BBC’s Panorama falls into ‘balance as baloney’ trap in half hour climate show, “What’s up with the weather?”

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"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.

The so-called “Climategate” debate was born.

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: richard.dent.09@ucl.ac.uk

UK residents can watch it here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00swp0k/Panorama_Whats_Up_With_the_Weather/

US readers can follow the comments and read about the report here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/06/whats_up_with_the_weather.html

UK readers can make a complaint to the BBC here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/homepage/

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.

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23 Responses to BBC’s Panorama falls into ‘balance as baloney’ trap in half hour climate show, “What’s up with the weather?”

  1. paulm says:

    The BBC did not fall into it. Its embedded.

    The BBC has systematically downplayed the Global Warming/Climate Change issue from the start.

    There are high and low BBC players who have an agenda, just like most of the private run MSM outlets.

    Public vs Private media is an interesting contest in terms of aims, mission and agenda.

    Looks like we lose either way, ultimately.

  2. John Mason says:

    Frustratingly I am unable to watch the darned thing – BBC iPlayer has started crashing my browser. Typical – was fine the other night when I was catching up with Dr Who!

    I’m going to see if I can get a transcript instead….

    Cheers – John

  3. Heraclitus says:

    I got the impression that Panorama actually thought it was putting forwards a daring pro-AGW piece that showed how even ‘sceptics’ agree that anthropogenic climate change is a reality – and to be fair to the programme I think they did at least get this point across. Indeed, looking at the comments on their website most of the commentators are howling about the institutional bias *towards* the pro-AGW side of the debate exposed by the programme!

    However, I agree with you about almost all of the criticisms listed above. I thought exactly the same as you when he drove up in a G-Whizz – why not a Tesla? They repeat all of the standard claims about ‘climategate’ – not endorsing them but repetition without refutation is almost as damaging.

    I don’t think the portrayal of Monckton was particularly flattering, but then it’s difficult for me to judge – I’m so repulsed just by seeing him now that I can’t imagine how anyone else can feel anything over than revulsion when he’s on screen.

    I’ve already written to them about the false-balance reporting, though praised the positive element (the clear message that even ‘sceptics’ agree on the basics) in the programme as well.

  4. toby says:

    As a tiny consolation, on Tuesday the Irish channel RTE showed a documentary on Global Warming that said most of the right things. Not great, but ok.

    http://www.rte.ie/player/#v=1075907

    Unfortunately, we have a population one-tenth the size of the UK.

  5. vulpescana says:

    Brit here as requested!

    The BBC is under continual assault from a hostile right wing media and activists and has badly wobbled on climate as a result. For a short period its coverage of science/climate was credible, but gradually that has eroded and now the style of investigative programmes such as Panorama is always the same – competing claims then vox pops. So much for the ‘mission to explain’.

    Overall the damage of the programme will not be the climate conclusion it draws (= ‘even the sceptics admit the climate is changing’) – it will be the unsubstantiated throwaway claims about the costs of renewable energy vs fossil.

  6. Robert says:

    I am British and I watched it on the TV, mainly because I try and watch anything on climate change. My biggest complaint is how lightweight it was – Panorama used to pride itself on serious in-depth reporting of controversial issues, but this programme looked more like an episode of top gear (a really trashy programme for petrol heads for anyone who hasn’t seen it).

    From the climate change point of view I learned nothing. However, I do fear that the ambivalence displayed by “Jo public” is real, mainly because of the mixed messages in the right wing press (Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express), and now the BBC itself.

    To be fair the BBC reported in the previous day’s news that the UK was set to miss it’s CO2 targets by a large margin and that our energy consumption was actually rising not falling (almost all of fossil fuel generated). Climate change reporting has taken a total back seat since the recession started and particularly since Copenhagen and most people are genuinely not even thinking about it any more. I started a thread on the BBC points of view website on this issue and received the usual lack of interets mixed with denier points:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbpointsofview/F1951566?thread=7528343

  7. toby says:

    I was not able to watch the programme, but you can find the gist here:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8758000/8758352.stm

    Its pretty foul. John Christy and Bjorn Lomborg are the “balance” for two scientists. Christy and Lomborg were awful choices. Lomborg represents the “smooth-talking” face of denialism. He is hated and despised by a lot of denialists who see him as insufficiently radical for their fanatical anti-environmentalism. But his apparent moderation will fool a lot of people.

