Saturday 19 January 2013

What's Wrong with the BBC's Disability Coverage?

Since the ConDems formed their coalition and thus the Government of the UK some two-and-a-half years ago, disabled and chronically sick folk have been living in abject fear as one policy after another is enacted and rolled out. (I personally have had to start taking anti-anxiety medication again.) Each successive action takes a little more independence and/or a little more care and/or a little more support away from us - actually a lot more. Before the ConDems started their 'welfare reform programme', the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) statistics confirm that we were more likely to be living in poverty than healthy or non-impaired individuals. There are some eleven million Brits with a disability (the latter figure from the ODI) or approximately one in eight of the population. That's a heck of a lot of individuals being negatively effected.

Report after report demonstrates the damage being done. These reports are often from respected organisations, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, MIND, The Centre for Welfare Reform; but also from activists (often the tongue-in-cheek named bedtivists!) like WeAreSpartacus. Despite all this information and lobbying; despite facebook timelines, twitterfeeds and other social media outlets filling with the voices of disabled/chronically sick folk crying out, pleading, begging; despite both national and local press covering stories of deprivation, death, even of suicides (inter alia see for example Calum's List) directly related to ConDem actions; despite all this, the BBC News has failed to cover the issues regularly, except to permit the 'propaganda' of the approved government line of benefit fraudsters (disability benefit fraud is less than 1% of total disability benefits and is massively dwarfed by the billions lost in tax avoidance and evasion), scroungers and skivers. The exception being one Panorama programme.

This week there was a parliamentary debate to discuss ATOS, the French IT company, that assesses the sick/disabled benefit recipients to determine whether such folk are 'fit for work'. The debate was opened by Michael Meacher who was followed by twenty-six MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Green, SNP and even Conservative party members who all echoed the hundreds of deaths, the catalogues of thousands of folk who have been incorrectly assessed and some absolute horror stories. The only voice that unconditionally supported the minister was a vice chair of the Tory party. Even the latter noted their was "universal condemnation" of ATOS in the House of Commons (column 1063 of Hansard). [For non-UK readers, Hansard is the official record of the UK Parliament.]

Despite this non-partisan, near unanimity; despite the details of mistreatment, statistics on deaths from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP); despite social media being filled with comments on the proceedings (on twitter read the #esaSOS or #ATOSdebate feeds); despite The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Express, The Star, the Morning Star, The Week and the London Evening Standard all covering the deaths; despite all this, once again, BBC News failed to cover the story on the BBC News channel, the BBC's television news bulletins nor on their website.

At this point one has to ask why such a debate with obvious newsworthiness and of interest to many of the 11,000,000 disabled Brits and their carers was not covered by the BBC. The BBC is supposedly impartial: but surely it is showing partiality in favour of the government's viewpoints by failing to report.

Yesterday, I tweeted about this to the BBC Trust (@bbctrust on twitter, but just insert bbctrust with no hashtag to see the comments submitted) and asked others to do likewise, and dozens did just that. So far no response - but it was a snowy day, perhaps the relevant employees did not make it into the office. Should a reply be forthcoming, I shall of course post an update.

However, one has to ask why should the BBC fail to report on stories. It occurs to me that there are several possibilities: not knowing; negligence; wilfulness; under orders; squeamishness. The Beeb cannot say they do not know because many of us tweet and email information to the organisation. Negligence might be conceivable if it were just once or twice, but not very likely for two-and-a-half years. Wilfuness: is the BBC really so determined to quash disabled voices and, if so, why? Could it be that Aunty has been told that they cannot broadcast non-approved viewpoints. If this is the case, who or what is giving such orders? Yesterday a fellow twitterer suggested that the BBC is just squeamish about disability issues. However, given their unwillingness to cover the Paralympics such a perspective seems a distinct possibility.

Many disabled and chronically sick folk no longer trust the British Broadcasting Corporation to represent us or our standpoints fairly. We have switched to alternative sources of information and news. In the long term the exclusion of voices will necessarily militate against the justification for the licence-fee. Indeed, it has even been suggested that all disabled/chronically sick licence-fee payers should refuse to do so in future.

The BBC is supposed to have a public-service and an educational remit. Such obviously extends to the sick and disabled viewers and their families and carers. It's time the BBC became accountable to the public who pay for its existence. It's time the Beeb put its house in order. The time is now.

[Image description: WOW codee for smart-phones.]

If you want to help the cause: please sign the WOWpetition which can be followed on facebook or twitter (@wowpetition & @wowpetitionchat) or join us on; additionally why not contact the BBC Trust at the link above and tell them what you think.

For update see: BBC Trust Refuses to Answer Complaints


  1. Thanks for alerting me to this post (via Twitter). I listen quite a lot to BBC radio, especially 5 Live, and hadn't noticed the bias you mention - I shall be more vigilant in future.

    What really bugs me, though, is that all the main political parties - Labour included - seem to be united against us. There may be unanimity among certain back benchers about the evils of ATOS - but there is unanimity of a different kind among their leaders. The coalition may be implementing the welfare reform programme but weren't ESA and the WCA initiated by Labour? And now Labour want to force those receiving ESA into work. You can see the scenario: you are genuinely ill but you fail the WCA (or are put in the work related activity group) so you end up on JSA. Next step is you are forced into work but you're too ill to do it so you lose your benefit altogether. Step 3: starve to death. And no party to vote for which doesn't buy in to this sort of treatment of the sick and disabled.

    1. I agree with much that you state. Labour has seriously let us down. Conservatives & Liberal Democrats are beyond redemption at this point. Greens are, however, supporting us. I am still awaiting a response from NHSParty, so cannot yet say where they stand.

      Nonetheless, the debate did demonstrate that there are MPs who will stand up for us from across the parties. I feel these ought to be praised and votes cast in their favour idc.

    2. CORRECTION: should be NHAParty!

  2. Excellent post.

    I am always on the look-out for information that will help me to understand what is going on with this terrible situation for disabled people in Britain. It's been a while since I've posted on my blog about it (thank you for linking to my blog, by the way) because I've wanted to be sure that I understand fully and have my facts straight, but I want to put something up soon.

    Know that people in other parts of the world are trying to raise awareness, and stay strong.

    1. Thank you for your support. I am one of the helpers at the WOWpetition: we are trying to turn our righteous anger and dismay into hope and positive action. %)

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  4. Please read Bernadette Meaden's blog article, in which she analyses one week's worth of BBC's fixed political coverage:

  5. CORRECTION: edited 3rd Feb to strike through comment re Paralympics as apparently incorrect.
    CORRECTION: edited 4th Feb to add SNP to list of MPs who debated.