliberately politicised statistics.

Hadar Sela..
BBC Watch..
15 August '16..

On August 10th the BBC Trust published the findings of a review of the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs output which was commissioned in 2015. The report, together with accompanying documents, is accessible here.BBC Trust

Titled “Making Sense of Statistics”, the report makes interesting reading, although it has a somewhat domestic focus. While it does not address the issue of the BBC’s presentation of casualty figures during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, some of its observations, conclusions and recommendations are pertinent to the corporation’s portrayal of that topic both at the time and since.

On page 17, the report addresses the topic of audience expectations.

“Audiences expect that numbers are accurate, factual and verified, that claims that are wrong or misleading are challenged, and that a range of evidence is used to put statistical claims into context. In other words, the BBC has to ensure that the public is informed accurately and impartially on the important issues of the day by helping audiences navigate through the statistical evidence and make sense of the numbers.

Regarding accuracy, there is a presumption of veracity – if a story contains a number, it must be true. Certainly, the audience research found that “adding statistics does increase the impression of accuracy”:

There is an assumption by the audience that figures quoted by the BBC will be accurate, factual and well verified and that the BBC sets out to be impartial in its use of statistics. Audience research report, Oxygen Brand Consulting”

As regular readers know, the BBC did not independently verify the casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios which it presented to its audiences during the 2014 conflict. Although there is no publicly available evidence of its having carried out any such verification since the conflict ended, it continues to quote and promote unverified data sourced from interested parties and has even defended its own use of statistics provided by a terrorist organisation.

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