Monday 30 November 2020 2:27 pm

Economists lambast BBC over ‘misleading’ UK debt coverage

A group of the country’s leading economists have written to the director-general of the BBC to complain about the broadcaster’s “misleading” financial coverage.

Two-dozen finance wonks told Tim Davie that the BBC’s reporting on UK borrowing “misrepresented” the constraints facing the government and the economy due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The complaint related to the organisation’s coverage of last week’s spending review, which laid bare the impact of the pandemic on the country’s finances.

On Politics Live BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg compared the situation to “the credit card, the national mortgage, everything absolutely maxed out”, adding that “for next few years, there is really no money”.

The economists argued that the analogy was “inappropriate”, stating that journalists should not draw comparisons between macroeconomics and household finances.

“Maxing out a credit card would imply that the government is approaching a hard limit on its ability to borrow. This is not the case,” they wrote.

It came after the Office for Budget Responsibility revealed that UK borrowing is this year set to soar to a peacetime record of £394bn, or 19 per cent of GDP.

But the report said the government should have no problem maintaining the record levels of public borrowing.

The signatories noted that Kuenssberg and other commentators had made a number of accurate points, including that interest payments on public debt are in fact set to fall to record lows due to low interest rates on government bonds.

But they urged BBC journalists to take more care when explaining “crucial economic issues”.

“When used by respected, neutral commentators, these ‘household budget’ analogies carry an air of objectivity and exert a great influence on the public’s understanding of economics, even though they do not represent economic reality,” they wrote.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Of course people can debate national borrowing and what that means for the country. That’s why the BBC puts so much effort into explaining these issues and precisely why we provide so much analysis.

“Clearly there are differing views around public finances and spending and the BBC goes to considerable efforts to reflect that. The two comments referred to were brief points made in a long live programme where, as the letter says, the debate about debt was rich and covered the points the letter made.”