    Christy is a on the fringe of science – repsonsible for some egregious errors, with a denialism that comes from religious conviction.

    Bad show, BBC.

  8. Steve Brown says:

    I watched the programme as well when it aired and I had a mixed reaction. It was very lightweight and did suffer from the usual media affliction with giving a disproportionate weighting to “skeptic” views in order to achieve “balance”. It also regurgitated some of the climategate smears without giving proper analysis to the context e.g. “hiding the decline” – though I suspect this was due to the pressures of editing it down to a 30 minute format.

    However, it did have one very positive outcome in that it would have driven home to any layman viewer that the fundamental science of AGW is solid. They will have been left with the impression that the “nice” skeptics are in full agreement with the mainstream science that mankind is at least partly responsible for changing the climate and that the disagreements were more about what to do about it.

    That at least might go some way to getting public concern and a genuinely skeptical and honest discussion back on track. Just realise that the denialosphere is also in a froth about how unbalanced this programme was.

  9. I watched this programme and sent the following to KG of DesmogBlog the day following the broadcast but it has not yet appeared over there (I have made a few edits of grammar):

    Tom Heap very early on made this statement, ‘A freezing winter allegations that scientists have mislead us over global warming have set the experts at loggerheads’, without any hint that those allegations have been proven unfounded at best and provocative lies at worst.

    Immediately followed by deceptive Lomborg stating, ‘Clearly there’s a crisis, we’ve been scaring people witless for ten, fifteen years.’

    Hello BBC, Lomborg is not either an expert or a scientist. Furthermore Lomborg has been proven as disingenuous in his written and spoken assertions where both ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ and ‘Cool it’ have been shown up as lacking in intellectual and scientific rigour. Indeed the former carries so many misleading to follow footnotes that it has prompted dissections such as this:

    THE LOMBORG-ERRORS WEB SITE

    http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/

    which has now been updated with examination of ‘Cool it’.

    The BBC in an attempt at balance has fallen foul of the balance trap where a couple of dissenting commentators interviewed are not representative of the collective agreement of the vast numbers of scientists involved in the multitude of scientific disciplines who acknowledge that the recent warming trend is outside the bounds of natural variability, as demonstrated by the multiple strands of data all of which produce a hockey stick type of graph.

    John Christy gets it wrong when he states, ‘…no one can separate that mankind from natural..’ as that is already covered by the science behind the GHG effect with which he earlier stated he agreed. John Christy is surely way off the mark when he opines that ten to thirty percent of climate scientists would agree with the his estimate that a quarter of global warming is down to man.

    ‘..you have to be completely open about everything you do and that was not the case as you can see in these e-mails…’. Sorry John but that is in itself a distortion of the facts.

    Tom Heap, ‘Some of the world’s most respected predictions came from here the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, but late last year e-mails hacked from this building damaged the credibilty of their science.’

    No BBC, it was the taking out of context of a few statements which were spun by those supported by fossil fuel and associated industry lobbies into distortions of the truth and downright lies, relying on the ignorance of the general public to shield these lies from general exposure for what they were. This ignorance is epitomised by one of the interviewees.

    This Panorama programme, when demonstrating the type of content highlighted in these e-mails, e.g.. ‘…hide the decline…’, made no attempt to quickly demonstrate what the truth about such comments was, and thus would have helped to re-enforce erroneous opinion in many watchers.

    Jones did not try to avoid scrutiny from his critics but was reacting to a bombardment of FOI requests from a certain quarter which was producing an administrative overload for which his department was not prepared. The parties making such requests were relentless and could have gone to the data already publicly available (and indeed it has transpired that one of these ‘critics’ already had the data required and was simply making a nuisance of himself) or gone through the normal scientific channels. Look up RealClimate for articles on this aspect.

    Cue Lomborg, ‘I think we saw the nasty underbelly but I think also, and perhaps more importantly it showed us that climate science is certainly not absolute and definite.’

    Hello Lomborg, nothing in science is ever absolute and definite but such a statement is clear obfuscation given the level of certainty that the so called ‘greenhouse effect’ is very real, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that humans are pumping ever greater quantities of CO2 (and other GHGs) into the atmosphere, these are certainties with which even the strangely skeptical John Christy is in agreement with.

