Monday, November 15, 2004

The telling silence of the BBC

On 7 November, we carried a story on our Blog, highlighted by Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph concerning the introduction of new electrical "safety" regulations through an amendment to the Building Regulations which, as Booker reported, would add considerable cost and inconvenience to anyone wishing to have electrical works carried out in their houses.

What was going on, we reported, was a poorly understood and little-advertised procedure, known as the "new approach" to harmonisation. Through this procedure, first introduced in 1983 and then amended in 1998 by an extraordinarily opaque directive (98/34/EC) "laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations", the EU no longer has to issue harmonising laws.

Instead, it works through European standards bodies such as CEN and CENELEC, and once these standards bodies adopted a new standard, the relevant member state standards bodies are obliged to adopt it and, as necessary, the member state governments are obliged to implement them in nations laws – with no obvious EU fingerprints in evidence.

When The Daily Telegraph reported the story the next day, we invited readers to compare and contrast its treatment with that of Christopher Booker, where there was absolutely no mention of the EU link.

We remarked that one could never be sure whether omissions like this reflected the amateurism of the journalists involved, or whether more sinister forces were at play. Either way, the net effect is that the hidden hand of the EU stays hidden and the people are thus less informed than they have a right to be.

Incidentally, The Daily Telegraph have again covered the story today, and once again there is no mention of the EU link, and again one is not sure whether amateurism or something more sinister is at play.

However, the story was also covered today by the BBC's "You and Yours" consumer programme on Radio 4, and here there can be no doubt. The story was clearly informed by Booker's Sunday Telegraph story and we have it on unimpeachable authority that BBC researchers were fully briefed on the EU links.

But did the programme's Sue Barclay mention the EU? Did she hell. Instead, she had Stewart Burchell from the Electrical Contractors Association, a beneficiary of the regulations – as a body which can charge to certify electricians – telling us that the rules were being brought in because "people are killed, fires are caused and people are injured on an annual basis…".

Then, instead of Christopher Booker, who broke the story upon which they relied, the BBC had Jeff Howell, strangely also a columnist with The Sunday Telegraph. Nevertheless, he told us that the rules were not the right way to regulate and would further complicate the issue. But he was not allowed to tell us why such a complicated, absurdly expensive scheme was being introduced, or why there was such urgency to get the rules into place.

At least in one thing, I suppose, the BBC is consistent. When it comes to giving us any information that might bring its beloved EU into disrepute, it is nowhere to be seen.

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