"BBC’s Panorama falls into ‘balance as baloney’ trap in half hour climate show, “What’s up with the weather?”"
[I'd be very interested in the comments of other Brits upon watching the video. UK readers who want to make a complaint to the BBC will find contact info below.]
The BBC’s climate journalism has declined in recent months (see BBC asks CRU’s Phil Jones the climate version of “When did you stop beating your wife”). It just hit a new low in the half hour show, “What’s up with the Weather?”
All you need to know about how distorted and sensationalistic the BBC’s worldview has become is to read how BBC’s News editors describe the show:
To some, it’s a massive conspiracy to con the public. To others, it’s the greatest threat to the future of our world.
Over recent years, opinions about global warming have become increasingly polarised.
It came to a head late last year when hundreds of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit were published.
Despite governments, scientists and campaigners telling us the world’s climate is changing, opinion polls suggest growing uncertainty about global warming….
There is 0.00% chance hat global warming is a massive conspiracy to con the public. There is a rather high probability that it is the greatest preventable threat to the future of our world that we know of today — especially if we listen to those who believe it is a massive conspiracy (and keep doing nothing about it). Nicely balanced “sides,” BBC.
Also, the opinion polls don’t clearly suggest growing uncertainty because of Climategate (see “Public support for action on global warming has grown since January” and Opinion polls underestimate Americans’ concern about the environment and global warming“). Indeed, in the UK, the Guardian reported in early May, “Confidence in climate science remains strong, poll shows: Survey shows 71% of Britons are concerned about climate, despite hacked emails, failure at Copenhagen and cold weather.”
So even the BBC’s finger-in-the-wind framing is based on not bloody much.
Then we have the absurdity that the BBC included the thoroughly debunked Bjorn Lomborg [The Lomborg Deception: The Septical Environmentalist (sic) says 16 feet of sea level rise wouldn't be so bad, absurdly claims it would only "force the relocation of 15 million" people] and the long wrong John Christy [Should you believe anything John Christy says?] and the utterly discredited purveyor of hate speech, TVMOB [MN professor eviscerates Lord Monckton in must-see video and Monckton repeats and expands on his charge that those who embrace climate science are "Hitler youth" and fascists].
Since Americans can’t watch the video itself, CP asked Richard Dent to critique it. Dent is a climate change communication and policy consultant working out of London. Here is his analysis:
The BBC’s latest report on climate change added fuel to the fire with scandalous misrepresentation of climate science on its flagship public interest show Panorama – similar to 60 Minutes. In the programme the BBC, considered the most trusted news source in the world, fall into the trap of ‘balance as bias’ where journalists give a false balance of the climate debate. Going further the tone and presentation in the report is unfairly critical of climate science and gives an open platform to Bjorn Lomborg, John Christy and even Lord Monckton who accuses eco-protestors of being ‘Hitler youth’.
With the EU committing to more than 80% CO2 reduction by 2050, governments are now acknowledging that carbon tax may be the only way to reach the targets and inspire global action through the UNFCCC. Yet public support is crucial for this these policies to pass into law. The BBC’s bias and misrepresentations endanger the prospect of the UK and EU bringing in sufficient policy to mitigate climate change.
The description of the show is as follows: “Yet another barbecue summer has been predicted, but do you really trust the forecasters any more? Despite governments, scientists and campaigners telling us the world’s climate is changing, increasing numbers of us simply don’t believe in global warming. After one of the coldest winters on record and a vicious row about the science behind climate change, Panorama goes back to basics and asks what we really know about our climate and how it will affect us. Panorama reporter Tom Heap speaks to some of the world’s leading scientists on both sides of the argument, to find out what they can agree on and uncovers some surprising results.”
Immediately the title of the report conflates weather with climate but, in my opinion, this report makes many misrepresentations, biases, spikes debates and incorrectly applies journalistic norms that demonstrate Max and Jules Boykoff’s research into the phenomena of ‘Balance as Bias’. (http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/publications/downloads/boykoff04-gec.pdf). The Boykoff’s research show that this warping of journalistic norms may have affected the level of engagement in CO2 saving behavior changes and support for policy.
Panorama’s stated intention is to highlight where skeptics and ‘believers’ agree. Below is a list of the issues in the piece that are another serious blow against climate science media, made worse coming from the BBC’s Panorama – a highly respected show.
Issues in BBC’s Panorama show
- The introduction conflates the prediction of weather and the prediction of climate change.
- The introduction suggests reporter Tom Heap speaks to both sides of what is a science argument yet Bjorn Lomborg (not a climate scientist), and other non-scientists appear.
- Lord Monckton (not a climate scientist) appears as victim of attacking ‘eco-radicals’ putting direct action in a negative light.
- Panorama gives voice to an average UK family man whose non-scientific opinion suggests global warming ‘is natural’. Research shows that large parts of the population identify with this kind of person as they do not understand climate science and look to peers for guidance.
- Panorama spikes a debate with car-loving youth when the reporter arrives in the badly designed electric car that gets laughed at (Why not arrive in a Tesla or Hybrid Lexus?). Later he drives a well designed efficient electric car, the new Nissan Leaf, but Panorama do not show an external view of this car to the youth or to the TV audience. When they test the new electric car and say ‘it costs more and does less’ despite it being cheaper in the long run and sufficient for 80% of all car journeys (neither of these points are mentioned).
- John Christy, atmospheric scientist and mild sceptic (one of the only real scientist in the world out of thousands of qualified scientists who has some skeptical views), is given equal air time than climate scientists Bob Watson and Michael Mann (who is critiqued whilst Christy is not). This is balance as bias.
- Panorama use heavy imagery and damning commentary about Climategate even after two reports cleared them of bad science before the Panorama report (this was mentioned but the slant was clearly unbalanced).
- Representing the climate science camp, Panorama use a grey haired climate scientist (Dr Bob Watson) and a London climate policy academic (Bob Ward) who manage reasonably good communications but are weaker than Lomborg, a well trained and well presented media spokesperson.
- Panorama publicize Lomborg’s upcoming sceptic film ‘Cool It’ without critique but focus on negative aspects of Al Gore’s film.
- Overall non-climate science skeptics seem to get more or equal air time than real scientists (Balance as bias).
- Panorama critique renewable energy as unproven technology and unfairly compared the cost to the budget of the UK national health service.
- Panorama focus on UK government climate change minister saying ‘it is up to behavior change’ when clearly national and international policy must lead mitigation not individuals. UNFCCC process is never mentioned during the report
- The final say is given to an average family man saying going green ‘is out of reach of average working man’ (not true) and this is never questioned.
Currently there is an ongoing investigation at the BBC Trust, the body responsible for regulating the BBC, for unbalanced reporting of climate change. This was forced by a major letter writing campaign by skeptics. Perhaps this programme is a result of this pressure. Similar issues are happening at the UK’s leading science institution The Royal Society.
If are to stop this continuing then we must organize a similar campaign to force media like the BBC to report climate change fairly. I’ve provided links below for UK residents to complain. Anyone interested in this field please contact me on: firstname.lastname@example.org
UK residents can watch it here:
US readers can follow the comments and read about the report here:
UK readers can make a complaint to the BBC here:
Max Boykoff and others have done more recent media critiques (see Boykoff on “Exaggerating Denialism: Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change”: Freudenburg: “Reporters need to learn that, if they wish to discuss ‘both sides’ of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate “other side” is that, if anything, global climate disruption is likely to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date”).
Perhaps Boykoff’s 2004 phrase should be updated to “balance as baloney.”
I’d be very interested in the comments of UK readers after watching the video.