Report into BBC's science coverage likely to suggest corporation needs to avoid false balance on climate
- 19 Jul 2011, 11:50
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
The report is published tomorrow.