Matt Berkley <>

10 Jul


to barbara.plett


Dear Ms Plett, 


I am writing about the online article "UN urged to embrace 2030 goal on ending extreme poverty", of 30 May 2013.


I am sorry to say that there seem to me problems which amount to breaches of the editorial guidelines on due accuracy, when viewed either separately or in combination. 


I hope the BBC will agree that the matters reported on are major matters, and that that is especially true in light of the forthcoming negotiations on new global goals.  Currently the public has the opportunity to use information from the media to consider what policies and future goals should be, and inform policy-makers of those views, especially in the next two years.  It would be a shame if politicians and bureaucrats made mistakes on policies or goal setting in part because of the media.


I realise that much of the content mentioned below may not have originated from you personally.


The article seems to me likely to give a significant proportion of the audience misleading impressions through the following words:



1. "2015 deadline for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals".


The passage should refer to the intermediate targets rather than goals.  Many targets were designed to gauge progress towards the goals. The MDGs themselves are undated, whereas the targets tend to mention specific years:

The distinction is significant: in the case of MDG1, for example, the overall undated goal is far more ambitious than the dated hunger or income targets. Countries did not simply sign up to the targets, but to the more ambitious goals.


Similarly, "The MDGs sought to halve extreme poverty, defined as people earning less than $1.25 (83p) a day, but the panel called for a more ambitious goal over the following 15 years":


The difference in terms of ambition between the goals is not what the article may suggest, since the MDGs sought to eradicate, not halve, extreme poverty. MDG1 also includes a target on full employment.

The misleading impression is perhaps compounded by the words:


" others [ie other goals] on reducing poverty ....unlikely to be met";  "2015 deadline for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals".




2. " extreme poverty, defined as people earning..."


The figures are averages per person in households, irrespective of whether they are earning.  Perhaps more significantly as regards the difference between the data and the article's statement, some of the statistics are on spending or the researcher-imputed value of items consumed, not on income.


In fact most of the data are not on income, wtih the notable exceptions in Latin America.  Granted, official information often does not make this clear and may refer to "income".  But it would not be true to say that poverty is "defined" in the research (ie what the data actually are) as "earnings" or "income".  


Further information is at:


If people save their income during a period, it is not recorded as "consumption expediture".    




3. " $1.25 (83p) a day "




" one dollar and 25 cents a day" 


seem to give a misleading impression that the purchasing power of the poorest is much higher that it really is - in other words, (especially through the mention of a sterling equivalent at the market exchange rate), that the purchasing power is at market exchange rates.


The $1.25 is in "purchasing power parity" dollars (see Metadata link above).   The article should have made this clear, because the "PPP dollars" have a value equivalent to, in poorer countries, sometimes less than half real dollars.  While the World Bank has not compiled prices faced by the poor, the principle and the broad conclusion are uncontentious. The official ratios are here:




4. "The Millennium Development Goal for access to clean water has already been reached".


This conflates MDG 7, 


"Ensure environmental sustainability"

with target 7C,

"Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation"

and indicator 7.8:

Proportion of population using an improved drinking water source".


The error overstates progress both in terms of the number of goals met, and in terms of the evidence for the water being clean.   The research is on "improved", not "clean" water sources, as is evident from the website of the official monitors:




5. "[other goals] on reducing poverty....are unlikely to be met"


These words, in so far as they are intended to apply to the target on reducing poverty rather than somewhat misleadingly to the goal, appear to contradict the World Bank position - that the target (or "goal" as its staff sometimes state wrongly) has already been met:




6. "others....are unlikely to be met, with progress hampered by the global economic downturn and growing pressure from population increases."


It is not clear to me that the claim that "growing pressure from population increases" is hampering progress is well-sourced.




7. All three of the "related stories" to which links are provided twice, have factual errors.  

I recognise that the editorial guideline on links refers to links to non-BBC material.  However, in this case it seems to me that the errors in the linked material are of relevance to an assessment of whether due accuracy is achieved overall by the article of 30 May.  

The overall error is to conflate goals with targets and/or indicators, giving the public the impression that one or two of the eight Goals have been achieved rather than subsidiary targets or components of targets related to specific indicators.




"The millennium development goals, designed to be completed by 2015"..."The first of them - reducing poverty among some of the very poorest - has been achieved";




"UN meets Millennium Development Goal on drinking water" [see above];




in the video of which the correspondent says:


"it's easy to be cynical about the goals that have not been fulfilled... but some have [sic]"...."the poverty reduction goal [sic] has been met" [which is not true even of the goal's intermediate targets as a whole].


As you can see, the story of 30 May states "others on reducing poverty and improving access to education are unlikely to be met", whereas the story last mentioned above states "the poverty reduction goal has been met". 

All correspondence will need to be by email.

Yours sincerely,


Matt Berkley