'Panorama' on single mothers 'misleading'

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PANORAMA, the BBC current affairs programme, has been criticised by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission for screening a flawed programme about single mothers, called Babies on Benefit, writes Maggie Brown.

The programme was screened last September at the height of the Government's attack on single mothers. Babies on Benefit was immediately seized upon by Conservative MPs as proof that young women were allegedly becoming pregnant to jump housing queues and gain extra state handouts. But the commission's adjudication says the programme was misleading and unfair. It had failed to distinguish between young single mothers and others such as divorced and deserted women. It was also irresponsible, by using unverified data from a new scheme in New Jersey that purported to show that capping hand- outs halved the birth rate among young, single women.

The BBC is still considering the text of an apology which the commission requires it to broadcast. The case, which has taken a year to conclude, is so sensitive that BBC lawyers are seeking advice about a judicial review.