BBC confuses public over climate change, warn MPs

Chinese tourists wear facemasks during a visit to Tiananmen Square. Picture: Getty
Chinese tourists wear facemasks during a visit to Tiananmen Square. Picture: Getty
Share this article
Have your say

A CRITICAL report from MPs has accused the BBC of helping to keep the public confused about climate change.

Members of the Commons science and technology committee also took the government to task for failing to communicate climate science effectively enough.

As the lead public service broadcaster, the BBC played a “central” role in keeping people well-informed, said MPs.

But the corporation “lacked a clear understanding of the information needs of its audience with regards to climate science”, the report said.

The BBC appeared out of touch with viewers and listeners, believing they had a good grasp of the issues when evidence suggested otherwise, MPs added.

The report said BBC news teams, including those on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, mistakenly gave the same weight to opinions and scientific fact when covering climate science.

Committee chairman Andrew Miller MP said: “Given the high level of trust the public has in its coverage, it is disappointing the BBC does not ensure all of its programmes and presenters reflect the actual state of climate science in its output.

“Some editors appear particularly poor at determining the level of scientific expertise of contributors in debates: for instance, putting up lobbyists against top scientists as though their arguments on the science carry equal weight.”

The report points to evidence that most people do not have a good understanding of climate change or its causes and many would like to be better informed.

Yet questioned by committee members, the BBC’s head of editorial policy, David Jordan, insisted there was no lack of understanding among the BBC audience.

The BBC should apply the strict guidelines it follows for politicians when interviewing non-experts on controversial scientific topics, such as climate change, said the report.

The MPs called on the ­corporation to develop “clear editorial guidelines” for commentators and presenters, encouraging them to challenge statements from either side of the climate policy debate that stray too far from accepted ­scientific facts.

A lack of co-ordination between the government, its ­agencies and public bodies in relation to communicating ­climate science was also criticised in the report.

Failing to provide “clear, consistent messages” had a detrimental impact on public trust in climate science, said the MPs.

“As a matter of urgency, the government needs to draw up a climate-change communication strategy and implement this consistently across all departments,” they concluded.

The MPs also highlighted poor use of the internet and social media by the government and other bodies such as the Royal Society and Met Office to engage with the public on climate change.

Leo Hickman, chief adviser on climate change at conservation and environment campaign group WWF-UK, said: “This is a timely and important report by the science and technology ­committee.

“Communicating the science – and the policy implications – of climate change science is a vital but challenging task.

“The BBC is one of the world’s most trusted news sources and produces a wide range of superb programming. not least from its award-winning natural history unit.

“We are sure, therefore, that the BBC, which has a unique responsibility as a public service broadcaster, will take on the report’s findings in its endless effort to improve and refine its output on climate change.”