Sensationalist toy story lacks accuracy and clarity

Published on: 3rd March 2015

The Independent has published a misleading scare story based on a toy safety report issued by the NMO. Managing editor John Baulch reports.

sensationalist-wordpressUntil yesterday, I would wager that few parents had heard of the government body calling itself the NMO – or National Measurement Office to give the organisation its full title. However, yesterday’s Independent featured an article that may have grabbed their attention, after it claimed that 40% of electronic toys sold in Britain fail toxin safety tests, citing a report produced by the NMO.

Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the toy market would immediately query such a statement – and after a few enquiries to toy industry bodies, the facts suggest they would be right to be sceptical. The article and its sensationalist, attention-grabbing headline tell – at very best – part of the story. More to the point, The Independent appears to be the latest in a long-line of media organisations to misinterpret basic facts presented in a report and to draw inappropriate conclusions without fully appreciating the provenance of the research.

The report on which the story is based set out with a simple premise: it was basically a risk assessment of where to buy toys, asking whether high-risk retailers have a propensity to sell potentially unsafe products. Somewhat inevitably, the research showed that the answer to this question was a resounding “yes.”

However, the Independent article goes a step further, implying that this is an industry-wide problem. Having seen the report and checked its methodology, the reality is rather different to this provocative suggestion.

First of all, only 15 products were tested. As a sample base, this is clearly negligible when compared to the millions of toy products on sale. Furthermore, it transpires that the toys which failed were specifically chosen from what the NMO describes as ‘high-risk sellers.’ In other words, it deliberately picked toys which it expected to fail: the exercise was, ultimately, a self-fulfilling prophesy. The products which had been obtained from reputable sellers all passed the tests. If all the products had been bought from reputable sources, the results would have been completely different.

If there is a valid angle to the story, it should be highlighting the importance of purchasing toys from reputable, trusted manufacturers and retailers, which very much echoes the advice of the BTHA and the TRA. But sadly this important message gets lost amidst the attempts to create a scare story, which doesn’t reflect well on The Independent, a paper which has hitherto not been associated with scaremongering and misrepresentation.

The BTHA has issued the following statement: “Members of the BTHA spend considerable time and expertise in making sure their toys are safe. This is the number one priority of members of the BTHA. The recent report by the NMO does not fairly represent that commitment by reputable manufacturers. The NMO report is based on testing just 15 toys, which cannot be taken as a representative sample of the entire toy industry particularly given that these toys seem to have been selected to test higher risk retail marketplaces.

“We support any measure that removes unsafe toys from the market and highlights these issues, however it is unhelpful when a report does not distinguish between the reputable and non-reputable parts of the industry. We always advise members of the public to buy toys from BTHA members and through retailers they trust.”


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