Comment: The BBC Broke More Than its Editorial Guidelines in Inviting a Climate Science Denier to Discuss the School Strikes

Comment: The BBC Broke More Than its Editorial Guidelines in Inviting a Climate Science Denier to Discuss the School Strikes
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The fresh and jazzy new BBC Scotland “Nine” news programme has come under a wave of criticism after inviting a renowned climate science denier onto its show on the very day of the global school strike. 

It’s accused of (at best) incompetent coverage of the protests which saw children and young people striking in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fenwick, East Kilbride, Coatbridge, Stirling, Inverkeithing, Peebles, Fort William, Forres, St Andrews, Inverness, Ullapool, South Uist, Aberdeen, Aberdour, Kirkwall and Eigg yesterday.

It’s now reported that over 1.4 million people were on #SchoolStrike4Climate yesterday, in 2083 places in 125 countries on all continents. 350 called it the: “Biggest day of global climate action ever”.

Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland explained:

So far today BBC Scotland has said there are school climate strikes in 50 countries (at least twice) when the real number was at least 123 this morning, they have said children were “skipping” school to attended (at least twice) when almost all the attendees had individual permission, not to mention the blessing of the First Minister.”

And tonight The Nine is not interviewing the two children that started the whole thing in Scotland, despite them offering to come to Glasgow for that, they are not asking the government if they are doing enough on climate change, no, they are giving air time to an infamous climate denier so he can say children shouldn’t be allowed to protest about climate change.”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines specifically forbid allowing climate deniers to espouse their disgusting lies on the BBC. So BBC Scotland are you just bad at your job or is institutional climate scepticism still lurking there?”

Climate Denier Invite

The invitation to Andrew Montford, who blogs as “Bishop Hill”, represents a case of what credible scientists see as “false balance” in the climate change debate. He was appointed Deputy Director of the notorious climate science denial propaganda unit, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) in 2017.

In 2010 Montford released The Hockey Stick Illusion, published by Stacey International.

Alastair McIntosh, writing for the Scottish Review of Books, concluded that “Montford’s analysis might cut the mustard with tabloid intellectuals but not with most scientists. The Hockey Stick Illusion might serve a psychological need in those who can’t face their own complicity in climate change, but at the end of the day it’s exactly what it says on the box: a write-up of somebody else’s blog.”

The Nine’s decision is directly in contravention of the BBC’s own policies.

Last year the BBC was forced to introduce new guidelines after repeated criticism over the past decade for enabling “false balance” on the topic of climate change, as well as for failing to fully implement the recommendations of the BBC Trust’s 2011 review into the “impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science”.

The new guidelines offered training for BBC journalists.

This is the email sent by Fran Unsworth (Director of News and Current Affairs) to BBC journalists in 2018:

Dear All

After a summer of heatwaves, floods and extreme weather, environment stories have become front of mind for our audiences. There are a number of important related news events in the coming months – including the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Green Great Britain Week in October – so there will be many more stories to cover. Younger audiences, in particular, have told us they’d like to see more journalism on the issue.

With this in mind, we are offering all editorial staff new training for reporting on climate change. The one hour course covers the latest science, policy, research, and misconceptions to challenge, giving you confidence to cover the topic accurately and knowledgeably.

Please book now by choosing a time from MyDevelopment (you’ll be prompted to login first), searching ‘reporting climate change’ on MyDevelopment, or emailing XXXXXX@bbc.co.uk to set up a tailored session for your team.

In the meantime, you can read the Climate Change for BBC News crib sheet, and the Analysis and Research website by searching ‘climate change’ which cover the basics.

I hope you find the training useful.

Fran.”

Bella has contacted BBC Scotland to ask how many of their staff have been on this training and suggest it should be mandatory.

The BBC’s Editorial Position couldn’t be any clearer. This is from the document’s wording for the BBC’s “editorial policy” and “position” on climate change: 

Man-made climate change exists: If the science proves it we should report it. The BBC accepts that the best science on the issue is the IPCC’s position, set out above.”

Be aware of ‘false balance’: As climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate. Although there are those who disagree with the IPCC’s position, very few of them now go so far as to deny that climate change is happening.”

To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken. However, the BBC does not exclude any shade of opinion from its output, and with appropriate challenge from a knowledgeable interviewer, there may be occasions to hear from a denier.”

Consistently Poor Coverage

As a result of Montford’s invitation the entire Scottish climate movement yesterday (including Friends of the Earth Scotland, 2050 Climate Group, Extinction Rebellion, Climate Action Scotland, the Scottish Green Party and Stop Climate Chaos) refused to go on BBC Scotland News – which forced them to cancel the segment.

But while the action forced the programme to scupper the segment, this is not good enough. This isn’t, as the school strike protestors argue a “generational issue”; it’s a species-level issue.

Why isn’t the Nine abiding by the BBC’s own guidelines? Why is BBC Scotland’s environmental coverage so consistently poor – they combine their Environment and Energy Correspondent in a single editorial brief, creating an impossible and surreal twitter stream. The decision is a serious failure of news coverage of what is a huge global story.

Here are three things a quality Scottish news coverage could have done:

  • Interview and challenge the young people involved: what are their plans for the development of the protest?
  • Asking the Scottish Government how they could in the same week both welcome a 50% increase in North Sea Oil, and support the school strike?
  • Challenge both protestors and politicians on how they were going to respond within the limits of devolution to the climate emergency? What are the plans for an urgent green jobs programme and just transition?

The BBC are quite right to have attempted to create guidelines to improve their environmental coverage, but it is worthless if they invite discredited climate science denialists onto their flagship programme.

Mike Small is the Founder and Editor of Bella Caledonia. He was DeSmog UK‘s Deputy Editor from March to December 2018, and continues to contribute to the publication. This article first appeared on Bella Caledonia.

Image: Julian Meehan/Flickr CC BY 2.0

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