BBC refusing airtime to deniers of climate change, striving for gender balance

BBC report: “Impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views, but depends on the varying degree of prominence (due weight) such views should be given.”
By JC Sevcik  |  July 7, 2014 at 8:05 PM
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LONDON, July 7 (UPI) -- In an internal report released today by the BBC trust addressing the broadcaster's impartiality in science reporting and the gender balance of its contributors and presenters, the BBC has officially taken the position that it will be giving climate change deniers less airtime in an effort to provide more accurate reporting that better reflects the weighted view of the scientific community.

When they set out to review the accuracy and impartiality of BBC coverage in 2010, the trust said:

"Scientific developments have the capacity to directly affect us all significantly. Debates relating to everything from climate change to medical advances to DNA technology feature prominently in our public discourse. And ethical, policy and funding questions associated with science arouse strong emotions. As a consequence they often strike at the core of sensitive editorial issues. So it is vital that the BBC's audience enjoys science coverage of the very highest standards."
The commissioned report, which also focused on ensuring BBC science reporting was relying on a wide range of external information sources, found that due to an "over-rigid application of Editorial Guidelines . . . which fails to take into account . . . the non-contentious nature of some stories" science coverage on the BBC, in an effort to be impartial, was giving disproportionate airtime to climate change deniers who represent a small minority of scientific opinion for the sake of false balance debates, which may make for more entertaining television but can ultimately ultimately mislead public opinion on important matters.

"Impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views, but depends on the varying degree of prominence (due weight) such views should be given," the report states, explaining that to correct any fallacy of false balance in their programming the BBC will no longer give climate science deniers equal airtime as roughly 97 percent of the scientific community agrees that climate change is a real and immediate threat and only small minority of about three percent disagree.

The report is careful to make clear that the BBC isn't taking the position that there's no space for debate or dissenting opinions on the matter.

"This does not mean that critical opinion should be excluded. Nor does it mean that scientific research shouldn't be properly scrutinized," the report safeguards. "The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately.

Rather, the report stresses the BBC's priority should be to provide science coverage that reflects climate change denial as the minority opinion it is, stating, "Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC's output what weight to give to critical voices."

Along with striving to correct any imbalance in its representation of the opinions of the scientific community, the BBC Trusts' report was also interested in analyzing and addressing any gender imbalance in the contributors and presenters responsible for the BBC's science content.

"We believe we have made important steps towards improving the gender balance of presenters and contributors," the report concluded.

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