The BBC, Today and climate change coverage

The British media is... diverse. And never less so than in its approach to climate change. It might be wondered why, with newspapers such as the Daily Express regularly running strident articles proclaiming global warming a hoax, we would target our campaigning at the more civilised atmosphere of the BBC and Radio 4's Today programme. Why are we so concerned about how they cover the forthcoming IPCC report and climate change in general?

The BBC has a degree of authority and status which few other news outlets have, and with public ownership comes a public service responsibility. The crisis of climate change requires us as a society to take urgent decisions. It is particularly worrying when BBC coverage encourages doubt about climate science and complacency about its implications.

For some reason the Today programme is a repeat offender for inaccurate climate coverage. A quick reminder below:


Professor Steve Jones led a BBC Trust review into the accuracy and impartiality of BBC science coverage. He found that some programmes set out a 'false balance', "suggesting that there are two equally valid points of view that must be sorted out – ten years after consensus had been reached that (whatever the cause) climate change is happening." A key recommendation was that "there should be no attempt to give equal weight to opinion and to evidence."


quick audit of news coverage by Carbon Brief suggested that the review's findings have not been fully implemented . This was epitomised by John Humphrys' combative interview with Ralph Cicerone, president of the US National Academy of Science.

"Do you accept that if you live in a country like this where we've had a series of rotten summers [...] that actually, we're entitled to be a bit skeptical?"

"You can't absolutely prove, can you, that CO2 is responsible for global warming?" 



In early January the Today programme covered the Met Office's revised forecast for the next five years. The forecast had been released by the Met Office before Christmas but the story was not picked up by the media until the 'climate sceptic' Global Warming Policy Foundation blogged about it. The Today programme did not invite the Met Office to comment on the news item, and led with the misleading headline "The Met Office has said it does not believe global warming will be as severe as it had previously predicted". Julia Slingo of the Met Office protested strongly on Radio 4's Feedback programme at the misrepresentation.


The Today programme was widely criticised for ex-politician Nigel Lawson's 'debate' with climate expert Sir Brian Hoskins, with the presenter allowing equal weight to be given to well-supported science and unqualified assertion. Professor Jones recently stated that despite excellent science coverage elsewhere on the BBC, this item was an example of BBC News "sticking two fingers up at BBC management" and failing to act on his 2011 findings.

Worrying signs... A BBC online article trailing the IPCC report has already been headlined "Dissent among scientists over key climate impact report". The single 'dissenter' quoted is in fact an economist.


Join us in asking Today and the BBC to ensure their coverage of the forthcoming IPCC report reflects the science and does not pander to those who wish to delay action on climate change.