A comprehensive statistical training programme, more detailed editorial guidelines around the use of statistics and increased links with the statistics community would significantly strengthen the BBC's statistics reporting, according to the RSS.
These recommendations were made in a response to an independent review commissioned by the BBC Trust (PDF), which is looking at whether the BBC's news and current affairs programming reports statistics impartially. The review is being led by the former national statistician Dame Jil Matheson.
The RSS noted the Corporation's 'serious approach in its reporting of statistics’ and its ‘potential to be a world leader in providing accurate and impartial reporting of statistics alongside accessible critical analysis’. The Society also commended the Radio 4 programme 'More or Less' - one of the few programmes that takes an in depth look at statistics.
However, the RSS called for editorial guidelines to be strengthened to ensure, for example, that sources of figures are always reported. Guidelines should also stress the importance of stating margins of error, the RSS says, 'so that the public can have confidence in the statistical information being presented to them.' The RSS response also suggests that the BBC should publish the full results of surveys it commissions, since these surveys are publicly funded. 'The BBC should facilitate access to the data as part of its role,' it says, adding that this would not be arduous to implement.
The RSS would also like to see Corporation's correction process – which can take up to two weeks – sped up so that corrections are ideally dealt with on the day they are received. It recommends fostering a dialogue between the BBC and the statistics community so that clarifications and corrections could be passed on more easily.
While the BBC does offer stats training to its journalists, the RSS calls for 'a more comprehensive, consistent in-house training programme' to be developed for all of its journalists.
The review is the seventh in a series of impartiality reviews carried out for the Trust; previous reviews have looked at the BBC’s of coverage of topics such as business and science. This particular review is expected to be published in summer 2016.
Here is the RSS consultation response in full (PDF).