It was difficult to miss the BBC’s latest charter review PR efforts on social media on August 25th.
Unfortunately, despite the claims in those Tweets, the link provided does not lead to the ‘full study’ but to a press release put out by the BBC which was also amplified in the Radio Times and through video.
In that press release we learn that:
“Nationally, seven in 10 households say that they are content to pay the current level of the licence fee or more in order to receive BBC services. This study mainly focused on the minority who say the licence fee is too high or, if it was down to them, they would forgo the BBC.”
However, it later emerges that over 31% of those who took part in the exercise (and no information is provided regarding how they were identified or recruited) were not among “the minority who say the licence fee is too high” at all.
“Of those taking part,
24 households originally said they would prefer to pay nothing and not receive the BBC;
24 households originally said that they would be willing to pay less than the current licence fee for the current BBC;
22 households originally said that they would be willing to pay the licence fee or more.” [emphasis added]
Notably, the BBC’s promotion of the results of this study focuses on specific messaging:
“Thirty-three out of the 48 households who originally said they would prefer to not pay at all and not receive the BBC, or who wanted to pay a lower licence fee, changed their minds and said they were now willing to pay the full licence fee for the BBC.
Twenty-one out of the 22 households who originally said that they were happy to pay the licence fee or more still held this view, and 15 of these households believed this even more strongly than at the beginning of the study.”
No graphics were promoted on BBC Twitter accounts quoting the 15 households who did not change their minds and the BBC’s press release reveals nothing about the household who originally supported the licence fee and apparently had a change of heart.
In 2013/14 there were 25,419,296 licences in force in the UK and trends would suggest that the number would have risen since then. If, as the BBC claims, 70% of households are content with the current arrangement, that places well over seven million households in the category termed “the minority who say the licence fee is too high”. The sample size of this BBC commissioned study is obviously therefore far too small to provide results with any statistical relevance.
It is once again unlikely that the people who paid for this study will be able to find out how much it cost. But if the BBC is keen to persuade its funding public that they are getting value for money, then surely a very basic step would be to avoid wasting resources on ‘studies’ which fail to meet the minimum standards of statistical credibility.