On 24 July, Prof Stephen Belcher appeared on BBC Newsnight. As the Met Office’s chief scientist, he gave an expert opinion about the reasons behind soaring temperatures in Europe and around the world. But after the broadcast, the BBC tweeted:
“The heatwave that we’ve got is probably part of natural cycles in the weather” – The Chief Scientist at the Met Office, Stephen Belcher, explains the significance of this summer’s heatwave.
Although it subsequently deleted the tweet, it was too little, too late. The BBC needs to raise its game in reporting on climate change.
Belcher’s actual analysis on Newsnight was nuanced. When asked if current global temperatures were the “new normal”, he said:
The heatwave that we’ve got is probably part of natural cycles in the weather… but it’s superimposed on this background of global warming, and that’s what’s elevating our temperatures
And the Newsnight segment gave a fair platform to climate-change experts. But in a now-deleted tweet, the BBC only reported half of Belcher’s opening analysis on Twitter, presenting the clip with the line:
The heatwave that we’ve got is probably part of natural cycles in the weather
As many have been quick to point out, the initial tweet was highly problematic. Some compared the BBC to America’s Fox News, which persistently misreports on the impact of global warming and climate change:
We saved so others can appreciate how you tried to deceive people. Who knew Andrew Neil's influence spread so far across BBC News output.
The Foxification of BBC news and current affairs continues unabated. pic.twitter.com/KsclUX0phW
— reckless monkey 🐵 (@loftymonkey) July 25, 2018
Oh, Newsnight appear to have tweeted the tweet where they decided to have a go at climate change denial. It's almost funny that people try to act like our media is much superior to America's.
— Hanna Nina Jameson (@Hanna_Jameson) July 25, 2018
Viewers pointed out why – despite the deletion – this was a serious error:
Chief scientist at the Met office goes on TV to explain that this is a result of climate change.@BBCNewsnight Twitter selectively quote him to make it look like he said it isn't.
Pretty appauling behaviour. https://t.co/uNSdUIWrbj
— Adam Ramsay (@AdamRamsay) July 25, 2018
if you really are the bbc's flagship current affairs program there really isn't much hope is there?
— Mark Burton (@MarkBurton_) July 25, 2018
Others reminded the BBC that, in 2017, it broke Ofcom broadcasting rules when “climate sceptic” ex-chancellor Nigel Lawson appeared on Radio 4. And in 2014, the BBC had to answer a complaint after it failed to challenge Lawson’s views on climate change adequately on the Today programme.
Dear Newsnight – Could you please check if you have an elderly intern in your social media team with N.Lawson on his ID badge ?
— David (@InspectorDuck) July 25, 2018
To encourage climate action in the UK requires a change in the way the BBC presents evidence on climate. As Dr David Robert Grimes emphasises in a 2016 article, impartiality is a crucial part of journalism. However, current reporting on climate change shows bias against the scientific consensus. Real balance would require 97% of coverage to favour scientists who recognise climate change.
Others have gone further and stated that frequent lack of balanced reporting actually makes the BBC complicit:
Climate-related conflagration, heatwaves, flooding, landslides and soaring temperatures – including in the Arctic. This is #ClimateBreakdown
For decades, @BBCNews has failed to hold to account the governments, corporations and institutions that are burning the planet. #complicit pic.twitter.com/CrKYi4YrKv
— Media Lens (@medialens) July 25, 2018
While the BBC has made climate-change reporting mistakes in the past, this Newsnight report should have been something to celebrate. The BBC tackled one of the planet’s most pressing issues and gave climate-change experts a fair platform. But it then completely undermined this, with a misleading and inaccurate tweet. Tick-tock BBC: time is literally running out.
– Join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.
Featured image via Tim Loudon/Flickr