David Smith and neutral commentators

David Smith, the excellent Economis Editor of the Sunday Times, has resolved a problem that I have become increasingly worried about – some might say obsessed with.

That is the way the BBC describes some consultancies/think tanks etc as “independent” while calling others “right-leaning” or “left-leaning.” https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/just-who-does-the-bbc-sanctify-with-the-description-independent/

The BBC, probably through editorial laziness, is using the wrong word when it describes some organisations as “independent.” It is perfectly possible to be both left-leaning and independent or right leaning and independent – indeed every think tank or research organisation whose website I read uses the word independent to describe itself.

It is not easy to find a word to define organisations like the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) or the Intergenerational Foundation which are critical from a centrist position of the approaches of the major political parties. But in sanctifying them as independent, the BBC has simply used the wrong word.

First,  it has created a distorted effect. The use of “independent” gives a greater credibility and authority to an organisation’s commentary. That might be fine for the IFS, but I dont think that all organisations called “independent” deserve the accolade.

And secondly it is an incorrect use of language because the centre position between left and right wing is not independent.

I have no doubt that bodies from across the spectrum like the IFS, Intergenerational Foundation, The Adam Smith  Institute and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research are equally independent.

So how should bodies like the BBC describe organisations like the IFS. My first thought was “centrist” but that wasn’t strictly accurate either.

Then yesterday I read David Smith’s excellent commentary http://www.economicsuk.com/blog/002089.html

In it he refers to two economic commentators as “neutral” – and I suddenly realised he had solved the problem. This is to me the perfect word to describe those organisations that don’t come down on one side or other of an argument or whose analysis is driven by ideology.

If for example the BBC were to talk of the neutral IFS, it would convey the correct message about their position in the political debate without suggesting that many of the other commentators lacked independence.

I doubt if the BBC will change – but they can no longer claim that “independent” is the only real choice.


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