Posted by: Sam Carson | 15 November, 2007

BBC internal memo on climate change

“The Editors”, the blog that serves as another example of the BBC moving in a smarter direction than all media, has just posted an interesting piece on Global warming. How does a media organization as august as the BBC report climate change? Moreover, what does the Beeb do about climate change sceptics? Do they automatically get column real estate in order to “balance the opinion”?

No, according to an internal memo written by website environmental correspondent Richard Black (whose brilliant research into climate change skepticism is well worth reading) and Roger Harrabin, BBC News’ Environment Analyst (and the moderator at the recent Chatham House event on climate change that I reported on). The memo is very interesting and seems to outlines the questions and answers surrounding the BBC’s approach to Global Warming:

Back in the 1980s the battleground was defined in caricature as bi-polar, with naive lentil-eaters on one side and ruthless big business on the other. But in the new reality the centre ground in climate science, economics, politics and business has shifted seismically, leaving us struggling sometimes to locate a new core of impartiality. We are still living with criticism over our coverage of MMR when we gave the impression that each side was underpinned by science of approximately equal weight. We must get it right on climate.

What has changed since the ’80 when environmentalists were “naive lentil-eaters”? The IPCC, for the most part, presents the new reality, that climate change is real.

In a recent survey of 140 climate scientists, 18 percent found the IPCC too alarming but 82 percent either thought the IPCC represented a reasonable consensus – or said it was not alarming enough. No one agreed with the statement that global warming is a fabrication and that human activity is not having a significant effect. All the world’s major scientific bodies have endorsed the IPCC concerns about the risk of increasing greenhouse gases.

Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC it makes sense for us to focus our coverage on the consensus that climate change is happening, is serious, but is manageable if tackled urgently.

So, what do you do about the sceptics?

    We do not need consistently to ‘balance’ the reports of the IPCC. When we broadcast outlying views we should make sure we do not over represent them and we should keep a rough balance of views from either side of the IPCC. If we do not, we will distort the issue and risk misleading or confusing our audience.
    We must also be more savvy about the way we treat outlying views – and we should make it clear to our audience when an interviewee holds a minority position.

And worse:

Then there are the ‘sceptics’ (particularly in the US) funded by big business to run ‘think tanks’ spreading uncertainty and thus delaying action. We need to think hard about how and when we invite these various groups to contribute to the debate. Would we, for instance, serve our audiences by inviting lobbyists for tobacco firms to challenge the scientific links between smoking and lung cancer?

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