Shame on the BBC: False Balance in #ClimateChange discussion

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The BBC stepped in it. First, they engaged in a totally absurd “false balance” presentation regarding climate change, then in response (link below) they aired very reasonable complaints by listeners, and to this, they responded officially that everything is fine, you can go home and lock your doors and windows, nothing to see here, our balance is in balance, thank you very much. Or words to that effect. If I was British I would be ashamed of the BBC for this, but since I’m not British I’m peeved.

Should the Today programme have invited Lord Lawson, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and now chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, to comment on climate change? On Thursday morning, as the floods across Britain continued to make the headlines, Feedback listeners poured scorn on a Today programme discussion between Lord Lawson and Sir Brian Hoskins, a government climate change adviser from Imperial College in London. We’ll hear why they were so angered by the debate.

Click here to listen. I think the link is already cued up where you need to be.

The commenter just after 20 minutes was brilliant.

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8 thoughts on “Shame on the BBC: False Balance in #ClimateChange discussion

  1. Greg, here’s what to do about that:

    Find some way to “social-weaponize” the whole concept of “balance” until the media outlets never want to hear that word again. For example:

    When a TV station runs a piece about economics, they get a deluge of email demanding they “show balance” by interviewing prominent Marxists for counterpoint.

    When they run a piece about medicine, they get a deluge of email demanding they “show balance” by putting homeopaths and faith-healers on the air.

    When they run a piece about evolution, an email deluge demanding equal time for young-Earth creationism. No doubt this is already going on, so piggyback on it with the “reality is whatever I believe it is” meme (below).

    And any reference to the Moon landings …heh heh, out come the conspiracizers demanding equal time to prove it never happened.

    Create a vast network of fictitious personae who are ready to demand “balance” for everything that gets broadcast, the more mundane the subjects and the more absurd the “balance,” the better. And when it comes to climate change, the “balance” they should be demanding should also include references to abiotic oil theory (more quackadoodle nonsense, I’m sure you’ve heard of it), and wild conspiracy theories ideally including 9/11 stuff.

    There are probably gazillions of science undergrads who would love to sign up for doing something like this. They might even start sharing material and competing for “not even wrong” awards for the most well-crafted absurdisms. All they need is to create one or two fictitious email addresses each and then go to town.

    Key meme: “Editor: It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s true or real or not. It’s an opinion that people hold. Reality is whatever people think it is. If your audience thinks the sky is purple with pink polka dots, it’s not up to you to tell them it’s blue, it’s up to you to find someone who agrees with them, so they’ll keep watching. Your job is to tell people whatever they want to hear, period.”

    The goal is to make the word “balance” become so thoroughly associated with quackadoodle nonsense that no sane editor on the planet ever wants to hear that word again. And the way to do it is by relentlessly attacking the idea that there is any such thing as objective reality, because that will inevitably generate a backlash.

  2. Nice Idea G but the problem is the editors will soon catch on and ignore the email. Not to mention that the vast majority of the media in North America is owned by right wing corporations who won’t go along regardless. No matter what the hoi polloi want they will get fed what the beltway thinks.

  3. G – you’ve basically just described the situation we have now (with the sole exception of the Marxists). In fact, on most of the topics you mention, the crazies already get more airtime than the sane people. You’re making the classic mistake of assuming that editors and journalists care more about truth than money. They already believe that “Your job is to tell people whatever they want to hear, period.” That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.

  4. The problem with some media outlets and how the present climate change discussion is in the percentages. Ninety-five percent or better of the World’s climate scientists back anthropogenic global warming. But when a media outlet presents a “balanced” discussion they have essentially stamped the issue as half for and half against. Giving the less-than 5% a 50% or larger cut of the media pie is disingenuous at the least, disastrous for us all at the worst.

  5. This is the problem of media everywehre around the world. They just follow thier channel policy and forget the fact thousands of people die because of one environmental hazard or the ther. We must point out their not unbiased coverage

  6. I actually complained to the BBC about the original interview, but forgot to complain to Feedback as well. Next time (and by the sound of it, there will be a next time), I’ll do both.

    Yep, the BBC still thinks that if you have a top scientist, and someone who rants for a living, then thats balance. Even worse, they employ people like Justin Webb to conduct the interview. Although not as pompous as James Naughtie, he’s certainly the master of the non-threatening interview.

    Whe he was BBC’s American editor, I saw him interview Carly Fiorina in 2008, when he didn’t bother to ask a followup question which would have meant her basically saying Palin was an idiot, and he announced a new opinion poll a couple of days before Obama won saying that McCains numbers were excellent in one poll. From looking at 538 everyone knew that the poll consisted of the southern equivalent of ‘three rather mangy cows, a dachshund named Colin, and a small hen in its late forties’. Basically, he’s a bit of a dead loss, unlike his new colleage Mishal Husain, who is both an excellent presenter and a dream (be still my beating heart…).

