BBC Nine Fails on Climate

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 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?”

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.” [1]

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.

 

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 – 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:

  1. Interview and challenge the young people involved: what are their plans for the development of the protest?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

 

[1] Alastair McIntosh. “Reviews: THE HOCKEY STICK ILLUSION,” Scottish Review of Books, Volume Six, Issue Three (2010)

Comments (25)

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  1. Robert says:

    Disgraceful decisions by somebody high up at BBC Scotland.
    Btw my daughter was among those interviewed by a BBC Scotland camera team down at the Parliament. She was pretty shocked to learn that the Nine had decided not to broadcast ANYTHING about this historic event. And why? Because against their own guidelines, they chose to invite a paid climate denier first, then couldn’t find anybody willing to appear with him!

  2. Tom Ballantine says:

    This was the first time I had watched the ‘Nine’. It was truly embarassing to see the stories that were covered while an unprecedented schoolchildren’s strike on the key issue of our time was not. Sadly there is no obvious way back , the moment has passed for this particular event.

    So well done the BBC – the country’s children mobilise on the key issue for their future and turn out in numbers to protest at the lack of action.You ignore them

    The history of climate change, and Scotland’s response to it, will undoubtedly be written. I have little doubt that when the children and grandchildren of those involved in the production of this particular programme look back on this piece of work of they will be deeply unimpressed.

  3. John Cawley says:

    BBC Scotland has already demonstrated it is simply not fit for purpose. Pacific Quay is absolutely where the Scottish establishment shapes, manipulates and spins Scottish democracy. As we watch Brexit, the apotheosis of the BBC’s failure to subject the establishment to the scrutiny it requires in any reasonable democracy, we know that we are in genuine trouble.
    We have access given to climate change deniers, Brexit liars (Tom Harris on Shereen today and Good Morning Scotland tomorrow) Billy Mitchell’s season ticket to BBC Scotland news and current affairs programmes, Moray McDonald’s regular weekend gig where no questions are asked about his representation of Raytheon and the under-representation of the SNP on UK – wide BBC programming, I have simply lost all faith in the BBC.
    The BBC in Scotland and across the UK has lost its moral authority. From the Indyref to Brexit, to climate change, its coverage has been partial, top-down, one sided and absolutely inadequate. If you want an example of just how spectacularly out of touch the BBC in Scotland is, look at Yes/No:Inside the Indyref. I remember the vibrancy, the engagement and the absolute joy of that time, but BBC Scotland have reduced it to the Scottish establishment talking about their part in a political campaign. The BBC learned nothing from the Indyref, learned nothing from Brexit and will learn nothing from the dismal coverage of the young people fighting for the future of the planet.
    Top down, elitist, out of touch, partial and anachronistic, the BBC continues to illustrate that it’s no longer fit for purpose. If you complain, their defensive, short-sighted and patronising response to such complaints will simply reinforce the perception that the BBC has lost its way.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Spot on, John! They are utterly irredeemable.

  4. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I am disappointed to read what you have reported, because, I thought, as you have indicated, that the BBC had changed its policy on climate change and the need for ‘balance’.

    I have watched ‘The Nine’ a few times since it started and, generally, my response has been positive. I thought that the new team of ‘correspondents’ were much wore nuanced in their reporting than the usual suspects on Reporting Scotland. I had thought that there were indications of a change to actual journalism.

    I watched last night’s broadcast and thought it was a pretty gimcrack thing, with the presenters unsure of what they were doing or of the running order. Eventually, I was finding it so trivial and amateurish that I switched off. Your report indicates why it looked so cobbled together.

    I wonder if there has been a counter-revolution by the propagandists of News and Current Affairs horrified that the new programme, in its nascent way, was showing them up for the propagandists they are?

  5. Rob Brown says:

    Hate to say I told you so, but in my review of The Nine for Bella I did say this supposed flagship news show was a flimsy vessel. Closer to The One Show than Channel 4 News – although, to be fair to Matt Baker and Alex Jones, I doubt that they would have committed such an editorial howler on climate change, clearly the gravest issue of our epoch.

