How ironic it was last week to hear the BBC leading its news on that Commons report claiming that our “democracy is being destroyed” by the flood of “fake news” spread by social media. In fact, thanks to the relentless bias of its own coverage of so many issues, there is no more influential source of “fake news” than the BBC itself.
Here are two glaring, but far from untypical, recent examples.
The first began earlier in February with puffs on the BBC News website and Radio 4’s Today programme by Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s “environment analyst”, for a report by a body called the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), warning of “multiple crises” that threaten to “destabilise” the world’s entire environmental system. Particularly striking was a repeated claim that, since 2005, thanks to climate change, there has been a 15-fold increase in floods across the world and a 20-fold increase in “extreme temperature events”.
This seemed so startling that it prompted Paul Homewood, the diligent statistical analyst, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog to track down the evidence for these claims. It turned out that they originated from a database of natural disasters, EM-DAT. According to Homewood, this showed that the chief reason for these rocketing increases was a very significant change in the way such “disasters” were being recorded, to include thousands of more recent events that would previously have been far too small to register in the global figures (the IPPR itself warned that these figures should, therefore, be treated with “caution”).
But then Homewood found that the IPPR version was taken from something cited as the “GMO White Paper”, which might have sounded scientific. In fact, the “GMO” stands for Grantham, Mayo, van Otterloo, the asset management firm run by Jeremy Grantham, who also funds the Grantham Institute on Climate Change at two London universities, Imperial College and the LSE (similar figures have been quoted by Lord Stern, the chair of the LSE branch).
Even the BBC realised that it had come rather a cropper on these claims. Subsequently, it allowed for at least a partial correction, aided by Mark Lynas, the climate campaigner, and the authors of that disaster database to which Grantham attributed his figures. But the impact of this was infinitely less than that of the coverage by Harrabin.
It was he who, back in 2006, was the organiser of that “secret seminar” between top BBC executives and green activists, which led to the BBC policy that – despite its statutory obligation to report only with “impartiality” – because the science on climate change was now settled, there was no need to give “equal space” to views that questioned it (with results so much in evidence ever since).