BBC Struggles To Contain Inaccurate Reporting After Banning Climate Skeptics

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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BBC News needs to do more to push back against inaccurate scientific statements made by celebrities, according to a report by the governing body of Britain’s public broadcaster.

The BBC Trust said BBC News’ science coverage has caused audiences “considerable frustration” when anchors didn’t push back against claims made by celebrities, politicians and other prominent figures.

The Trust specifically singled out one instance where Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson was allowed to make “inaccurate statements” in an interview without being challenged, according to The Telegraph.

In a September, 2015, episode of “Newsnight,” Thompson said if oil companies “take out of the earth all the oil they want to take out, you look at the science.”

“Our temperature will rise four degrees Celsius by 2030, and that’s not sustainable,” she said.

The Trust slammed BBC for not challenging the statement, noting temperature rise would occur much more gradually than Thompson alleged. The Trust said “Newsnight” had “not challenged in any way by the presenter or programme.”

“More should be done to ensure that all BBC presenters are able to confidently challenge misleading/ inaccurate statistical claims made by interviewees,” the Trust report, co-authored by statistician Dame Jil Matheson, noted. “Whether it’s a celebrity or a minister or a spokesperson from a charity, then the same recommendation, the same comment, the same questions of what’s beyond the numbers should apply.”

The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2014 report found the increase of global mean surface temperature by the end of the 21st century (2081–2100) relative to 1986–2005 is likely to be 0.3°C to 1.7°C” under its low greenhouse gas emissions scenario.

It’s only under the high emissions scenario, known as RCP8.5, that temperature increase could range between “2.6°C to 4.8°C,” according to the IPCC. So, Thompson’s claim was not based on the weight of scientific evidence that BBC News strives to report.

But BBC struggling to keep a lid on inaccurate statements made by celebrities and politicians comes a little more than two years after the news network started telling reporters not to invite “so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views,’” according to a 2014 Telegraph report.

The BBC Trust reported in 2014 detailing how 200 staffers got training on how to exclude marginal views from news coverage, including those from global warming skeptics.

“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given,” the Trust reported, singling out global warming skeptics.

The Trust released its report about four months after BBC News was accused of misleading its viewers by giving too much weight to skeptics. Critics said this created a “false balance” and misrepresented the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.

Update: “It was a wide-ranging interview that touched on issues from climate change to the current migration crisis and Jeremy Corbyn in the space of five minutes. In a longer interview we would have pressed Thompson to justify her assertion about global temperature rises,” a BBC spokeswoman said in regards to the Thompson interview.

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