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New BBC Climate Policy: Right Is Wrong, Wrong Is Right

Andrew Montford, Bishop Hill

News that the BBC continues to sing from the greens’ hymn sheet is never hard to come by and so we can turn to the latest news with a sense of weary inevitability rather than any great surprise.

The Today programme interview with Brian Hoskins and Nigel Lawson on the subject of the winter floods was, as readers no doubt recall, the subject of a concerted campaign from green activists and, with a certain predictability, a formal complaint or two. Anyone who has ever dealt with the BBC Editorial Standards unit will know that it can take months to get a response and years to get a ruling, but wheels seems to have been oiled to a remarkable extent for this green-tinged complaint and the Guardian now seems to have got hold of the findings, just months after the offending programme appeared:

Reviewing the broadcast, the BBC’s head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, took a dim view. “Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research,” Steel says, “and I don’t believe this was made sufficiently clear to the audience … Furthermore the implication was that Lord Lawson’s views on climate change were on an equal footing with those of Sir Brian.” And they aren’t. Sceptics have their place in the debate, Steel says in his provisional finding, but “it is important to ensure that such views are put into the appropriate context and given due (rather than equal) weight.” Chong is only partially satisfied. He’d like a right of reply and perhaps a balancing programme. And others say “due weight” should mean not having Lawson on at all.

During the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the public understanding of climate science, I pointed out to the committee that other witnesses seemed to be pushing very hard for dissenting views on climate change to be flagged up front as “wrong”, something that was hotly disputed by chairman Andrew Miller and Ros Donald of the Climate Brief:

Andrew Montford: The undertone of some of these answers is that somehow sceptic views are not valid. Ros says they should be there in the context of what the real science is, and that any sceptic view should be put forward with somebody saying why it is wrong. It is a mad way of running things.

Q138 Chair: I have not heard anyone say that.

Ros Donald:I think that is a bit unfair.

Andrew Montford: You wanted the sceptic views put in context.

Ros Donald: That means putting them in context; it does not mean they are wrong. That is a big difference.

As we can see, the head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel thinks that audiences need to be told that Lawson is wrong; his “views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research”. I wonder if Ros Donald still thinks I was being “a bit unfair”?

At this point it’s worth returning to the transcript of the interview and it’s hard to recall a better one on the BBC. It’s not often you hear a scientist challenged on anything on the BBC, an organisation whose journalists seem to hold people with the letters PhD after their name in a certain awe. It’s even rarer to hear a climatescientist challenged. And readers will be hard to put to find anything incorrect that Lawson said in the interview – indeed there was considerable agreement between him and Hoskins.

This is a stark contrast to Julia Slingo’s infamous statement about the floods on the BBC, namely that “all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change”, something that her own organisation denied. But in a way this is beside the point. Steel seems to want to take the view that any interview with Lawson that touches on the subject of AGW should carry a health warning.

When you think about it, the BBC’s new position is going to put them in an utterly hilarious position. It will be possible for true things said by people like Lawson, to be preceded by a formal statement that they have “views that are not supported by the evidence [sic] from computer modelling and scientific research”. At the same time incorrect things can be said by people like Julia Slingo, who will be introduced as those who have those evidence-supported views.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, utterly preposterous.

Looking on the bright side though, it is another nail in the coffin of the BBC.

Bishop Hill, 26 June 2014