A reader has shared with us the complaint he submitted yesterday to the BBC about the way in which Radio 4 presented the news that Britain’s Covid death toll has reached 150,000 – a figure which is also on the front of most of today’s papers. I think his irritation is one which a lot of Daily Sceptic readers will share.
The 1800 News on Radio 4, Saturday January 8th 2022 began with this headline:
“More than 150,000 people now have died of Covid in the UK since the start of the pandemic two years ago.”
This clearly stated that the deaths of 150,000 people had been as a result of contracting Covid. This is at best misleading, at worst a falsehood. The truth is stated on the BBC website, which said, correctly, “More than 150,000 people in the UK have now died within 28 days of a positive Covid test since the pandemic began.”
This isn’t a question of semantics. It’s a really important point and a crucial distinction between accurate news reporting and ‘number theatre’ (as Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter calls it). I can include two of my neighbours who died ‘with Covid’ and went down in the Covid total, even though one in fact died from the leukaemia that had kept him in hospital (where he caught Covid) for two years as he deteriorated, and another from liver cancer, also catching asymptomatic Covid in hospital.
On the 1800 News the Health Correspondent Katherine da Costa made no attempt to contextualise the figure of 150,000 in terms of annual normal deaths in the UK (this might in fact have strengthened her piece), interviewed a family member of a victim without clarifying the actual cause of death, and ignored the much larger number of people who have died of other causes.
Although Ms Da Costa did not repeat the inaccurate headline, she did not qualify her reference to the number of deaths by making it clear, as the news website did, that these were of people who had died within 28 days of testing positive. It was also quite evident that the interviewee had no framework of reference for the 150,000.
There is a stark contrast here with the coverage by Nick Triggle which always contextualises the figures and makes it clear what they actually are, without seeking to sensationalise as the inaccurate headline in the 1800 did.