Has the media made the crisis worse?

October 17, 2008

bbc.jpgSince banks and world financial markets started collapsing over a month ago, politicians, commentators and people in the street have pointed the finger of blame in a variety of directions: at bankers, regulators, hedge fund managers, mortgage lenders, short-sellers and speculators, among others.

Now, it appears, the BBC is also in the firing line.

The broadcaster’s economics correspondent, Robert Peston, has broken several major elements of the unfolding story, from which banks were on the brink of collapse to the details of how the government was going to set about bailing them out. BBC radio interviewer John Humphrys has also been at the forefront of the story, grilling government leaders, especially Chancellor Alistair Darling, about the crisis and how the country, and the rest of the world, ended up in it.

But viewers and listeners to the BBC are now complaining that the broadcaster itself is responsible for fuelling the financial meltdown, with negative stories driving share prices down, and gloomy reporting making the atmosphere ever darker and more ominous.

“If the BBC sent John Humphrys and Robert Peston on holiday for a month, the financial crisis would be over tomorrow,” one listener wrote in to complain to a BBC radio programme on Friday. 

The email was the latest in a wave of complaints the BBC has received about their reporting on the story. Until now, the broadcaster’s management has been reluctant to get involved in the debate, but on Friday a senior editor stood by the journalists’ reporting and the tone which the broadcaster has adopted. 

“Our journalism is not second-guessing what effect it is having on this or that share price,” he said.

“We have a duty to the audience.. Our reporting has focused on very important areas of public interest.

“It is in the greater public interest for us to report the facts as we have done.”

With millions of people facing an impact from the crisis and looking for someone to blame, there’s little chance the complaining will stop any time soon.

What’s your view? Do you think some of the reporting on the financial crisis, whether by the BBC or by newspapers and other media has somehow made the situation that it otherwise would be?


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I am eternally grateful for the news media’s continuous reporting of the situation. As a property developer myself, putting your fingers in your ears over the past years (as I know of many who did) will have resulted some seriously dangerous implications.

The news media did not create the boom, they simply reported it, and there have been no end of warnings about the possibility of bust for a long while. I listened to those warnings and I’m happy to be safe. But I know personally of people who refused to listen, and are now in big trouble. Small to very large organizations.

However, I do feel that programs from the “trash media”, like the the property entertainment shows such as “Property Ladder”, have influenced a huge amount of amateur property developers who would otherwise have not been involved. Many of those people will be in serious trouble now.

Having said this, to some extent even those shows reflected the public’s desires & aspirations at the time. Perhaps they made it look just a little too easy. I remember several shows where investors were biding on properties that they hadn’t even bothered to look at! This kind of irresponsibility must have influenced many viewers.

Posted by Guy McNair | Report as abusive

I totaly agree, the BBC have made it sound like the end of the world.

Posted by Peter Simpson | Report as abusive

I have not the slightest compunction or hesitation in pointing a finger of blame at the BBC and others in the media for turning a crisis into a drama and for never allowing the truth get in the way of a good story. Reporting the truth is one thing but it is also how it is reported that is key and the BBC, in particular, and other broadcasters and the news media in general are absolutely responsible for dramatising for effect every piece of bad news and for always looking for the negative side of any good news. Yes the BBC must report the facts but they should not turn this crisis into another of their appalling soaps. This is not entertainment and they should try to understand the difference. Oh, and by the way, just for once in could the BBC try to take responsibility for their actions instead of always attempting to defend the indefensible? The BBC is the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation paid for by the taxpayer and there to provide a public service – and that includes reporting responsibly!

Posted by N. Le Gresley | Report as abusive

The US media is already become the cheerleaders of the current administration. The only real place to get real US news is BBC America and Comedy Central. What part of “Freedom of the Press” do you not understand?

Posted by Jay Raley | Report as abusive

I think all the news media attention,press,TV and radio is excessive and the BEEB is a major offender – every hour on the hour on radio, 24 hours on tv and you can now get updates sent to your mobile phone every 15 minutes ( says Hugh ) Now add satellite coverage and the independents!!! There is not enough news to fill all the reporting space available and thus every disaster,catastrophe or juicy murder is drenched with presenters and specialist commentators eg the sunami ‘story’,the Soham murders ‘story’ the Madeline McCann ‘story’and now,the SE100 index ‘story’.Good job they all missed the Dunkerque and D-Day ‘stories.’

Posted by david gordon | Report as abusive

Its not quite as simple as that. In my opinion, the government are using the BBC as their mouthpiece, and the spin is being channeled almost undiluted.

At the points where it suits government to have us scared, or grateful, or optimistic, or cautious, this is exactly what is fed to us by the compliant BBC.

Any state broadcaster would behave in the same way, and that is what we must expect. For “real” news, unspun and comprehensive, the more intelligent go elsewhere…

Posted by Mark Underwood | Report as abusive

Yeas great journalism unless you are out of pocket because of the leaks. The real issue is not the journalist but the source. I wouls suggest Peston has been used as a tool by the government. As a puppet for labours spin he has certainly cost me a large amount of money. The “insider trading” issue is important as it may show city traders, not the most honest of bunches, have more integrity than this government. I hope the Conservatives pursue this issue and the serious fraud office as it should lead back to the very top of this government.

Posted by rob | Report as abusive