Shine A Light

What the BBC conceals on private prisons research

The national broadcaster fails to inform the public that ‘independent’ research urging more prison privatisation was funded by private prisons contractors.

Mel Kelly
21 February 2013

The BBC’s flagship Radio 4 Today Programme this morning featured fresh research by an organisation called “Reform”, purporting to show that private companies are better than the public sector at running prisons and should be allowed to run more of them. The story is running now on BBC News 24 under the headline: “Private firms better at running prisons - think tank.”

What’s astonishing is not the story itself, but what the BBC neglects to tell us: three private prison contractors are “Corporate Partners” of Reform.

G4S, Serco and Sodexo all donate to Reform, which the BBC tells us is a “centre right think tank” and which describes itself as an “independent, charitable, non-party think tank whose mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity.”

“Partners in reform”, G4S, Serco and Sodexo, already control 14 private prisons in England and Wales between them — and here they are, through Reform and the BBC, lobbying to control every last one.

In 2012 alone G4S donated £24,500 to Reform, Serco donated £7,500 and while Sodexo’s 2012 “donation” is not listed they are still listed as a current Corporate Partner.

Reform was set up in 2002 by Tory party rising stars Nick Herbert and Andrew Haldenby. Haldenby is a former head of the Political Section in the Conservative Research Department. Nick Herbert became a Conservative MP in 2005, was swiftly promoted to Shadow Minister for Police Reform and served as a junior minister at Justice and the Home Office from 2010 until September last year. Hedge fund managers Johan Christofferson and John Chatfeild-Roberts help pay his Parliamentary office expenses (according to the Register of Members Interests accessed here through They Work for You).

Parliamentarians are obliged to declare their financial interests yet our publicly funded national broadcaster frequently gives 'think tanks' air-time to promote privatisation while concealing their interests from the public.

At 7.30 this morning I called the BBC to complain about this troubling omission. I asked the BBC to correct its misleading reports and give the public the salient facts. There has been no change.

This case is not a one-off. Far from it. During the passage of the Health and Social Care Act the BBC repeatedly invited Reform executives to discuss the legislation on-air, presenting them as disinterested experts, withholding from listeners and viewers their backers’ clear financial interests in private health provision. This was revealed on openDemocracy here.

Already Reform is trumpeting today’s media successes, exploiting the BBC’s lack of rigour, and boasting: “Danny Shaw, Home Affairs Correspondent for the BBC, called the report ‘thought-provoking’.”



“The Case for Private Prisons” by Will Tanner is published today by Reform PDF. The report’s hashtag is #PrivatePrisons.

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