BBC Issues New Guidance: “We’ve gotten Climate Coverage Wrong”

September 8, 2018

Above, James Hansen corrects BBC on bullshit climate news report from 2013.

Below, BBC issues new guidance cautioning against “false balance” on climate change reporting.

*Spoiler – Remarkably similar to the advice Al Gore was giving decades ago.

Guardian:

The BBC has accepted it gets coverage of climate change “wrong too often” and told staff: “You do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate.”

In a briefing note sent to all staff warning them to be aware of false balance, the corporation has offered a training course on how to report on global warming. The move follows a series of apologies and censures for failing to challenge climate sceptics during interviews, including Nigel Lawson.

The briefing note, obtained by the website Carbon Brief, was sent on Thursday by Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs. It includes a statement of BBC editorial policy that begins: “Climate change has been a difficult subject for the BBC, and we get coverage of it wrong too often.”

It then states: “Manmade climate change exists: If the science proves it we should report it.” In the section warning on false balance it says: “To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken.”

The Guardian revealed in October that the BBC had apologised for an interview with Lord Lawson on the Radio 4 Today programme after admitting it had breached its own editorial guidelines for allowing him to claim that global temperatures have not risen in the past decade. The regulator Ofcom subsequently ruled the BBC had breached broadcasting rules.

The Today programme was also censured by the BBC complaints unit for an interview with Lawson in February 2014 and has been criticised for failing to implement fully the findings of the BBC Trust’s 2011 review into the “accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science”.

The four-page briefing note sent by Unsworth starts with a blunt statement on the science: “Climate change IS happening.” It also covers the implications of global warming: “There is a general consensus that it could be devastating in many different ways.” It ends with “common misconceptions” used to deny manmade warming, including that “not all scientists think manmade climate change is real” and “climate change has happened before”.

The briefing note does not completely rule out including climate sceptics in BBC coverage: “There are occasions where contrarians and sceptics should be included. These may include, for instance, debating the speed and intensity of what will happen in the future, or what policies government should adopt.”

But it adds: “Journalists need to be aware of the guest’s viewpoint and how to challenge it effectively. As with all topics, we must make clear to the audience which organisation the speaker represents, potentially how that group is funded and whether they are speaking with authority from a scientific perspective.” Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation does not disclose its source of funding.

Carbon Brief:

This is the email sent by Fran Unsworth to BBC journalists yesterday:

Dear all

After a summer of heatwaves, floods and extreme weather, environment stories have become front of mind for our audiences. There are a number of important related news events in the coming months – including the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Green Great Britain Week in October – so there will be many more stories to cover. Younger audiences, in particular, have told us they’d like to see more journalism on the issue.

With this in mind, we are offering all editorial staff new training for reporting on climate change. The one hour course covers the latest science, policy, research, and misconceptions to challenge, giving you confidence to cover the topic accurately and knowledgeably.

Please book now by choosing a time from MyDevelopment (you’ll be prompted to login first), searching ‘reporting climate change’ on MyDevelopment, or emailing XXXXXX@bbc.co.uk to set up a tailored session for your team.

In the meantime, you can read the Climate Change for BBC News crib sheet, and the Analysis and Research website by searching ‘climate change’ which cover the basics.

I hope you find the training useful.

Fran

This is the document’s wording for the BBC’s “editorial policy” and “position” on climate change:

Editorial Policy

Climate change has been a difficult subject for the BBC, and we get coverage of it wrong too often. The climate science community is clear that humans have changed the climate, but specifically how is more difficult to evidence. For instance, there is very high confidence that there will be more extreme events – floods, droughts, heatwaves etc. – but attributing an individual event, such as the UK’s winter floods in 2013/2014, to climate change is much less certain.

We must also be careful to distinguish between the statements. For example: “Climate change makes this kind of event both more frequent and more severe,” and “Climate change caused this event”. The former uses previous scientific evidence to say ‘it is likely’ the event is the result of climate change, whereas the latter may be making an assertion without the proof to back it up.

What’s the BBC’s position?

  • Man-made climate change exists: If the science proves it we should report it. The BBC accepts that the best science on the issue is the IPCC’s position, set out above.
  • Be aware of ‘false balance’: As climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate. Although there are those who disagree with the IPCC’s position, very few of them now go so far as to deny that climate change is happening. To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken. However, the BBC does not exclude any shade of opinion from its output, and with appropriate challenge from a knowledgeable interviewer, there may be occasions to hear from a denier.
  • There are occasions where contrarians and sceptics should be included within climate change and sustainability debates. These may include, for instance, debating the speed and intensity of what will happen in the future, or what policies government should adopt. Again, journalists need to be aware of the guest’s viewpoint and how to challenge it effectively. As with all topics, we must make clear to the audience which organisation the speaker represents, potentially how that group is funded and whether they are speaking with authority from a scientific perspective – in short, making their affiliations and previously expressed opinions clear.

The document concludes with a list of “common misconceptions” produced by the Science Media Centre (SMC). The list appears to be an adapted update of a document (pdf) published by the SMC in 2012.

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4 Responses to “BBC Issues New Guidance: “We’ve gotten Climate Coverage Wrong””

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Better late than never. Thanks for the info!

  2. redskylite Says:

    I am absolutely amazed that this is still a headline in the year 2018. James Burke was outlining the problem (on BBC) at the end of the last century, The science (of the GHG effect) has been accepted for years in physics. Yet we are still dithering and news outlets still need coaching. What is wrong with the human being, when he cannot just accept facts. How much longer before we stop dithering and just take plain simple action. For gods sake enough is enough.

  3. al mar Says:

    In addition to Hansen and Burke’s warnings about climate change Aaron Sorkin warned us about the media: The thing that I worry about more is the media’s bias toward fairness. Nobody uses the word lie anymore. Suddenly, everything is ‘a difference of opinion.’ If the entire House Republican caucus were to walk onto the floor one day and say “The Earth is flat,” the headline on the New York Times the next day would read ‘Democrats and Republicans Can’t Agree on Shape of Earth.’ I don’t believe the truth always lies in the middle. I don’t believe there are two sides to every argument. I think the facts are the center. And watching the news abandon the facts in favor of “fairness” is what’s troubling to me.

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    False balance is a longstanding news problem.


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