UK Parliament Slams the BBC for Succumbing to False Balance on Climate
The UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee has recently delivered a report on the state of climate knowledge and communication in the country. Although it doesn’t spare the government from criticism, the report notes that most of the public looks to the BBC to provide authoritative coverage on science. The report concludes that in this case, the BBC’s news division is failing its readership and viewers. Rather than providing authoritative information, the BBC is succumbing to false balance, and its director of Editorial Policy and Standards gave testimony on science coverage that appears to be incoherent.
In the UK, the major political parties largely accept the scientific evidence for climate change; official skepticism is limited to a few parties on the conservative fringe. As such, the report starts with the acceptance of the conclusions reached by the majority of scientists: the Earth is warming, and humans are the main factor driving that warming.
But when it comes to getting that message to the public, the committee concluded that there’s almost no coordination of communication efforts among different government departments, and the efforts to craft a coherent narrative have been “disappointingly limited.” Science communication also fails to separate scientific understanding from the policies that attempt to address it. “The Government’s current approach to communicating conflates the scientific basis of climate change and the proposed solutions,” the report says.
That’s not the first time governments have come up short in this area, but the report is notable because it levels significant criticisms at an organization that is generally considered excellent: the BBC. Back in 2011, the BBC Trust commissioned a review of the organization’s science coverage that concluded that the organization suffered from false balance, the desire to present two contrary opinions as if they were both equally based in fact. In response to an IPCC report, for example, “they gave equal time to a well-known expert and to [an] Australian retired geologist with no background in the field.”