    Melanie Phillips. ‘Polar bears are increasing in numbers and the temperature is going down not up.’

    BBC please take this woman on a tour of the Arctic this summer so that she too can be sailed through the rotten multi-year ice and see for herself how wrong she is. By the way, Phillips is not a climate change expert or scientist either – remember her vitriolic ranting on the MMR issue to chose but one example.

    Glaciergate was badly handled to, it would have helped if the exact quote from IPCC AR4 had been aired, it was a matter of slight ambiguity only. See also RealClimate on this aspect:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/02/ipcc-errors-facts-and-spin/

    It is also now clear that one of the propagators of this misinformation has also been called out on his Amozongate follow up article.

    Jeremy Vine, ‘Tonight on Panorama, we lift the fog that surrounds this climate war.’ But you don’t for I think that you have helped confirm Keith Rowe’s opinion as evidenced in this comment by Keith Rowe on human induced global warming, ‘Unlikely,…and I think its all a lota hype to be honest…’, and then goes on to explain why from his point of ignorance.

    Sorry BBC, your balance is wrong and your research either not exhaustive or very selective and you have failed to provide a counter to the news items where David Shukman produced Benny Peiser as ‘the expert’.

    END

    I could have gone on at greater length but decided against that.

    The BBC gives Phillips to much oxygen on this topic, and many others as seen in this:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/question_time/8382037.stm

  10. John Mason says:

    Some old satire, reworked for the occasion…..

    An urgent call for a public enquiry was echoing around the internet this morning following the revelation that some simple mathematical equations that guide UK policy across a wide spectrum of areas might be flawed and the flaw deliberately concealed. For many years, it has been accepted by the establishment that if you add two and two together, you get four. But emails hacked from a leading UK university’s maths department show, it has been alleged, that this is far from established fact. “It’s just a theory, nothing more than that”, one commentator said. Another added, “You can do anything with numbers, get any result you goddam like”, whilst a third said “they probably do make four, but it’s only a small number and there are bigger things to worry about”.

    A university spokesman wearily explained to me that the overwhelming consensus among mathematicians was that two and two indeed did make four, had done so for a very long time and that sceptic claims of some of the twos being written in bold or italics had absolutely no bearing on the outcome. Meanwhile, in a related development, the BBC has come in for criticism for giving airtime to a prominent sceptic, who said on this morning’s Today programme that, in the case of two and two, the maths was far from settled and that it could quite possibly make five. The BBC defended their position, stating that their inclusion of the sceptic argument was “in the interests of balance”. But academics say that the situation is too dangerous to allow any more confusion of what should be acknowledged as settled elementary mathematics. One pointed out that this could otherwise have severe and unpredictable consequences for many people, from darts players to banking executives, “and especially darts players, as their ability to add numbers up correctly is an essential skill in their career development”.

    /satire

    Cheers – John

  11. DavidCOG says:

    “We’re told that the world is getting hotter … but does anyone believe the claims any more? … allegations that scientists have mislead us have set the experts at logger heads… [Lomborg] we’ve been scaring people witless for 10 or 15 years… ”

    That’s just in the first 30 seconds of the program intro. That’s all I need to pen a “Yours in disgust” email very shortly.

    Next we’re told that wind power is going to cost the country $120 billion – no mention of benefits – and we’ve got to pay because “the climate is sick … but do we believe it?”

    Now we skip off to a car park filled with ‘boy racers’ – US equivalent might be some Nascar fans with loud muscle cars. After they’ve finished laughing at the little G-Whiz electric car that they brought along, the program feels that knowing the opinion of these people is worthwhile. Although the straw poll they conduct on these petrol heads is fairly evenly spread from 100% acceptance to outright denial, and even after admitting that they are probably not representative of the public, the presenter concludes that there is a lot of “doubt and uncertainty in the public”!

    Conflates weather and climate. No attempt to distinguish the two. Lots of talk about snow. Pointless anecdote about people stuck in a pub. Soundbite from Professor Bob Watson re. not confusing “year-to-year variability with long-term climate change”.

    Monckton’s “Hitler youth” clip is shown. That’s all we hear from him.

