The BBC, Climate Change, and Responsible Journalism

Confused about climate change? Tired of seeing reputable scientists constantly having to defend their claims against self-appointed deniers? The BBC has just done something about that.

BBC-NewsThe British Broadcasting Corporation is respected around the world for its high standards of fair and balanced journalism. It is a voice that people have learned to trust. But in striving to be impartial in its news coverage, the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, discovered a problem – a “false balance” that comes from giving equal time to two sides of an argument when one side lacks basic support.

This false balance typically occurs, for example, when one person who is well-versed on climate science is paired with another who denies climate science, and the two debate the issue. Rather than presenting a balanced view of both sides of the issue, what actually happens is that the minority position is made to seem equally viable even if its claims are widely discredited within the scientific community.

The scientific understanding of the various factors contributing to climate change has become incredibly refined in recent decades. As a result of exhaustive research into this phenomenon, today

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.

Providing the dissenting 3 percent with equal time to promote their own views thus creates a false balance in scientific reporting.

The BBC’s governing body recognized this problem and has taken measures to correct it. As a result of the BBC Trust’s recently released Executive Report on Scientific Impartiality,

Reporters for BBC News are being directed to significantly curb the amount of air time they give to people with anti-science viewpoints — including people who deny climate change exists — in order to improve the accuracy and fairness of the network’s news coverage

However, the BBC would not completely exclude such minority views from its reporting. The Report clearly states,

This does not mean that critical opinion should be excluded. Nor does it mean that scientific research shouldn’t be properly scrutinized.

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.”

Although the BBC has taken measures to curtail this false balance in reporting on scientific issues, the American media has so far not done the same. Last October Media Matters for America released a detailed report that shows how skewed the coverage of climate change is in the American media.

One of its findings was the fact that in August and September 2013 “Half Of Print Outlets Used False Balance On Existence Of Manmade Warming.” While only 3 percent of scientists reject human activity as a major factor in global warming,

doubters comprised over 18 percent of those quoted by Bloomberg News, Los Angeles TimesThe Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – giving this minority view over five times the amount of representation it has in the scientific community. Half of those quoted in The Wall Street Journal were doubters, about 29 percent in Los Angeles Times, about 17 percent in The Washington Post and about 12 percent in Bloomberg News.

Furthermore, “Doubters Dominated On Fox News, The Majority Of Whom Were Unqualified.”

Fox News tipped the balance toward those on the opposite side of the facts, as 69 percent of guests and 75 percent of mentions cast doubt on climate science. Seventy-three percent of doubters hosted by Fox News had no background in climate science.


Media Matters chart1

In addition, “Doubters Were More Likely To Lack Scientific Credentials.”

Of those quoted who denied that humans are the dominant driver of global warming, about 81 percent did not have a background in climate science. Instead, some media opted for bloggers, political figures, and media pundits to disparage the scientific consensus on climate change.

Media Matters chart2

The consensus on climate change among scientists continues to grow. For example, the geochemist James Lawrence Powell recently conducted an exhaustive search of peer-reviewed scientific literature on global warming.

Powell went through every scientific study published in a peer-review journal during the calendar year 2013, finding 10,885 in total. Of those, a mere two rejected anthropogenic global warming [that is, global warming produced through human activity].



The evidence of climate change and global warming is overwhelming. [Watch this video] The research scientists have convincingly documented their findings.

It’s time to end this false balance in the media’s reporting.

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

One Response to The BBC, Climate Change, and Responsible Journalism

  1. magnocrat says:

    What the BBC cannot do is make climate change palatable to the general population. It is a most unpleasant thing to swallow especially as it may mean altering your comfortable life style.
    Hence we cling to the voices of dissenters they give us hope that we can carry on as we are not doing a single thing about it.
    In life unpopular things are neatly brushed under the carpet.

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