    The BBC still has a problem with climate change in its news coverage, despite having been warned about it. Hopefully, calling them out on it will make a difference.

    However, it would help if they could find a climate scientist with the sort of appeal and media charisma that so many of the other sciences seem to possess, and that regularly appear on the BBC.

  7. OK, I’ve noew heard back from the BBC – I’ll post it in full (sorry for the length)

    ‘We forwarded your complaint to Ceri Thomas, Head of Programmes at BBC News who responds as follows:

    “The BBC is committed to impartial and balanced coverage of climate change. Furthermore we accept that there is broad scientific agreement on the issue and reflect this accordingly. Across our programmes the number of scientists and academics who support the mainstream view far outweighs those who disagree with it. We do however on occasion, offer space to dissenting voices where appropriate as part of the BBC’s overall commitment to impartiality. The BBC Trust, which oversees our work on behalf of licence fee payers, has explicitly urged programme makers not to exclude critical opinion from policy debates involving scientists.

    As was clear from the discussion, there is no conclusive proof as yet of a direct link between the storms hitting the UK this year and climate change. It was therefore reasonable for Justin Webb to ask Sir Brian Hoskins about the limits of scientific knowledge, in particular how the lay person should judge the evidence. But he also rigorously challenged Lord Lawson – in particular on his assertion that focusing efforts on developing green energy sources was a waste of money and that resources would be better spent on improving our defences against bad weather. Both lines of questioning were designed to help listeners judge how to assess the recent bad weather in the context of climate change.

    Scientists do have a crucial role to play in this debate. ‘Today’ has a track record of interviewing distinguished experts on climate change such as Lord Krebs, Sir John Beddington and Sir Mark Walport; all three have appeared on the programme in single interviews in recent months. But politicians and pressure groups also have their place and in six weeks of flooding, this was the first interview on ‘Today’ with a climate change ‘sceptic.’

    Whilst there may be a scientific consensus about global warming – that it is happening and largely man-made – there is no similar agreement about what should be done to tackle it; whether money should be spent, for example, on cutting carbon emissions or would be better used adapting our defences to the changing climate. Lord Lawson is not a scientist, but as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer is well qualified to comment on the economic arguments, which are a legitimate area for debate.

    We believe there has to be space in the BBC’s coverage where scientific consensus meets reasonable argument about the policy implications of that consensus view. That said we do accept that we could have offered a clearer description of the sceptical position taken by Lord Lawson and the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the introduction. That would have clarified in the audience’s minds the ideological background to the arguments.

    I hope this helps explain our thinking.”

    We’d also like to assure you we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff. This includes all news editors and presenters, along with our senior management. It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are considered across the BBC.’

    Can anyone see the get out clauses?
    Although the BBC does feature climate scientists in the news, it tends to then qualify the hell out of what they say. Lots of ‘it could be’, ‘some say’, ‘scientists say’, etc. Although climate deniers have no qualifications or expertise, its fine to have them on as ‘dessenting voices’, becuase its all about ‘policy’ (even though its actually about the science).
    Yes, we have actually interviewed proper scientists, but tended to get our no-nothing presenters to ask them daft questions culled from the Daily Mail’s website. The fact that 97% or more actual scientists have no problem with the science means that when we’ve invited 3 or more to speak to use, then we need a buffoon as well to balance things up (the scientist to buffoon ratio being 3-1). Justin Webb ‘rigorously’ challenged Lawson to talk rubbish (and off the point rubbish) for quite a long time.
    ‘But politicians and pressure groups also have their place’ – and its been six weeks of them talking rubbish, so we just couldn’t help ourselves in getting in someone who knows nothing.
    ‘Lord Lawson is not a scientist, but as a
    former Chancellor of the Exchequer is well qualified to comment on the economic arguments, which are a legitimate area for debate.’ We’d matched him up with a scince bloke, than that an economics bloke – so thats all right.
    ‘We believe there has to be space in the BBC’s coverage where scientific consensus meets reasonable argument about the policy implications of that consensus view.’ – We think that Lawson is a Lord, and although barking, we think sounds important.

    Basically, the BBC is scared of its own shadow, and consistantly thinks that this sort of nonsense provides balance. The denier drones who will email BBC News after very story about AGW scare them much more than those of us who email to complain after this sort of rubbish. Its time for actual scientists to call them out, and embarrase them. They’ve been warned already.

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