BBC journalists are being schooled in how to cover science.
The report found the BBC remains prone to “over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality” that resulted in the news service giving “undue attention to marginal opinion.” The author of the report, Steve Jones, emeritus professor of Genetics at University College London, cited the existence of manmade climate change as an example.
Since the review began in 2010, nearly 200 BBC senior staff were sent to workshops to learn what it means to cover science impartially. “The key point the workshops tried to impart is that impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views, which may result in a ‘false balance,’” the report said. “More crucially it depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given. In this respect, editorial decisions should be guided by where the scientific consensus might be found on any given topic, if it can in fact be determined.”
The Trust cautioned this does not mean critical opinion should be excluded: “The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices.”
Britain’s Parlaiment has also accused the BBC of misleading viewers about climate change by giving too much air time to unqualified sceptics. The BBC’s “Radio 4 Today” and “World at One” programs were singled out in a damning report published in April by Parlaiment’s science and technology select committee. “Given the high level of trust the public has in its coverage, it is disappointing that the BBC does not ensure all of its programmes and presenters reflect the actual state of climate science in its output,” committee chairman, Andrew Miller said in a statement at the time. “The Today programme and other BBC News teams continue to make mistakes in their coverage of climate science by giving opinions and scientific fact the same weight.”
The Telegraph noted: “The BBC’s determination to give a balanced view has seen it pit scientists arguing for climate change against far less qualified opponents such as Lord Lawson who heads a campaign group lobbying against the government’s climate change policies. Andrew Montford, who runs the Bishop Hill climate sceptic blog, former children’s television presenter Johnny Ball and Bob Carter, a retired Australian geologist, are among the other climate sceptics that have appeared on the BBC.”
Update: After the story was published, the BBC said in a statement that it “is committed to impartial and balanced coverage of climate change. Furthermore we accept that there is broad scientific agreement on the issue and reflect this accordingly. Across our programmes the number of scientists and academics who support the mainstream view far outweighs those who disagree with it. We do however on occasion offer space to dissenting voices where appropriate as part of the BBC’s overall commitment to impartiality.”