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UK Guardian: BBC Says ‘Putting Forward Opinions Not Backed By Science Is Part Of Its Role’

By Joe Romm

"UK Guardian: BBC Says ‘Putting Forward Opinions Not Backed By Science Is Part Of Its Role’"

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Back in 2011, an independent review of the BBC found that it gave too much weight to fringe views on climate change. That followed widespread criticism of the BBC’s science reporting (see this 2010 critique from a former BBC correspondent and editor”).

But Monday, the UK Guardian reported:

The BBC has come under fire from the chairman of an influential committee of MPs for favouring climate change sceptics in its coverage – and, according to documents seen by the Guardian, replied by saying that putting forward opinions not backed by science is part of its role.

Seriously. Can’t let facts get in the way of a good story! I’d love to know how the BBC views itself as different from Fox News and the entire Murdoch media empire, which specializes in putting forward opinions not backed by science.

Andrew Miller, who chairs the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, has criticized the BBC for still giving so much air time to climate science deniers. He told the Guardian: “Given that the BBC’s avowed mission is still to inform and educate, as well as entertain, it is remarkable that it allows presenters, like Andrew Neil, to repeat misinformed scientific arguments on climate change as though they were fact.”

How does the BBC respond to these critiques? The Guardian quotes from a letter sent by the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, David Jordan:

“Regardless of the topic, an impartial interviewer must put forward a range of arguments, perhaps even act as a kind of devil’s advocate, when questioning a minister about government policies. It may be the case that some arguments heard in the public sphere are misinformed, but that does not mean that they should not be put to politicians.”

Yes, it’s not like it’s the media’s job to distinguish between information and misinformation. Apparently entertainment value trumps information value.

Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, “an expert on environmental communications,” emailed me this comment:

The press occupies a special status in our society based upon its role in informing the public so it can engage in an intelligent democratic discussion about central issues. I cannot see how the press can fulfill its obligations to the public by presenting gross misinformation about well-established scientific facts. Unfortunately, the BBC has failed to take its responsibilities seriously.

Next thing you know, the BBC will be inviting Flat Earth Society members to comment on geography.

This is very similar to a point about “false balance” made by the biologist, Steve Jones, who performed the 2011 independent review: “This goes to the heart of science reporting -– you wouldn’t have a homeopath speaking alongside a brain surgeon for balance, as that would be absurd. It’s just as absurd to have a climate sceptic for balance against the work of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists.”

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Tragically, while the BBC said last year it was embracing many of the recommendations that Jones made to improve science reporting, earlier this year Jordan “told MPs that the broadcaster had decided not to follow Jones’ key recommendations” to stop giving air time to deniers.

And so what was once one of the most highly respected media outlets in the world may be remembered best by future generations for its failed coverage of the story of the century.

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