BBC Coverage of the British Barrister Strike: Shambolic or Servantile?

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Today the BBC news twice regurgitated obviously disingenuous government statistics on the criminal barristers strike without comment or context. Moreover, upon inspection these “mistakes” seem difficult to reconcile with either neutrality or journalistic integrity.

“The government says that at around 2billion per year the UK has one of the highest legal aid bills in the world” ran the BBC 6 o’clock news today solemnly.

Of course it bloody does does! The UK is one of the biggest economies in the world, it would be a miracle if it wasn’t near the top of the list for total legal fees. Without a direct comparison to a similarly wealthy countries’ costs, specifically average salaries or the average cost of prosecuting similar cases, the statistic is meaningless except in its propaganda value. The journalists that work on the BBC news must surely know this.

Moreover, when the BBC finally gave figures pertaining to the yearly rate, they once again failed in the government’s favour. The 7am news cited the barristers average income at £36,000 and then the government spokesperson gave a figure of £86,000. That is a gap of £50,000, yet this difference was left unexplained and unexamined. But the £86k figure ultimately stood uncontested because the government spokesperson was the only interviewee, no spokesperson for the barrister was (I think it is fair to presume) invited.

Later, on the 6pm news the government cited a figure of 1,200 barristers making 100k from legal fees, and contrasted it with the barristers argument that 50% of barristers earn 27k or less. Again the BBC offers no context and analysis of these figures. Leaving it up to the viewer to make sense of the government’s smokes and mirrors.

The obvious question that figure begs is: What proportion of the total number of barristers does 1,200 constitute? Turns out the answer is 10%, which incidentally is almost exactly the number who are QCs (the highest rank of criminal barrister), a group that usually double or triple the rest. It is not difficult to see that the government has cherry picked the highest paid to slander the rest. Thus the government’s statistic is extremely misleading and its logic obviously faulty: it is basically analogous to claiming that because bosses earn a lot of money, all workers deserve a pay cut. 1 minute on Google to find this out, why couldn’t the BBC do it?

Now, I think it is a fair assumption that most people working at the BBC are a) smart b) qualified and c) experienced journalists. Is it it possible to strike this reporting down to incompetence? Is refusing to  contest misinformation what we call balance? Or is it a systematic and calculated lack of analysis? I think there is only one answer.

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Note: I am an Englishman and a teacher, living in Norway, I have no affiliation to the striking barristers. Nonetheless I would be lying if I did not have an agenda: I believe that showing solidarity with  all those employed by the state when they are being scapegoated by the Tories is essential if we are going to be able to maintain decent living standards in the UK.

To read more about the Barristers strike visit here. To show support for the strikers and get involved visit their Facebook page here.

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About Paul Beaumont

Occasional journalist, part-time socialist & full time International Relations PhD student. Available for hire - but never in the morning. Academia page: https://umb.academia.edu/PaulBeaumont
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2 Responses to BBC Coverage of the British Barrister Strike: Shambolic or Servantile?

  1. Lorraine Mustard says:

    Thank you for applying that rare commodity good ‘old-fashioned’ common sense and of course fairness. Your blog hits the nail on the head – I am a criminal barrister earning money from legal aid, I am also a tax payer. I have never received a taxable income of £100k and I am never likely to. My first years taxable income was less than £8k and 10 years later it was less than £39k. Let’s not fool ourselves though there is no way another government will reverse the damage, this is about government full stop. In my personal opinion it matters not which party they are affiliated to. Politicians have long been immune to the reality of the connection between government and its citizens. Incidentally my taxable income is on a par with a band 6 nurse, they at the very least may have a pay freeze to ‘look forward to’, by the time these cuts go through we will be earning much less. The country would be up in arms if much valued nurse were having to suffer close to 20% cuts yet publicly funded criminal barristers are held in such contempt. Please forgive any spelling errors there might be, they could be the fault of my touch screen phone or my comprehensive education…

  2. rob says:

    Keep ’em coming Paul, though cast a quick glance over it for spelling errors before you post it, eh? (^-^)v

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