An expert opinion 

10 November 2008

Media exacerbated house-price myths, says BBC’s Robert Peston

The subject of whether or not the media recklessly promoted the concepts of property renovation for profit as well as the surge in buy-to-let activity that was assisted by cheap mortgages has been touched upon before in the MediaBlog, but there’s another factor to consider as well.

Most notably it’s the modern tendency of television and radio news bulletins to interview on-screen so-called ‘experts’ for advice on everything from the state of the railways to which credit card offers the best value for money, but perhaps when it comes to certain issues the ‘expert’ view is sometimes only marginally better than the average man in the street.

This is particularly the case when it comes to financial matters and predicting the future in relation to property prices, when various representatives from banks and estate agents were telling the public via supposedly credible news outlets that the property boom was set to continue for years to come, especially as they stood to directly profit from such activity.

It’s this reliance on easy soundbites from these ‘professionals’ that perhaps convinced many people that the only future direction for property prices was upwards, since we were also being told that a steady flow of immigration coupled with a housing shortage would definitely keep UK property prices from collapsing like what they were starting to do in America.

This lack of knowledge amongst journalists outside of the advice being fed to them by these ‘experts’ helped to create the consensus amongst media outlets that Robert Peston mentioned in his speech, and in turn helped to perpetuate the myth that property prices would continue on an upward trend and cheap credit would be around for years to come.

And as a direct consequence, few people seemed fit to publicly consider the possibility of those cheap mortgage offers being abruptly withdrawn or the prospect of some of those immigrants leaving the UK if they lost their job or couldn’t afford to rent or buy a property.

Ironically in these times of economic uncertainty, the related reporting activity now seems to centre around specific individuals such as the BBC’s Robert Peston, presumably because much of the media (and the public) had been betrayed by a succession of ‘experts’ hence they’re now relying on the one or two people that actually know something.

Maybe if media organisations had concentrated on retaining highly paid senior researchers as opposed to employing inexperienced juniors as a cost-cutting measure, certain news and current affairs outlets would have relied less on people with a vested interest in reporting one state of affairs as opposed to providing a truly balanced opinion.