  6. Graham Ennis says:

    Ok, public warning: Bias: I am a climate scientist. I was a founding member of a climate research group that was heavily involved in the public exposure of the massive crisis that is being caused by the collapse of the Arctic ice and the Greenland Icecap. I am now out of direct climate science, as we know what is going to happen, (Do not go there, it is pure horror) Its more important now to start thinking of survival strategies, and experts are now seriously debating the now very high probability of future Civilizational collapse, caused by massive climate disaster. So against this background, I look with pure horror at the stupidity, incompetence, and ignorance shown by the BBC (Scottish sub-division and dustbin). There coverage up in Scotland is simply divorced from reality. It is not even Pseudo-science. It’s like something as written by a PR hack for a fossil fuel company or the Conservative party. Really, it is. The BBC in this particular case is telling or propagating lies, false science, and other general ignorances. So the question is, “How do they get away with it” . It is pure political propaganda mixed with sheer scientific ignorance. Astonishing, really. Even worse, where is the SNP government in all this?….incredibly, in what is meant to be a self-governing modern European country, there is no actual real portfolio science minister in Holyrood, no discernable science policy, and no attempt to control the maverick bodies operating on public funds in Scotland, such as Scottish Nature, and their capture by special economic and political interests. (hint: foreign corporations and large land-owners). So I mention this as the background in which BBC Scotland operates, and gets away with full-scale lies and bullshit. What a total mess. This perhaps goes some way to explain the situation that allows the BBC to do this kind of thing. There are a number of excellent Scottish climate and environmental groups in Scotland, but they appear to be vigorously kept out of the policy loop. in the same way, they were and are kept out of the BBC. The SNP Government has no actual proper science-based climate policy, relying instead on a string of ideas gleaned from the internet, and precious little else. So just blaming (Rightly so) the BBC messing up on climate, has to be set in context, as I have done in these comments. The rot extends beyond the BBC, into Holyrood itself. Only the Scottish Greens emerge from this with any honor, although they themselves need to improve their act. Scotland is being very ill-served on Climate and environmental issues. Why?………this is a mess that is not going to be sorted anytime soon in Scotland. Good for Bella in exposing the truth.

    1. Wul says:

      Good post Graham, terrifying for me as a parent.

      Hard for me to read though, since its all one paragraph. Unlike some, Bella’s Comments allows you to hit “return” and start a new line, without automatically posting (something that always catches me out me on FB). I think it’s the same on a mobile phone.

      1. Graham Ennis says:

        Thanks Wul. Graham

    2. indyman says:

      You are bang on here. If we start taking globally co-ordinated action right now to drastically reduce carbon emissions we might manage to retain a severely limited version of our existing civilisation. But if we leave it for another 5 years we will have gone past the point of no return.

      I’m sure the planet will breathe a huge sigh of relief as our civilisation is destroyed and it can begin to heal itself, but the process will be an absolute nightmare for us humans. The only ray of hope is that the survivors may have learned from it about the necessity of working with nature.

      1. Graham Ennis says:

        Sadly, what i say is true. The abrupt, “Hocky stick temperature curve sort of turns into a wall around 2035. Some parts of the Planet are already well above the 1.5C limit and parts of the Arctic are now about 30C warmer than they should be, in the winter. Terrifying. All of this you will not hear reported on the BBC. In this situation, ScotGov has got to get a grip, and start thinking of the consequences. We only have 15 to 20 years before massive climate impact. Yet ScotGov has no proper science minister, a bad eco policy, and no proper eco minister, and no real awareness of the situation. I weep.

        1. Alistair Taylor says:

          With all due respect Graham, whether ScotGov has a Science Minister or not won’t make a blind bit of difference in the long run.

          We’d be better off just staying at home and walking everywhere.
          (I’m no “expert”, but have a Geology (hons) degree from Glasgow. Only a second class mind you, as didn’t try too hard).

  7. Derek Harpur says:

    Climate happens. Mankind can’t stop it happening. It has been happening for millions of years.

    There has been no credible alternative put forward as to how all of the products that rely on fossil fuels will be produced if we stop using them. Nothing made of plastic; well I suppose that will get rid of the plastic pollution.

    Would you rather live in a warm climate or a cold one? Carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life. No CO2, no plant life = no food. Mother nature produces 97% of all CO2 emissions. Mankind about 3%. How are you planning to stop mother nature?

    13 years ago we only had 10 years to save the world from climate change. Makes the latest predictions look rather silly saying that we now have only 12 years to save the world. Goalposts and moving. Arrange in a sentence changing only one word and moving the position of two others.

