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Report into BBC's science coverage likely to suggest corporation needs to avoid false balance on climate

  • 19 Jul 2011, 11:50
  • Christian
The main conclusions of a high-profile BBC Trust review of the BBC's science reporting, assessing its accuracy and impartiality, appear to suggest that the BBC is not biased in its coverage of science, and that the principle of impartiality does not compel the corporation to give attention to groups which make claims that are contrary to scientific consensus.

The headline messages of the report appear to have been leaked to the Daily Telegraph a day ahead of publication.  The Telegraph reports:

"In a long-awaited review of science output, published tomorrow, the BBC Trust will announce an overhaul of impartiality rules, compelling journalists and programme makers to give less attention to groups that make claims at odds with the scientific community's majority view."

"The report draws heavily on an independent review of the BBC's coverage by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London. Prof Jones is understood to have cleared the broadcaster of any suggestions of bias in its output. But his main recommendation is that for issues where there is a scientific consensus, such as the safety of genetically modified crops and the MMR jab, the corporation should not be compelled to give airtime to critics of the majority view."

To MMR and GM we might add 'climate science', although the Telegraph notably doesn't, instead opening the article: "the BBC should give less coverage to opponents of global warming than it gives to the climate change lobby". We'll wait and see if the report bears out this presentation.

If it suggests that the BBC is generally doing a good job of reporting science but needs to do a better job of explaining where broad scientific agreement exists and ensure that accuracy is paramount, as the Telegraph suggests, this seems like a good result for scientific reporting.

The Telegraph also notes a suggestion that more scientists should be featured on news and current affairs programmes, and this is welcome. While the exception rather than the rule, there have been some moments when the corporation could have used a slightly more rigorous approach to scientific accuracy in its reportage.

For example, Ian Plimer's suggestion on the flagship news programme Today that most carbon emissions come from volcanoes wasn't challenged by the presenter, despite being clearly inaccurate - it's unlikely that a volcanologist or a climate scientist would have made the same claim.

We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what the report actually says, although this hasn't stopped some skeptics getting their rebuttal in early, summarising the news as ' Green smokescreen - climate sceptics to get less coverage rules BBC'.

The report is published tomorrow.
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