The BBC says it has no editorial guidelines on climate change | Brussels Blog

The BBC says it has no editorial guidelines on climate change

posted by on 28th Jan 2015
28th,Jan

Below I list more complaints I have made to the BBC about their coverage of climate change. There is particular reference to their choice of “experts” that they use for interviews and quote in articles.

The core complaint is

The BBC regularly reports scientists who express less urgent views and are more “government friendly” (e.g. Julia Slingo, Myles Allen, Brian Hoskins) but rarely those who express more urgency and express views less friendly to the government (e.g. Kevin Anderson, Robert Watson, Michael Mann)…

The BBC takes pays attention to “dissenting voices” if they down play climate change but ignores those who say it is much worse. This is bias.

One reply makes an interesting point

We don’t actually have editorial guidelines on the subject but we treat it the same way we treat any controversial subject – in a fair and balanced way.

That’s very interesting.

Complaints to the BBC and replies

Nov 19, 2014 CAS-3028261-XLXKHK

Editorial guidelines are not easily accessible

At approximately 2.50 this morning Radio 5 had a piece which discussed the drought in California, having referenced the polar air that has caused discomfort in the East of the US (see Arctic blast hits Canada and US, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-30008650).

The discussion on the Californian drought was with an expert who discussed hopes for an El Nino weather pattern that could bring rain to California – but not necessarily enough to counter the drought. He also mentioned the lack of snow in the mountains to the north of the drought zone.

Anomalous weather pattens are being experienced in the US and the UK – we have just had the driest October on record when this could be the wettest year on record. Many scientists put these down to changes in the jet stream and there is significant scientific support that global warming is the cause.

It shocked me that the R5 piece avoided mentioning that a very likely cause of the changed weather patterns was global warming. I have heard from people that know more about the internal workings of BBC than I do that there are strict editorial guidelines that govern the presentation of global warming.
I have not found these guidelines published anywhere. My complaint is that, if these guidelines exist, they are not easily accessible to the public who pay their licence fees.

Nov 27, 2014 CAS-3028261-XLXKHK

Reply from BBC Complaints Team

Thanks for recently contacting the BBC. We aim to reply to complaints within 10 working days (around 2 weeks) and do so for most of them but cannot for all. The time taken depends on the nature of your complaint, how many others we are dealing with and can also be affected by practical issues such as whether a production team is available or away on location.

This is to let you know that we have referred your complaint to the relevant staff but that it may take longer than 10 working days to reply. We therefore ask you not to contact us further in the meantime. If it does prove necessary however, please use our webform, quoting any reference number we provided. This is an automatic email sent from an account which is not monitored so you cannot reply to this email address.

In order to use the licence fee efficiently we may not investigate every issue if it does not suggest a substantive breach of guidelines, or may send the same reply to everyone if others have complained about the same issue. You can read full details of our complaints procedures and how we consider the issues raised in feedback at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/handle-complaint/. In the meantime we’d like to thank you for contacting us with your concerns. We appreciate your patience in awaiting a response.

Dec 2, 2014 CAS-3028261-XLXKHK

Reply from BBC Complaints Team

Many thanks for getting in touch again about your concerns with our output on global warming.

We don’t actually have editorial guidelines on the subject but we treat it the same way we treat any controversial subject – in a fair and balanced way. We try to provide the information which will enable viewers and listeners to make up their own minds and provide a forum for debate.

However we accept that there is broad scientific agreement on the issue and reflect this accordingly. Across our programmes the number of scientists and academics who support the mainstream view far outweighs those who disagree with it. We do however on occasion, offer space to dissenting voices where appropriate as part of our overall commitment to impartiality. The BBC Trust, which oversees our work on behalf of licence fee payers, has explicitly urged programme makers not to exclude critical opinion from policy debates involving scientists.

We believe there has to be space in our coverage where scientific consensus meets reasonable argument about the policy implications of that consensus view.

We of course value your feedback and your comments have already gone to senior management and the Radio 5 Live team.

Thank you again for letting us have your concerns.

Dec 7, 2014 CAS-3052708-GM388N

Coverage of different opinions on climate change

I received a reply to a previous complaint (CAS-3028261-XLXKHK) which included “we accept that there is broad scientific agreement on the issue and reflect this accordingly. Across our programmes the number of scientists and academics who support the mainstream view far outweighs those who disagree with it.”