    Cue foreboding music… “Climategate damaged the credibility of the science.” Mentions the “trick” email with no explanation of what it really meant. Lomborg claims it showed that “climate science is not absolute and definite.”

    More foreboding music as ‘Glaciergate’ is discussed.

    12 minutes in we get something approaching real science when the presenter explains John Tyndall’s discovery of the greenhouse gas effect. Professor Watson given a couple of minutes to explain his certainty of ACC.

    Next we go to “respected atmospheric scientist”, John Christy who “doesn’t believe man is drastically changing the climate.” Further in to the interview Christy admits to the “basic principles of the greenhouse effect.”

    Now it’s the hockey stick and Michael Mann who “exchanged emails with Professor Jones” and “critics claim that Michael Mann exaggerates the scale of recent warming.” Mann states his certainty of ACC. Immediately cut to sinister music and snippets of the stolen emails with voice-over “delete emails … hide the decline” and then Christy talking about “other views were minimised” and innuendo about not being “open.”

    Christy gets another slot – now claims that “we don’t know how to separate man-made from natural” climate change. Claims that 10 – 30% of scientists agree with his belief that man is responsible for only one quarter of current warming. Presenter then does voice-over “The vast majority of scientists do think mankind is to blame for most of the recent global warming.”

    Discuss extreme weather – is it a result of climate change? Lomborg is simply introduced as “leading sceptic from Denmark.” Presenter tells us IPCC predicts between 1.1 and 6.4C higher by end of century which he defines as “little change or perishingly hot.” The UN says that by end of century there will be between 18 and 59cm sea level rise. Lomborg says nothing about that range and tells us 30cm sea level rise is no big deal and that we had the same rise in the past 150 years but “most people never noticed” and just adapted.

    Mock governments climate change ad as message of “doom and peril.” Discussion about “very ambitious” target to cut carbon emissions to one third 1990 levels in ten years. Claims electricity from wind turbines costs “three times conventional sources.” More Lomborg – something about investing in research and technology rather than carbon reduction.

    Nissan Leaf – “costs more and does less than a conventional car.” “Same problem could be said to afflict green energy … frequently dependent on the vagaries of weather, it’s mostly unreliable and expensive.”

    Next we get the opinion of an ‘average’ couple – “alternative energy is too expensive.”

    Final comment from presenter, sat on a boat in front of offshore wind turbines: “Without the comfort of absolute scientific certainty we have to make a choice… how much are we willing to pay or change our lifestyles in order to be more safe than sorry. With the welfare of the whole human race on the table, the stakes could not be higher.”

    Back to studio: “Report in to controversial emails will be published in a weeks time … so we should finally find out what the scientists really got up to and whether their work can be trusted.”

    ~~~

    Overall I thought it was atrocious. Snippets of reality padded out with innuendo and ignorance. Anyone uninformed on climate change would learn nothing useful and would come away with a false idea of how much ‘controversy’ exists amongst experts. On one side they gave us “respected atmospheric scientist” and “leading sceptic”, the other was ‘scientists involved in that very suspicious stolen email scandal’. It’s not serious journalism – despite Panorama having that pretence. It spent more time finding out the views of unqualified pundits than it did climate scientists.

    And the attacks on renewable energy and EVs could have come direct from ExxonMobil’s marketing department.

  12. catman306 says:

    We have a similar problem with TV weathermen and news directors’ views about weather global warming is real.
    (Hint: most do not)

    TV weathercasters and news directors are distorting climate coverage
    http://www.grist.org/article/2010-07-01-tv-weathercasters-news-directors-distorting-climate-coverage/

  13. Nick Downie says:

    I live in Spain and am unable to view the programme, but I was a freelance current affairs TV film-maker for 16 years and sold my work to all the UK channels, including the BBC, as well as internationally, and I may be able to cast light on the concept of ‘balance’.

    It started as a Reithian ethic (Lord Reith was the first BBC director-general), in that the original BBC took it upon itself to be strictly ‘impartial’ in all things. This, when properly applied, is an admirable ambition. Unfortunately, over the years it became corrupted into a cover for sloppy and cowardly journalism, and by the time I started in TV (in the mid-1970s) it was already deeply suspect. Personally I avoided balance like the plague, and got into trouble for stating publicly that it was “death to informative television.”

