Another day, another broadside against the BBC. This time, it is the Commons Science and Technology Committee that is taking the broadcaster to task. According to MPs, the Beeb’s news coverage is inclined to give scientific fact and unscientific opinion the same billing. While the views of, say, sceptical lobby groups should be heard, they should not be treated on a par with proven research, the committee concludes.
There are several possible explanations. One is uncertainty among BBC staff about where, on the issue of climate change, the line between science and supposition lies. Another is the reality of programme-making; there is nothing like a spirited debate to keep viewers and listeners interested. A third is that this is a consequence of the perennial allegations of political bias levelled at the BBC.
There are some such accusations from those on the left, who tend to list the right-wing affiliations of everyone from the Chairman of the BBC Trust downwards to bolster their argument. The overwhelming majority of the pressure is the other way, however. When one of the Corporation’s top broadcasters, John Humphrys, suggested last month that the BBC had “bought into the European ideal”, and had therefore not been sufficiently sceptical of the pro-EU case, there were howls of triumph. Meanwhile, the recent appointment of a senior Trades Union Congress official as Newsnight’s economics correspondent prompted outrage and I-told-you-so in equal measures.
Against such a background, is it any wonder if the BBC tries to give climate-change naysayers – who are predominantly from the political right – a hearing? Except, of course, that climate change is not a matter of politics. This week’s United Nations report warning that the effects of excess atmospheric carbon are already being felt, and that future food and security are at risk, is not the conjectures of an axe-grinding few. It is the result of collating the research of thousands of scientists across the world.
To remedy the situation, the Corporation needs clearer editorial guidelines on climate change, say MPs. Indeed, it does. Science is not opinion, and should not be treated as such.