Saturday 12 October 2019

The BBC's very first Chief Environment Correspondent

Justin Rowlatt

There were 'complaints from both sides' about the BBC's coverage of the Extinction Rebellion campaign on this week's Newswatch

One viewer demanded said there's far too much coverage, another said there's far too little. One viewer said that the BBC is failing to challenge the doom-mongerers, another said that the BBC is failing to bring the issue to the forefront on a daily basis.

I can well imagine that this fairly reflects the Newswatch postbag (though, as ever, I'd love to know the balance and whether campaign groups were involved in complaining).

These viewer criticisms were followed by an interview with the newly-promoted Justin Rowlatt.

He was previously a Newsnight reporter (you may remember him as their 'Ethical Man') and then the BBC's Dehli correspondent. Now he's the BBC's very first Chief Environment Correspondent.

(Yes, another new BBC role.)

He sounded very upbeat about his new job and talked a good talk. What do you make of it?

Here's a transcript:

Samira Ahmed: I asked him what he would be doing in the role which existing environment correspondents and analysts aren't already doing. 
Justin Rowlatt: I think the idea is that I'll complement what they do already, and do additional stuff. So we've got a great team - we've always had a great team in science and environment - and they cover all the big stories around the world. The idea is this is a huge and important issue, it's going to effect all of our lives, it's going to change the way we live, so let's have some more coverage really.  I think it's additional, adding to what we already do. 
Samira Ahmed: You were the BBC's Delhi correspondent for four years, and you broadcast about how the air pollution was affecting your family's health. I remember hearing that. How is that experience shaping the way you will do this job? 
Justin Rowlatt: I mean, that is a perfect example of how intimately connected we all are with our environment. In Delhi, you have this terrible problem of air pollution, actually all year round, but really acutely at this time of year. In the autumn, you get these terrible smogs. It effect all our lives. Anyone who lives in Dehli is terribly effected by it. So that really brings home the importance of reporting these issues, tracking down what's causing the problem and looking at solutions. 

Samira Ahmed: The BBC's position now seems to be that the scientific consensus lies with man-made climate change being a major threat. Does it mean, as some viewers are concerned, that there is no space anymore for people who disagree? 
Justin Rowlatt: There is a huge debate over climate change, not necessarily about the climate change science. I mean, the BBC's judgment is that the referee has spoken, is the word from within the BBC. The referee has spoken, the science is clear. There is an association between man's activities and climate change. But after that, there is a massive debate about how the effects will roll out in the world and what we do about them. So there is a huge, huge area still to discuss, it's very open, with massively varying opinions. Some people say, look, don't do anything, you know, we just need to adapt to the changes and move on, and other people say we've got to bear down on the emissions and tackle the problem at root. 
Samira AhmedWell, I want to ask about that. To the viewers who say, if it's as great a crisis as you seem to be saying, as many people seem to be saying, then these stories should be on much more, they should be on on a daily basis, I wonder where your hit rate of stories might fit into giving it the prominence it perhaps then should need? 
Justin RowlattI think if you look across the round, the BBC has for a long time been reporting climate change as a huge and important issue. We are reporting really regularly. I mean, it has been on the bulletins - the last couple of weeks have been an exceptionally busy time in enviroment. But, of course, we are...
Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) But would you like to see it everyday on bulletins? 
Justin Rowlatt: I'm not sure you need it every day. You should do it on merit, as with other news stories. You shouldn't be shoehorning in issues if they don't deserve it, up against the other important news stories that our teams report. 
Samira AhmedGreta Thunberg, who you were just about to mention there, some viewers say interviews with her essentially treat her like a saint, you don't challenge her analysis that we fundamentally need to change our lifestyles. Can you imagine anyone really challenging her and her views? 
Justin RowlattI met Greta before she sailed to America. We had the only proper sit-down interview with her. We met her on that amazing boat, which she sailed across the Atlantic on, and I did. I had a really tough interview with her, you know, really tough questions. I said what you're doing is meaningless if nobody else does anything. I said you're trying to make us feel guilty. Question after question. You talk about the problem you never talk about solutions. Surely, if you raise these issues, if the house is on fire, as she says, tell us how to douse the flames, tell us how to put it out. I asked all of that stuff, to the extent I produced a list of questions and showed it to my producer and he was like, 'Are you really going to ask her all of that stuff? Greta. Remember, she's child.' And I said, look, she's really, really well-versed in these issues and obviously I will ask her politely, but she can take this kind of questioning. And indeed she could. She was really good on all the issues. She had answers for everything. Soo we did a very forceful interview with her. 
Samira Ahmed: And I know you can take this kind of question because it's one that's thrown at environmental reporters and it can seem unfair, but will you be travelling a lot by plane and does it matter? 
Justin RowlattYes, I will, and yes, it does. I'll be travelling by plane not for leisure but for work and I think it's really important in my job as an environment correspondent that I do travel around the world and see how the world's changing and bring home to the audiences the BBC has around the world what those changes mean. So if you want to know, over the next couple of months I'm going to India, Ethiopia and to Antarctica, which means going to New Zealand. So huge journeys around the world, but I would say they're justified because we have to report this crucial subject, and if I do it all from the UK, it simply isn't going to have the impact that it would if I didn't. But should we all worry a bit about our aviation emissions? Yes, alongside everything else we do, we should be very concerned. Aviation is a huge source of growing emissions for the world, and we should be careful about the pollution we put into the atmosphere. 
Samira AhmedJustin Rowlatt, thank you so much. 
Justin Rowlatt: Cheers. Thank you.
Samira AhmedJustin Rowlatt speaking to me earlier. 


  1. "The idea is this is a huge and important issue, it's going to effect all of our lives, it's going to change the way we live, so let's have some more coverage really."

    Which would you say has affected our lives most to date over the last 40 years?

    1. Information technology.

    2. Mass immigration.

    3. The BBC.

    4. Climate change.

    I don't think it's the job of the BBC to promote this absurd climate alarmism,since it enables the Extinction Rebellion death cult. Nearly all countries on Earth can deal with sea level rises of a few centimetres over 80 years. I'm not even convinced there is a rise in sea level (when you look into the subject you'll find it involves interested parties using various formulae to decide what the sea level rise has been, even with satellite measurements). But if there has been, remember half of the Netherlands is below sea level and exports 17% of the world's food exports (incredible fact that's true). When it comes to carbon emissions, I think fossil fuels are on the way out. The final death knell will be development of a cheap form of storage which we are getting close to.

  2. The BBC message is a familiar one: "let us explain to you the issues. and let us tell you how you should live your lives".

    1. With the important caveat: "But don't expect us to follow the rules we say you must live by. We're jetting off to Rio next weekend. See you suckers."

  3. I'm with Justin's producer on this one: 'Are you really going to ask her all of that stuff? Greta. Remember, she's child.' Exactly. She's a child. So why are we asking her about all this stuff? That's the question that the Beeb (and others) should have been asking themselves way back when the whole Greta show began.

  4. How many reporters did the BBC send on transatlantic flights to America to cover 2016? 175.
    That is all you need to know.


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