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Were knives out for Frozen Planet six months ago?

  • 30 Nov 2011, 16:40
  • Christian Hunt

Source: BBC

David Attenborough's natural history spectaculars are always worth watching, and seem to have taken on the status of a national event - the ultimate water cooler TV. The latest series, "Frozen Planet" is no exception,  attracting rave reviews. This one from the Mirror is fairly typical:

"If the BBC goes back to its roots it can produce something as gloriously wonderful and heart-stopping as Frozen Planet.

"David Attenborough, who has been a national treasure for longer than I've been alive, takes the viewer by the hand to gently lead us through the freezing wastes of our world and quietly blow our minds."

Perhaps this success is why his latest series, 'Frozen Planet' has come in for so much criticism from climate skeptics over the last few weeks. It would make little sense to cover the natural history of the polar regions without mentioning the fact that the Arctic and Antarctic are increasingly being impacted by climate change - and Frozen Planet will be dedicating its final episode, due to be screened next Wednesday, to the topic.

A couple of weeks ago the BBC was criticised following the news that co-production partner the Discovery Channel will not be showing the climate change episode. The Daily Mail and the Telegraph suggested that the corporation separated the episode out in order to help the show sell better in the US. Climate skeptics, of course, questioned the legitimacy of including polar climate change in the series at all.

Then, Nigel Lawson appeared in the Radio Times of all places accusing David Attenborough of 'sensationalism' on climate science. His accusations were reported in the Telegraph, the Mail and the Express . The Telegraph cited the reactions of scientists to Lawson's statements - one of whom accused Lawson of cherry-picking data and called Frozen Planet "a brave and honest portrayal of what is going on right now" - although oddly enough, those statements did not make it into the Mail or Express. We have looked at Lawson's statements in the Radio Times in more detail here.

It is not the first time that the 'Frozen Planet' team have faced questions about covering climate change in the series. During the Lords Select Communication Committee inquiry into the governance and regulation of the BBC back in May, Baroness Fookes questioned Attenborough about the 'Frozen Planet' episode on climate change, suggesting that it is a controversial inclusion:

"Sir David, we have heard a report, which may or may not be true, that at the end of your latest series 'Frozen Planet' there is a big statement by you on environmental issues, which could be regarded as controversial... Can we ask if it's true or not?"

Attenborough responded:

"I don't believe it's controversial, the only controversial element in climate change is to what degree it's anthropocentric, what degree humans have been responsible, but the facts of climate change are scientifically established facts and I don't think we go beyond that."

Here's the video from the Lords Select Communication Committee inquiry, which is also well worth watching for Professor Brian Cox's explanation on why the scientific consensus is important, and the thoughts of both Cox and Attenborough on communicating science at the BBC.

A couple of weeks ago Dr Mark Brandon, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at The Open University and academic consultant for the series, told us that it had been a "brilliant experience" to work with the Natural History team "who are interested in working only with robust and solid science."

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