    1. James Mills says:

      I name you Nigel Lawson – and claim my £10 !!!

    2. J Galt says:

      Maybe so, however my main issue with Oil is that it is a pollutant and that is a good enough reason for phasing it out along with it’s by-product plastic. If it (oil) is phased out over climate change fears that’s fine – as long as it’s phased out

      .And Oil is not just a physical pollutant but also a mental and cultural toxin. The effect of our “great car based society” (amongst other things) so beloved of Thatcher has been to undermine social cohesion and produce millions of self centred, selfish but also powerless “individuals”. Easy prey for the “farmers” (as I call them).

      The Car is the community destroyer par excellence. De-industrialisation is an amateur compared to the Car!

      What do you replace oil with – perhaps the technology that’s been around since the early 20th century, largely developed by a certain Mr Nicola Tesla (the misuse of this great man’s name by that creepy conman Elon Musk is tragic), more or less free energy.

      That is the true suppression of the oil industry and the banks.

      Of course I put myself up for ridicule as a “conspiracy theorist”, however I’m well beyond giving a damn about that.

      Use your intellect and dig, dig, dig and you’ll soon find out there is more or less nothing but conspiracy!

  8. Richard Easson says:

    Were the BBC journalists just “skipping” their guidelines or did they not know what they were, or worse?

    1. I don’t know Richrad, we have written to them asking for a response and clarification.

  9. Dougie says:

    Thank you for this, Mike and Bella. I don’t always agree with what you write, but this is absolutely on target.

    I was an active SNP member for a couple of years, after dithering between SNP and Scottish Greens for some time. I left the SNP because of serious issues with my local branch leadership. Your article has finally persuaded me to join the Greens.

  10. Gordon Wilson says:

    Can we please have a balanced debate with the Flat Earth Society @FlatEarthOrg? It is a real thing. Danger of ships falling off the edge and Terry Pratchet wrote many books about it I think. You should not just believe conventionally “accepted” science. Pictures from space are faked. I can completely back up with references.

  11. CM says:

    I’m posting this to provide some context.

    It appears well researched & legit. That said I have no idea anymore as the amount of disinformation circulating the web these days is bewildering.

    This is an alternative take as to what might be going on:

    http://www.theartofannihilation.com/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-a-decade-of-social-manipulation-for-the-corporate-capture-of-nature-crescendo/

    1. Wow that’s some crazy-assed shit …

      1. CM says:

        Yup.
        I was pretty gobsmacked myself.
        As I said in the original post given all the disinfo flying around these days it might be complete BS.
        However, (if it stacks up & after some serious due diligence) it might be worth contacting the original author to see if you can repost it to get it out to a wider audience.

        1. I certainly wouldn’t do that. Its very unclear what the person is trying to say, its a swirling mass of incoherent conspiracy.

          Its certainly true that NGOs and environmental organisations have become huge.

          But its very difficult to discern what the key arguments are, apart from a very complex attempt to smear Greta Thunberg?

          1. Robert says:

            Greta Thunberg has made it very clear that she has no links with any commercial organisation, despite attempts by various companies to use her for their own self-promotion.

  12. Lyn Folkes says:

    This is an excellent article which describes exactly why the young adult population in Canada is very mistrustful of any ‘news’ today. It is very discouraging when a child has to educate their parents about online sites that review news for its accuracy. When did our media quality deteriorate to the point of completely losing its credibility? Since when do uneducated opinions take precedence over properly done scientific research? Without honest reporting, our society will surely fail, and that is why we have such chaos in the media now. Climate Change is real and happening, as has been agreed by the scientific community world-wide for many years. The proof is in how warm our climate has rapidly become in recent years, and in the increasing devastation of natural disasters taking place more frequently around the globe. This effects all of us, so let’s agree to start with the unarguable fact that Climate Change is real, and understand that every government on Earth needs to take serious strides to mitigate the negative impacts we are experiencing in many countries already. If you are a Climate Change denier, it is about time that you grow up and face the problem at hand in an honest and sincere manner. It’s time for everyone to stop hiding behind lies and excuses in order to try and solve the problem. The governments that are in place today are probably our last chance, so will they help or be blamed in perpetuity for the coming future — whatever it may bring …

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