Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The BBC getting it right on climate change reporting and comment

The coverage of science by the BBC continues to be a hotly debated issue. One of the key findings of the report which still resonates today is that there is at times an:

  “… ‘over-rigid’ (as Professor Jones described it) application of the Editorial Guidelines on impartiality in relation to science coverage, which fails to take into account what he regards as the ‘non-contentious’ nature of some stories and the need to avoid giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion’. Professor Jones cites … the existence of man-made climate change as [an] example of this point.”

This is a matter of training and ongoing shared editorial judgement. The Trust notes that seminars continue to take place and that nearly 200 senior staff have attended workshops which set out that impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views, but depends on the varying degree of prominence (due weight) such views should be given.

The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences. The Trust also would like to reiterate that, as it said in 2011, “This does not mean that critical opinion should be excluded. Nor does it mean that scientific research shouldn’t be properly scrutinised.” 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.

The BBC has developed excellence in science broadcasting, and generalists who may be unfamiliar with these areas and where the weight of scientific agreement may lie should make the most of the resources of the BBC – for example its Science Editor, the BBC’s science experts and the workshops and seminars discussed in the Executive report.
Judging the weight of scientific agreement correctly will mean that the BBC avoids the ‘false balance’ between fact and opinion identified by Professor Jones. The Trust welcomes the Executive’s decision to hold a further course this year for staff who may not have been in position at the time of the previous workshops and as a refresher on a complex area.

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