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ITV News garbles its fact checking

by Hugo Dixon | 13.04.2016

ITV News at Ten is running a series of spots supposedly “finding the facts” about the referendum. So far, it has produced one on the economy and another on Britain’s EU budget contribution. In both cases, it has garbled its journalism.

Allegra Stratton, ITV News’ National Editor, fronts the series. ITV News has been aided by a group of academics called The UK in a Changing Europe (UKCEU) and Full Fact, the fact-checking website.

After comparing rival claims from the Remain and Leave camps, Stratton explains that economists think Britain has benefited from its EU membership but that it might not always benefit in future. At this point, Stratton asks UKCEU’s director, Anand Menon, what he thinks. His answer is that some economists think the economy could shrink 1-3% and others say it might rise 1%.

The problem is that Menon is not talking about what would happen if Britain stays in the EU. He is talking about what happens if it quits. The ITV spot doubly misleads the viewer because it shows graphics on the dashboard labelled “economic costs and benefits of being in the EU”.

Budget tangle

In her second spot, on the budget, Stratton concludes: “The UK would get some money back from leaving the EU, maybe as much as £8 billion per year. On this, the Leave campaign is right.” Her conclusion is unsound.

The report does a good job of explaining that the UK never sends its rebate to Brussels and then correctly explains how both the British public and private sectors receive cash from the EU. But the rest of its argumentation is weak. In particular, it says the Remain Camp claims quitting the EU would save £5.29 billion. This is an odd figure on several counts.

First, the attribution for this figure is a Guardian article from November, where Sir Nicholas Soames, a pro-EU MP, reportedly cites Stronger In analysis which deducts the amount Switzerland pays the for Single Market access. This is roundabout sourcing. InFacts could not find the £5.29 billion figure on Stronger In’s website.

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What’s more, if ITV News wanted to mention a country, it would have been better to look at Norway, which has almost full access to the EU single market, than Switzerland, which doesn’t. Norwegians pay roughly the same amount per head as Brits do. After subtracting that, there would be no saving.

Finally, ITV News doesn’t consider how the UK’s fiscal position might be affected if Brexit caused years of economic disruption, as many experts including the International Monetary Fund believe it will. Any such disruption might more than wipe out the savings Stratton posits.

ITV News plans to do more ”finding the facts” spots this week. Tonight’s is on migration, tomorrow’s sovereignty and Friday’s security.

ITV News and Stratton didn’t respond to queries. Full Fact said: “The videos are, as they say, based on work UKCEU and Full Fact have done together but the actual content of the videos is down to ITV and the people they interview.”

Writing and research by Luke Lythgoe

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)