Artillery Row

How neutral is “Full Fact”?

Sometimes it’s hard to get anyone right

Full Fact is the UK’s independent fact checking organisation, or at least, that’s what it says when you go to their website. The team who frequently appear on Radio 4 and TalkRADIO are looking for a new editor  who will be paid a starting salary between £50,000 and £65,000. This is far more than most journalists make so it’s not unreasonable to ask how this self-appointed truth-teller receives its funding.

Full Fact’s website reports that they were paid £1.1 million by Facebook and £206,500 by Google in 2019, plus a monthly payment of £7,300 worth of free advertising by the search giant. The funding by big-tech in 2019 makes up roughly 70% of their declared funding for the year. The editorial team say donations or payments for their services, which include automated fact-checking for Google, in no way compromise their editorial impartiality.

In fairness to the organisation, they say it is ultimately “for their audience to judge for themselves whether we succeed”. Alongside results on Google news, there is a separate panel called “Fact Check” with articles often exclusively provided by the charity.  Of course, their special status means they don’t have to rely on subscribers or turn around articles very quickly but it’s potentially insulting for newspaper journalists to see their copy appear alongside, quote unquote, the truth.

It’s also hard not to see the danger in a group whose only USP is that they are never wrong being promoted so heavily by Google. It’s especially worrying when Full Fact seem to include errors on their own website. The organisation claims to have a board of trustees with “members from the three main UK-wide political parties”. There is a Labour Peer (Baroness Janet Royall), a Lib-Dem peer, (Lord John Sharkey) but their former Conservative Party member, Lord Richard Inglewood no longer sits as a Tory. When I asked Full Fact who their Conservative member was they pointed out that one of their trustees donates to the Conservative Party and that they have “representatives of different political parties” on their board. This is different wording which allows for the fact that they don’t, or aren’t sure whether they have a Conservative Party member amongst them. I pointed out that a donor was different to a member, but I did not receive a reply and the text on their website was not corrected.

Perhaps none of this would matter if their day-to-day staff also included former Telegraph or Mail journalists, but the majority of the staff who are former reporters appear to have worked for either the BBC or the left-wing press. The current editor of Full Fact is an ex-Mirror and Buzzfeed reporter who used to work on the Mirror’s anti-Tory website aimed at young people called “UsvsTh3m”, which often featured online games attacking the Conservatives.

Full Fact is a charity with a small output of research compared to its size, funded primarily by big-tech and staffed to a large extent by former public sector workers or ex-reporters from left-wing media. There is no problem with any of this, but broadcasters should be wary of treating the nation’s self-appointed “independent fact checker” as an entirely unbiased source. It’s an odd state of affairs when an organisation could escape scrutiny merely by changing its name. Full Fact itself complained to Twitter when the Conservative Party tried this trick during an election debate. Are we letting them pull off the exact same grift?

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