The appearance of Professor Roger Seifert on BBC Radio to talk about the junior doctors’ strike demonstrated how careful one has to be about the external interests of those who appear on radio and television. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06vfcfv – about one hour 45 minutes into the programme.
For Professor Seifert, presented an independent commentator who knows a lot about conciliation, is not only Professor of Industrial Relations at Wolverhampton University but a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class).
Class – http://classonline.org.uk/about – is, according to its website a “think tank established in 2012 to act as a centre for left debate and discussion. Originating in the labour movement, Class works with a broad coalition of supporters, academics and experts to develop and advance alternative policies.
Through the production of high quality, intellectually compelling publications and events Class seeks to shape ideas that can inspire the left, cement a broad alliance of social forces and influence policy development to ensure the political agenda is on the side of working people.”
I am not making a political point here – nor is my concern just about the BBC. If you look at my earlier blogs in the “academic principle” file – https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/category/academic-principle/ –
you will see that I have pointed out occasions where academics, representatives or think tanks and management consultants are presented as independent commentators when they also commercial or political interests.
My concern is that media outlets all too often fail to ensure that viewers, listeners or readers are fully informed about the all the relevant interests of their guests.
In fairness to Peter Allan, he realised very quickly that he was not dealing with a neutral academic interested in conciliation and the tone of his questioning became much more inquisitorial.
The message for all those who hear an academic, a consultant or a think tanker is clear. Don’t take their neutrality for granted. Nor should you regard the media-description of them as sufficient in itself.
Always check all the organisations they are associated with – and particularly the advisory boards and clients of those bodies.
This doesn’t mean the academic is biased or analysis flawed – but I always like to know what their other interests are.