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FactCheck Britain

Tim Gratz

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John and I agreed (!!) on a rather good chronology of the Wilson/Plame matter put out by an organization called Factcheck.org, an organization funded by the Annenberg Foundation. I just found out about the organization last night.

For the benefit of British members, here is a quote from that organization about its British counterpart.

You will like this quote: "US readers will find English is written a little differently in Britain. . ." Yeah, those English can really butcher the English language!!


For those who just can't get enough political hogwash in the US, we recommend a look at a brand-new website that is fact-checking the 2005 British elections – and doing it in the same spirit as FactCheck.org.

The new Channel 4 FactCheck is a project of Channel 4, a commercial broadcasting operation serving the United Kingdom. They are responsible for its content, and we have no formal connection with them. But so far we've found their new website to be lively, informative, and willing to take on Tories and Labour equally.

US readers will find English is written a little differently in Britain, but the ways that politicians distort the facts will be familiar enough.

When a Conservative politician claimed that Tony Blair's government had "added about a quarter of a million extra bureaucratic posts in this country," for example, Channel 4 FactCheck pointed out that these "aren't just Whitehall pen-pushers." The Tory definition of "bureaucrat" apparently incudes school nurses, school librarians and school computer technicians.

Another article said a Labour minister had been "caught out" making a false claim about the opposition, necessitating a "climbdown" when the claim was withdrawn. And when Labour advertised that "The Tories will cut £35bn from public services," the Channel 4 FactCheck noted that the "cut" was really "just a smaller increase." Both parties plan to increase spending, but Labour plans to increase it more. Sound familiar?

One thing you won't find: critiques of political TV ads. They are outlawed in Britain.

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One thing you won't find: critiques of political TV ads. They are outlawed in Britain.

Obviously not a very good fact checker. Political advertising is not illegal in the UK. There are restrictions concerning TV advertising but political parties have freedom to advertise in other places.

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We get bombarded by political parties' ads on TV in the run-up to an election - and ads in every other conceivable form.

From what I have seen on US TV, I would say that criticism of our politicians on TV in the UK is much more savage than in the US, and the satire can be quite merciless. There's a long tradition of merciless political satire in the UK, dating back to "That Was The Week That Was" in the 1960s. Prior to that criticism and satire were much more subdued. Other shows include "Spitting Image" and, more recently "Bremner, Bird and Fortune". The recent programme "A Very Social Secretary", focusing on David Blunkett's affair, probably would not have been screened in the US it it had been about an American politician.

Sensitive issues such as the Northern Ireland situation are parodied in BBC Northern Ireland's "Give My Head Peace", which has not been screened much in Great Britain as the dialect and the allusions are incomprehensible to most people outside Northern Ireland:


Example: "Dis yous think I came up the Lagan in a bubble?" (My wife, who is from Belfast, had to explain this to me.)

OK, there are critics such as Michael Moore in the US, but I find his movies a bit of a patchwork and they lack the satirical bite that we expect in the UK.

More gentle UK satire includes "Yes, Minister" - which appears to go down well in the US (I have several friends in the US and Canada who love it).

As for our interviewers, they make Larry King look like a pussy cat. Jeremy Paxman has given rise to a new verb "to Paxo", as in "Blair was Paxo'd last week", i.e. given a bad time by Jeremy Paxman in a TV interview. John Humphrys is a tough interviewer too.

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