‘My worry is the BBC may use the argument that the science is settled to prevent anyone who is critical of the policies from being interviewed’ – Dr Benny Peiser
Climate change sceptics will get less of a hearing on the BBC because they are at odds with the majority view among scientists, a report reveals.
The corporation’s governing body is set to change the way the BBC covers the issue by urging it to focus less on those who disagree with the majority ‘consensus’.
The BBC Trust report, out today, is in part based on an independent review of the broadcaster’s coverage by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London.
He is understood to find no evidence of bias in the corporation’s output, but suggests that on issues where there is a ‘scientific consensus’ – also including the MMR jab and genetically modified crops – there should be no need for the BBC to find opponents of the mainstream view.
Critics of the BBC fear it may use the report as cover to ‘promote a green agenda’. In the past, the BBC has been accused of acting like a cheerleader for the theory that climate change is a man-made phenomenon.
As part of the report, Prof Jones suggests the broadcaster should appoint a senior science editor to provide expertise across channels. Another idea is to increase the use of scientists in programmes, for example as panellists on Question Time.
Recently introduced rules on ‘due impartiality’ mean the BBC now has more flexibility in how it balances views on its shows.
Corporation sources admit climate change is unlike most other areas of science in the passions it arouses and the political debate that surrounds it.
But a BBC insider close to the report said that when an issue had moved from ‘hypothesis’ to ‘consensus’, the broadcaster now needed to reflect that in the weight it gave to the different sides of the debate.
‘When they are minority views, the BBC is entitled to give them less weight rather than present it as “half the world thinks this and the half the world thinks that”,’ the source said.
‘It doesn’t mean those opposing the [mainstream] view will not be heard, but to be impartial, they would be given less weight. It is about not getting a false balance.’
Another corporation source said: ‘When there is a clear consensus, we don’t need to put the other side.
‘But this does not mean we are not going to have people who don’t agree with climate change, because balance is important.’
Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and a noted critic of the BBC, said: ‘My worry is they may use this argument that the science is settled to prevent anyone who is critical of the policies from being interviewed.’
He added the BBC was positioning itself in a ‘corner of political correctness’ and the science would be used as cover for bias in its reporting. Dr Peiser also questioned whether the BBC currently invites climate change sceptics on to shows.
It is understood some elements at BBC News are keen to carry on reflecting scepticism, because they think it is an important indicator of impartiality.
However, the BBC Trust report means it is no longer necessary to do so.
In recent years there have been a number of rows about the way the BBC has handled some scientific issues.
In 2007 for example, Peter Barron, then editor of Newsnight, criticised the BBC’s stance on climate change, saying it was not its job to ‘save the planet’.
He was backed by other executives, who feared the BBC was ‘leading’ the audience.