There is “broad scientific agreement on the issue” that climate change is real and and is caused by human activity. There is not broad scientific agreement on the scale of the problem. There is a wide range of views.

My complaint is that the BBC does not address the range of views within climate scientists and serious commentators. The BBC regularly reports scientists who express less urgent views and are more “government friendly” (e.g. Julia Slingo, Myles Allen, Brian Hoskins) but rarely those who express more urgency and express views less friendly to the government (e.g. Kevin Anderson,Robert Watson,Michael Mann).

Bill McKibben of 350.org, warns that climate change is much worse than the “official” view. He is mentioned once on the BBC website in the report “Edward Snowden wins Sweden’s ‘alternative Nobel prize'”.
Your reply: “We do however on occasion, offer space to dissenting voices where appropriate as part of our overall commitment to impartiality.” Bill McKibben is clearly a very important dissenting voice. The BBC takes pays attention to “dissenting voices” if they down play climate change but ignores those who say it is much worse. This is bias.

Dec 23, 2014 CAS-3052708-GM388N

Reply from BBC Complaints Team

Thank you for taking time to contact us again recently. We had referred your complaint to the relevant staff and are normally able to investigate and reply to most complaints at this stage (which is stage 1b of the complaints process) within 20 working days of receipt, or around four weeks. However this is to inform you that we believe it may now take longer than 20 working days before you receive our reply.

We apologise for this and have brought the matter to the attention of the relevant staff again. The delay in answering may be due to their unavailability or other production commitments. We therefore ask you not to contact us further in the meantime. If however it does prove necessary to do so please use our webform at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints or write to us, quoting the case reference number we have provided.

We aim to use your licence fee as efficiently as we can, so if you have complained about the same issues as others we will send our response to you and everyone. We may also not investigate or reply in great detail if a complaint doesn’t suggest a potential breach of BBC standards, or a significant issue of general importance. This is in line with the BBC Trust’s complaints procedures which you can read at: www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/complaints_framework/

We appreciate your continuing patience in waiting for a response and will reply as soon as possible.

Dec 24, 2014 CAS-3075036-N519QT

Adding to previous complaint

The substance of my complaint is reinforced by James Hansen….

“Climate change science is unsettling – and important. It is difficult to get support for climate research, perhaps due to a belief that the science is “settled”. It is settled in the sense that we know that humans are now the dominant drive for global climate change, with the potential to leave young people with a changing climate system out of their control. However, the exact nature of the threat and how we can deal with it most effectively are far from settled”…

“One proof: the widely accepted view that “science” established 2°C above preindustrial temperature as a safe upper limit for global warming. That is unadulterated hogwash. The paper we published 12 months ago, Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”, with recognized international experts in relevant fields, shows that 2°C global warming is a target for disaster”… http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2014/20141223_AssuringRealProgress.pdf

Professor Hansen’s views should inform the public. Under-reporting views such as his is bias…
Perhaps the comments I have just found on Power Switch are too aggressively expressed but I remember being disappointed by the Today programme on Radio 4 on the 20th May 2013. Were there any complaints made to the interviewing of James Hansen?
“James Hansen corrects BBC over Climate Change” is at http://www.powerswitch.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=23167 ….
P.S. I would never describe John Humphries as a plonker.

Jan 28, 2015, CAS-3052708-GM388N

Reply from BBC Complaints

Thank you for getting in contact with us further regarding Radio 5 Lives’ ‘Up all Night’ as broadcast on 19th November 2014.

I am sorry to read you are not satisfied with your response and as such I have logged the further points you have made.

I wish to reassure you that we do feature a range of views on the premise of climate change and within that are the range of views on its effects, rates, impacts etc is discussed.

Unfortunately as has been previously been explained we cannot comment on the point you have raised from 2013 and it is also not our role to comment on the views of others as we not seek to denigrate any view, nor to promote any view.

I’m grateful to you for taking the time to raise your concerns with us and I’d like to assure you that we value your feedback highly. The comments we receive from our audience help to inform decisions regarding future programming and go towards improving our services.

Jan 28, 2015 CAS-3052708-GM388N

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