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BBC bungles Bali’s climate policy story

Posted by Richard D North in Global Warming / Green / Interrogating the Media / Media on 14 November 2007

Why we posted this: These pieces show the BBC doing a bad job in an area it thinks it takes seriously.

The original stories:
Various BBC webpages, such as:

1) BBC “environment analyst” Roger Harrabin and its Online environment specialist Richard Black on the broadcasters’ obligations

2) Roger Harrabin on politicians and public scepticism

Extracts from the stories:

From 1), showing that this all matters to the BBC:

Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC it makes sense for us to focus our coverage on the consensus that climate change is happening, is serious, but is manageable if tackled urgently.

If an individual approaches the climate issue with a distinct ideological position from the left or the right it makes sense for us to explain their political position to the audience. We should avoid all the jargon hurled by some of those at the extremes of the debate – such as climate change deniers, climate believers, doomsters or warmers.

From 2), on politicians and public scepticism:

The heat and light in global warming

I have spent much of the last two decades of my journalistic life warning about the potential dangers of climate change […]

There is now a strong political consensus throughout Europe that climate change is a dangerous problem needing urgent solutions; but politicians consistently tremble when they tentatively advance any of those solutions towards a public confused by the noisy media debate about climate change.

If the conservative IPPC forecasts are accurate our children may rue the years we spent squabbling over climate change rather than tackling it.

livingissues comment:
The BBC’s environment specialists are bungling their biggest issue: climate change policy. This was very clear in their reporting of the December 2007 Bali negotiations on the future of the Kyoto Treaty. The BBC cares massively about getting the climate change debate right. But its specialists write as though there was no debate to be had.

Piece 1) assumes that everyone who challenges or even interrogates the efficacy of likely climate change policy also doubts the seriousness of the problem. It doesn’t understand the way that being sceptical about the outcomes of policy is crucial to testing its merits.

Piece 2) assumes that politicians can’t act because the public is confused by sceptical talk and seems to suggest that it then becomes important to get “the truth” out. But that approach makes it less likely that the subtleties of “the truth” will be discussed. Worse, it assumes that the public would behave beautifully if the public was only more Harrabinite.

There is no discussion in Harrabin/Black of the kind of nuances which matter in climate change policy, and yet these are the provisos probably held by millions of people.

I can find no serious discussion by BBC sources of the House of Lords Economic committee or of the debates within the pages of The World Economic Journal – these are just the most obvious places where reasonable scepticism is to be found.

Sometimes the coverage is a bit better. This is one of the few pieces from Roger Harrabin’s work which notes as sensible much of the sceptical case. But there is no follow-through as to whether climate change policy scepticism might not after all be very justified. Besides, his piece begins with asserting that scientific “alarm” is new, when it has been the main feature of the debate for twenty years.

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