Saturday 5 July 2014

BBC Apologises: To those who think it is biased towards 'climate sceptics'

Despite the National Audit Office's denunciation of the BBC for hiding behind commercial secrecy to withhold embarrassing evidence, the BBC does publish the findings of the BBC's Trusts Editorial Standards Committee on its well-hidden Corrections and Clarifications page

The latest batch of Editorial Standards Committee findings (released on 1 July) covers April and May this year, and is typical of these publications. Regular readers of them - and  there are three of us in total (me, Alan at B-BBC and Hadar at BBC Watch) - will know that they contain two catchphrases:
Finding: Not upheld
The Committee therefore decided that this appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration. 
...and that those catchphrases are used with a regularity and relentlessness that would make Sir Bruce Forsyth blush. 

Oddly though, this month's batch continues that rare thing, a Lesser-Spotted Finding: Part Upheld no less. (It's nowhere near as rare a species at the Almost-Never-Spotted Finding: Fully Upheld, of course - a species not even Bill Oddie has ever seen).   

So what complaint did the BBC "part uphold"? 

Well, it concerned The World at One back on 27 September 2013 and a complaint that 
...the programme had presented the conclusions of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as if they were controversial, which, he said, they were not. The complainant said that by offering equal prominence to Dr Robert Carter (who was not “a reputable climate scientist”) and one of the authors of the report, Peter Stott, too much credence was given to marginal opinion.
Being the BBC, even most of this complaint was "not upheld": 
Point (A) The programme presented the conclusions of the IPCC as if they were controversial, which they were not.
Point (A) Finding: Not upheld
Point (B) By giving Dr Carter equal prominence with Peter Stott, one of the authors of the report, the programme had created “a false balance”.
Point (B) Finding: Not upheld
Point (C) There were reputable climate scientists who were able to present a nuanced difference of opinion on the impacts and speed of climate change rather than the "strongly contrarian view” of Dr Carter.
Point (C) Finding: not upheld 
Point (D) The presenter should have challenged Dr Carter more strongly on the financial support he received from the Heartland Institute and on its funding.
Point (D) Finding: Upheld 
Finding: Part Upheld
Next month's batch of findings will include a further "Upheld" (of some kind) as regards a second complaint on a similar theme - another successful (or partly successful) complaint from a critic of 'climate sceptics' like Bob Carter and Lord Lawson. Ian Burrell of The Independent claimed an "EXCLUSIVE" on Thursday. (I'm not sure why Ian Burrell is claiming this as an exclusive as Hugo Muir of the Guardian broke it on 25 June and we reported it here at Is the BBC biased? back on 28 June):
Exclusive: Today Programme criticised for giving platform to climate sceptic Lord Lawson
Lord Lawson was given undue prominence, BBC complaints unit rules
IAN BURRELL  Author Biography  MEDIA EDITOR  Thursday 03 July 2014
A complaint has been upheld against the news programme over a February edition in which Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, appeared alongside the respected scientist Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, London.
During the programme Lord Lawson, the founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), repeatedly argued that “nobody knows” about the extent of climate change and that 2013 was “unusually quiet” for tropical storms. The debate provoked a flurry of complaints to the BBC, including one from Chit Chong, a low-energy expert based in Dorset, which has been upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.
In an apology to Mr Chong over his complaint about the Lord Lawson debate, the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit Fraser Steel said “minority opinions and sceptical views should not be treated as if it were on an equal footing with the scientific consensus”.
He went on: “As you have pointed out, Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research and I don’t believe this was made sufficiently clear to the audience.”
Mr Steel said listeners had not been properly informed that Lord Lawson had a minority view. “I do not believe it was made sufficiently clear that Lord Lawson’s views on climate change are not supported by the majority of climate scientists, and should not be regarded as carrying equal weight to those of experts such as Sir Brian Hoskins.”
It's quite a week for this kind of thing from the BBC then. Alan at Biased BBC has highlighted the BBC Trust's Conclusions on the Executive Report on Science impartiality Review Actions - the Trust's 'progress report' on how the corporation has responded to the findings on the 'impartiality review' conducted by Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, back in 2012. 

I think Alan is being rather unfair when he says, "Now Professor Steve Jones is far from independent being an ardent climate change fanatic who owes his living to the BBC and so is unlikely to be impartial", as Steve Jones surely owes most of his living to his university work and the success of his wonderful books (highly successful works of popular science which - as you may have gathered - I enjoyed reading), though his work for the media (Telegraph, BBC, etc) may well have added a bit to those funds too. 

Still, Alan's essential point - that the BBC accepted Prof Jones' complaints about the way (as he saw it) that the BBC gave too much airtime to 'climate sceptics' with an uncharacteristic lack of demur - stands (not that this update report actually adds anything much to what the BBC Trust said back in 2012.) It shows that it's criticism they are more than willing to take on the chin - which is very unusual for the BBC.

Whether you think this is a good or a bad thing on the BBC's part probably depends on where you stand on the highly polarised 'climate change' debate. Some will see this as the BBC coming to its senses about climate 'flat-earthers', others as the BBC Trust confirming its 'alarmist' bias and its unfitness for purpose. 

And me? Where do I stand? Well, I don't 'stand' anywhere. I 'sit'. Firmly. On a fence. Refusing to come off, until I see fit. 

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