    Bad balance arises from two things. The first is the very limited time TV allows for making current affairs documentaries, which is typically just two weeks for a half-hour programme. (By contrast I used to spend between four and six months on location, but I worked alone.) Unless the subject is a pet hobby-horse of the journalist he is unlikely to know much about it – TV journalists are generalists not specialists – and two weeks is not enough for most people to get their heads around a complicated story. So, the way he covers his backside is to show ‘both sides’. The more controversial the subject the greater the defensive imperative to be ‘impartial’. It is interesting that the BBC got more flak from the deniers after this programme, but it can say in its defence that it also got some from the proponents of climate change. From its point of view this proves the BBC has done its job fairly and no one can get hauled over the coals.

    The second thing that destroys good TV journalism is moral cowardice. About most things there is a sort of journalistic ‘consensus’, and you go against this at the peril of your career. I worked on foreign stories – specifically guerrilla wars – and this consensus contributed significantly to the truly appalling reporting of most of them. However, I had three advantages over my staff colleagues in that I was freelance (no boss to shout at me); I was a specialist, with a great deal of combat experience both as a soldier and then a cameraman; and either I was reporting situations about which little was known, or I got in there first. For instance, I was the first film-maker to go into Afghanistan, before the Russian invasion, and I was extremely rude about the mujahideen. A couple of years later, however, the only ‘acceptable’ journalistic line was that the mujahideen were brilliant fighters (they weren’t) and romantic heroes. Two of my friends made derogatory comments and were accused of staging events, of being ‘cowards’, etc. Both had to sue for libel. I myself got into trouble twice, reporting wars where the journalistic consensus was very firm. The second time, I had decided it would be my last film and so I didn’t care, and I went to town on the very biased way the news organisations – in particular the BBC, for whom I was making the documentary – had covered the situation. What was really bad, I also proved it. Knowing there would be trouble I didn’t hand in the film until the day before transmission. The day after transmission there was blood all over the editorial floor. The head of BBC current affairs said that if he’d seen the film he would never have allowed it to go out. As far as the BBC was concerned, I was finished. Ten years later, long out of the business, I was talking to a friend, and the programme I’d worked for was mentioned and I remarked jokingly that maybe I should put in a proposal, as they were bound to have forgotten our spat. My friend looked at me. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they haven’t.’

    In short, do not expect TV anywhere in the world to tell you the unvarnished truth if the story has a political dimension – the acceptable ‘line’, regardless of the facts, has already been decided around the dinner tables – in the case of London – of Hampstead, Islington and Chiswick. I have also done work for NBC. They are just as bad if not worse than the BBC; and as for CBS … Only when the climate is going haywire, and when *everyone* agrees we’re in deep trouble, will the BBC et al then make programmes castigating our political leaders for doing nothing about it. Staff journalists are not brave people, and they are never wise before the event.

  14. John Mason says:

    Wise words there, Nick!

    I recall a few years back being interviewed on BBC Wales TV regarding AGW: it’s entirely possible that my faux pas was to state that the UK government did not have the political willpower to deal with it!

    Only a few months later I was live on BBC news at the site of the Bow Street Tornado – http://www.geologywales.co.uk/storms/bowstreet.htm – (an F2 that hit in the depths of night) and I was asked whether global warming would cause more? As we all kinda know, it’s wind-shear that sets up rotating updraughts, so I told him firmly “no”. He looked visibly disappointed. What is it with these folks? They want all or nothing, and reality is in the way mostly!

    Cheers – John

  15. Robert says:

    If its any consolation James Delingpole (the Daily Telegraph’s arch-sceptic) was hopping mad about the programme. Seems no-one liked it.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100045118/id-rather-stick-my-bag-of-amphetamine-injected-rattlesnakes-than-put-my-trust-in-tonights-bbc-panorama-documentary-on-global-warming/

  16. zed ink says:

    Looks like the BBC has fallen for a change bestowed upon other major media—the precept that climate change is a matter of opinion. It is not, it is a matter of evidence.

  17. Esop says:

    This goes to show how much momentum the deniers have gained over the last year. Not that long ago, the disinformers were celebrating that John Christy was finally interviewed on CNN. After that, pretty much the collective MSM went into deep denial and the denialosphere got so used to having this freepass to sprout their lies uncontested that even this denier friendly Panorama program has pissed them off.

