The BBC has told staff they no longer need to invite climate-change deniers on to its programmes, suggesting that allowing them to speak was like letting someone deny last week’s football scores.
It has also asked all editorial staff to take a course on how to report on climate change and said that its coverage of the topic “is wrong too often”.
New BBC editorial policy on climate change states: “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.”
In April Ofcom ruled that the Today programme on Radio 4 had breached broadcasting rules by “not sufficiently challenging” Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer and a climate-change sceptic, over claims he made in an interview.
Lord Lawson is the founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a “climate sceptic” think tank. The director of the foundation said that the new BBC policy was “basically telling editors: ‘Don’t touch the GWPF.’ ”
Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, emailed its journalists this week asking them to book a place on a one-hour course that “covers the latest science, policy, research and misconceptions to challenge, giving you confidence to cover [climate change] accurately and knowledgeably”.
The email — leaked to the website Carbon Brief, which seeks to raise awareness of the threat of climate change — referred staff to a “crib sheet” that includes the new policy.
The policy says: “Climate change has been a difficult subject for the BBC, and we get coverage of it wrong too often. The climate science community is clear that humans have changed the climate, but specifically how is more difficult to evidence.” A section entitled “What’s the BBC’s position” says that “man-made climate change exists: if the science proves it we should report it.”
It instructs staff: “Be aware of ‘false balance’: as climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate.”
The policy adds that “there may be occasions to hear from a denier” but only “with appropriate challenge from a knowledgeable interviewer”.
It also tells staff to be careful even when interviewing people who accept that climate change is happening but believe that it is occurring much more slowly than many scientists state.
The document says that BBC journalists “need to be aware of the guest’s viewpoint and how to challenge it effectively” and should also say which organisation he or she represents and “potentially how that group is funded”.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation does not disclose who funds it.
Benny Peiser, the foundation’s director, said that Lord Lawson had been invited on to the Today programme only twice in the past five years and on both occasions complaints from campaigners had resulted in the BBC apologising.
He added: “This memo puts in writing what most people have known for the past ten years, which is that anyone sceptical of climate alarmism isn’t allowed on the BBC. They cherry-pick the people who make claims. No one is allowed to counter their own bias.
“The BBC is taking a position on a very controversial issue. Climate change is real and humans are contributing to it but it is not as alarming as the BBC very often makes out.”
The Times, 8 September 2018