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BBC Finally Dumps “False Balance” in Climate Change Reporting

BBC Finally Dumps “False Balance” in Climate Change Reporting

The BBC has had some disappointing run-ins of late with climate change denial, but the folks in charge of this esteemed institution are making some changes.

Last April, the BBC came under fire from members of Parliament for being uncritical of climate change deniers and giving unqualified “experts” equal airtime as actual, qualified climate scientists. In February, Lord Lawson, a former chancellor and chair of the climate change denial think tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation, was given equal time with climatologist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins on a Today program debate. In addition, the BBC was criticized for giving climate change deniers too much weight when covering the latest UN report on climate change.

A report issued by the science and technology select committee stated that:

“Some editors appear to be particularly poor at determining the level of scientific expertise of contributors in debates, putting up lobbyists against top scientists as though their arguments on the science carry equal weight … Lobbying groups and other interested parties should be heard on the issue, [but] the BBC should be clear on the role of its interviewees and should not treat lobbying groups as disinterested experts.”

Dear BBC editors, you are terrible at your job. Be better. Love, Parliament. Ouch.

That’ll certainly bruise an ego, but the BBC didn’t crouch in a defensive position. Last week the BBC Trust published their own report and determined that, yes, they were giving too much deference to climate change denial and no, they aren’t going to anymore.

Or, as the Telegraph put it: “BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views.’”

The Trust’s report was meant to determine whether the BBC’s science reporting was remaining neutral on critical issues. However, it found that, when it comes to science reporting, more opinions doesn’t necessarily equal quality journalism:

The BBC Trust’s report was designed to assess the network’s impartiality in science coverage, in other words, whether it is staying neutral on critical issues. In order to be neutral when covering science, however, the BBC noted it needs to avoid “false balance,” a fallacy that occurs when two sides of an argument are assumed to have equal value.

“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given,” the report said.

This doesn’t mean that climate change denial will be completely excluded from reporting. The report also emphasized that science should still be scrutinized, but that journalists need to weigh the scientific evidence so their audience comes away with an accurate picture.

False balance is something that U.S. news outlets are very familiar with. In a 2013 report, Media Matters found that half of print outlets used false balance in their reporting of man-made climate change, and CBS gave climate change doubters six times the representation they have in the scientific community.

However, at least some print publications are coming around, albeit slowly. The Los Angeles Times has a policy against running letters to the editor that deny the existence of human-caused climate change. Other newspapers won’t allow letters that are factually inaccurate. NPR has made a serious attempt to avoid this pitfall as well (although PBS could use a lesson in avoiding false balance).

It is clear, though, that we have a long way to go. The climate is changing whether we know about it or not, but at least some news outlets are trying to give it to us straight.

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Photo Credit: Dan Tayler via Flickr

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2:19AM PST on Jan 22, 2015

Live long and prosper!

8:13PM PDT on Jul 16, 2014


4:46AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

About 12 years late! This issue, and the way the BBC covers the conflict in Palestine, was why I stopped reading them back in college.

3:16PM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

Nice that Parliament found the reporting problematic

12:27PM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

Alan l.,
The problem is that both the debiers and alarmists are making claims for political reasons. So few actually listen to what the scientists are saying, and far too many distort their findings for personal reasons.

11:18AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

It makes sense to keep a "balance" only if the other side has a truthful scientific basis. Climate deniers are simply doing what they're doing for political reasons. Either as evil manipulators or the manipulated sheep.

9:17AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

Fight climate change for the cost of a cup of coffee - stop 1000 tons of CO2 emissions by saving acres of rainforest for just a few dollars:

8:19AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

I am not here to waste one-sec. & one-posted comment on the imaginary debate if Earth’s Global Warming & Other Environmental Problems exist!!!!!!

THE USA FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MUST as soon as possible force all The USA's Corporation’s Capitalist First & Foremost media outlets* to do what they say they are & present & fairly & equal time present at least both sides of everything they broadcast!!!!! Example- Fox says their Fox News calls themselves News, when in fact the channel, let alone the Fox News programs, is really just Politically Right-Extreme Right Opinionated Channel!!!!!

*- Notice I am not saying For Profit or Non-Profit or Public Media; because sadly, with The USA's Corporation’s Capitalist First & Foremost CEOs' & Broad’s' non-profit funds funding Non-Profit or Public Media really are little different than For Profit Media

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8:10AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014


8:09AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

I am not here to waste one-sec. & one-posted comment on the imaginary debate if Earth’s Global Warming & Other Environmental Problems exist!!!!!!

I am so glad at least one Capitalist First & Foremost media outlet, it just sucks & HUGE STATEMENT OF HOW CAPITALISM & CAPITALIST WELAFARE BABIES ( INTERNATIONAL CORPORATIONS & THEIR CEOS & BROADS) CONTROLLED The USA is that it is not a The USA Corporation’s Capitalist First & Foremost media outlet!!!!!

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