TV exam-rigging claim ruled unfair

13th June 1997 at 01:00
A Channel 4 documentary which claimed examination boards were secretly rigging GCSE results has been criticised by the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

In an adjudication printed in The Times and broadcast on Channel 4, the commission found allegations made by the Dispatches programme were unfair and "at best an exaggeration". A supposed reconstruction of a "secret" grading meeting between examiners was found to be implausibly sleazy.

Dispatches has rejected the complaint, standing by the programme and accusing the commission of making unwarranted judgments well beyond its brief.

In an edition broadcast 18 months ago, Dispatches claimed that competition between exam boards was encouraging them to attract more students by lowering their standards. This phenomenon, known as "grade inflation", has since been widely discussed by the media.

"The commission found that the programme had not been unfair in some of the ways alleged, such as its selection of statistical evidence," said the adjudication. "But they did find that the theme of the programme - deliberate and secretive grade rigging by exam boards - was at best an exaggeration and accordingly unfair.

"They found some unfairness in the programme's 'reconstruction' of an awarding meeting, which gave the impression of a secretive, if not sleazy gathering, which the commission found hard to believe could be typical of such a meeting. "

The complaint was brought by George Turnbull, public relations director at the Associated Examining Board. Mr Turnbull was angered by the way he was treated in the programme, as well as by its overall thrust.

"The commission found that the programme might well have left viewers with an unfair impression that the problems of grade inflation and consistency were linked specifically to his experience as an AEB examiner," said the adjudication.

"They also found some unfairness in the way the programme was edited so as to imply that Mr Turnbull had acknowledged that financial competition was built into the system."

A spokesman said that Dispatches had considerable evidence to back up its allegations but the BSC only looked at the material which was broadcast. "Channel 4 continues to stand by its programme," he said.

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