  18. johnson says:

    perhaps it is time the bbc was shut down and the lot of them were sacked, including that fat cunt off of radio one. problem solved

  19. Hengist says:

    Very Good Critique.

    I think the debate is beginning to move on because to be a climate skeptic is to argue from a position of ignorance. But I don’t get how Lomborg is being taken so seriously in THE NEXT QUESTION i.e. Adaptation vs. Mitigation

  20. Chris Winter says:

    Well, that’s where the big money comes in, isn’t it? Dealing with climate change will require cutting back on fossil fuel use, changing the vehicles and appliances we use, retrofitting our homes and offices, rebuilding the electricity grid, etc. Also quite likely it will mean the construction of massive levees and floodgates.

    Along comes Lomborg with a superficially plausible argument that mitigation will cost more than adaptation and will be less effective (with the corollary that adaptation can be put off until later.) Of course he’s going to get a hearing.

    It’s like this Clay Bennett cartoon from the Christian Science Monitor:

    http://www.claybennett.com/pages2/theaters.html

  21. John Mason says:

    Finally iPlayer is working again. Presumably some bug or other fixed! Just watched the programme, taking notes.

    Overall, the programme shows a lot more agreement than might be expected that mankind has caused the planet to warm due to GHGs released via fossil fuel combustion. This might well be what got the backs of some deniers up. However, the way the programme frames the debate from the outset is key. For example, only a little way into the introductory remarks we have:

    “A freezing winter and allegations that scientists have misled us over global warming have set the experts at loggerheads”.

    This is immediately followed by a brief clip of Lomborg talking about hype and alarmism.

    The above sentence could only be clarified if the makers first defined what an “expert” is in their view. To quote Climate Cover-up for a moment:

    “1) Does this “expert” have relevant credentials? For example, have they trained in an area of science that is at the very least connected to climatology or atmospheric physics?

    2) If an “expert” is talking about science, are they still practicing science? Are they still conducting research and publishing in legitimate peer-reviewed journals? Or are all of their ‘scientific” pronouncements appearing on newspaper opinion pages, edited by people who think it’s just great to provoke debate?

    3) Is this “expert” taking money from vested interests or is he or she associated with ideological think tanks – the people who rely for their employment on promoting the agenda of their major funders?”

    Indeed, I think they have missed the real story here. That is, if climatologists are defined as the experts, the initial sentence again, rewritten thus:

    “A freezing winter and a manufactured conspiracy story that alleges that scientists have misled us over global warming have set the experts and their non-scientific but media-savvy critics at loggerheads, leaving some members of the public more confused than ever.”

    It might be a bit long compared to the BBC version but to make it accurate all that detail is essential!

    Cheers – John

  22. MapleLeaf says:

    Back in November/December during the SwiftHack/ClimateGate fiasco, the BBC forums were inundated with very aggressive and vocal “skeptics”/conspiracy theorists. Several of them were accusing the BBC of threatening to cover up the affair and apparently did follow though on their threats to report the BBC. Since the beginning of 2010, the spin and perspective of the BBC stories has definitely shifted to give undue weight to those skeptical of the IPCC and/or AGW/ACC– even going to far to give limelight to the likes of McIntyre, Pielke Jnr and Lomborg. Of late, some of their reporting has been simply abysmal, with the anti science and IPCC spin clearly evident.

    Very sad to see the BBC go this route. They’ll end up with egg on their face on the AGW/ACC file, and what is worst they will have done so simply to keep a very vocal and aggressive minority of conspiracy theorists happy.

  23. Jim Durdin says:

    Many thanks for the critique – I really enjoyed it, mostly because I viewed the programme in a completely different light and disagree with many of the points made here!

    My thoughts being rather lengthy (and working better when I can use italics to show point and counterpoint) I direct anyone interested to my blog post (http://merryenvironmentalist.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/panorama-critiquing-the-critique-why-do-i-always-end-up-arguing-with-the-consensus-spokespeople-not-the-sceptics/).

    (I hope that mentioning it here does not violate the terms of use here that state “Posting entries solely to promote your own projects are not allowed”. If it does, I apologise and will understand if it is vetoed)