The BBC’s viewers and listeners could soon be hearing a lot less hot air from climate change skeptics, under new guidance warning of the risk of “false balance” in science reports.
The respected broadcaster has been told by the BBC Trust, an independent review body set up by the network to uphold standards, that news bulletins give too much weight to those on the fringes of science, to the detriment of the public’s better understanding.
The BBC Trust, in a report four years in the making, said that the network pays so much attention to the appearance of impartiality that many of its broadcasts end up with a “false balance” — giving equal time and attention to often discredited ideas. While the report did not focus solely on climate change, it used the issue as an example of the network taking an “overrigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality.”
The BBC is far from the only news organization to be criticized for misreporting or understating the science on climate change. Many broadcasters have devoted little time to the topic, while some organizations like Fox News have relied on panelists who often aren’t experts on climate change.
The science of man-made climate change has been well established. The vast majority of accredited experts on the topic believe global warming is real and influenced by human activity. The U.N. and President Barack Obama’s administration have also issued official positions in support of the notion that the climate is being altered by human-produced carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
But as governments and scientists issue reports on the dire consequences of climate change with increasing frequency and alarm, some sectors of the news media seems to remain cool to the topic.
The BBC Trust noted that while BBC journalists seem to be giving deniers equal weight with the good intention of remaining unbiased, in doing so they may be misleading the public about scientific consensus.
The trust recommends educating journalists so that they understand how scientific consensus building works and notes that 200 senior BBC staffers have already attended workshops on how to cover science.