BBC propagandaAn alarming insight into how the BBC operates?
Who's Churning the BBC Machine?
• 'How the BBC became a propaganda machine for climate change zealots - as recounted by its former news frontman, Peter Sissons
Based on the Daily Wail story which in turn drew on Peter Sissons's memoirs, with additional comments by Pi editors.
Sissons diagnoses it as 'political correctness'. Worrying about manmade climate change was an incontrovertible duty - a view also taken, for example, at the Guardian and the Times newspapers. But Sisson's writes:
'From the beginning I was unhappy at how one-sided the BBC's coverage of the issue was, and how much more complicated the climate system was than the over-simplified two-minute reports that were the stock-in-trade of the BBC's environment correspondents.
These, without exception, accepted the UN's assurance that 'the science is settled' and that human emissions of carbon dioxide threatened the world with catastrophic climate change. Environmental pressure groups could be guaranteed that their press releases, usually beginning with the words 'scientists say..'. would get on air unchallenged.
On one occasion, an MP used BBC airtime to link climate change doubters with perverts and holocaust deniers, and his famous interviewer didn't bat an eyelid.
On another occasion, after the inauguration of Barack Obama as president in 2009, the science correspondent of Newsnight actually informed viewers: 'scientists calculate that he has just four years to save the world'. What she didn't tell viewers was that only one alarmist scientist, NASA's James Hansen, had said that.
My interest in climate change grew out of my concern for the failings of BBC journalism in reporting it. In my early and formative days at ITN, I learned that we have an obligation to report both sides of a story. It is not journalism if you don't. It is close to propaganda.
The BBC is bound by charter, of course, to be accurate and not conduct campaigns for causes. Exceptions however, can be authorised. The BBC's editorial policy on climate change was spelled out in a report by the BBC Trust in 2007. This announced that the BBC had held 'a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus'.
The Trust promised thqt that climate change dissenters had been, and still would be, heard on its airwaves. 'Impartiality' in keeping with their status as a 'minority view'. The BBC report adds: 'as long as minority opinions are coherently and honestly expressed, the BBC must give them appropriate space.' (By which it meant the same sort of thing as allowing racist parties might be allowed to comment on immigration policy, for example.)
Indeed, Sissons notes: 'In reality, the 'appropriate space' given to minority views on climate change was practically zero.'
One mystery that has perplexed PI researchers, is who WAS at this important seminar assessing the status of climate science. Numerous Freedom of Information requests have for the guest list have been brushed off - but then a list turned up on the Wayback Machine revealing that they were... a mix of amateurs, business men with profits to make from the AGW scare - and greenies.
For a start, the seminar was partly funded by the UK government and organised in conjunction with a lobby group called the International Broadcasting Trust, both of which had a particular policy aim of increasing coverage about human environmental damage.
Likewise Exeter is a nice town, but it’s an awfully long way from Broadcasting House in London. But it is the base of the UK government’s research unit whose job is to produce evidence of the effects of human-made global warming.
When an Italian climate sceptic found the names of the people at the expert conference on a long-forgotten web-page the cat was really out of the bag. The list showed that far from a representative sample of scientific opinion, the meeting consisted of scientists whose jobs revolved around proving the theory of human-made climate change; campaigners whose commitment to the cause of fighting global warming was in inverse proportion to their expert knowledge; and groups with financial interests such as British Petroleum.
This all came out after Sissons wrote his memoris. But in these, he says that there is one brief account of the proceedings, written by a conservative commentator who was there.
'He wrote subsequently that he was far from impressed with the 30 key BBC staff who attended. None of them, he said, showed 'even a modicum of professional journalistic curiosity on the subject'. None appeared to read anything on the subject other than the Guardian.'
And, as we know too, Guardian journalists, even so-called environment ones, rely on Wikipedia! for their information.
Sissons adds that this attitude was underlined a year later in another statement: 'BBC News currently takes the view that their reporting needs to be calibrated to take into account the scientific consensus that global warming is man-made.'
'Those scientists outside the 'consensus' waited in vain for the phone to ring', notes Sissons.
'It's the lack of simple curiosity about one of the great issues of our time that I find so puzzling about the BBC. When the topic first came to ≠prominence, the first thing I did was trawl the internet to find out as much as possible about it. Anyone who does this with a mind not closed by religious fervour will find a mass of material by respectable scientists who question the orthodoxy. Admittedly, they are in the minority, but scepticism should be the natural instinct of scientists - and the default setting of journalists.'
Yet the cream of the BBC's inquisitors during my time there never laid a glove on those who repeated the mantra that 'the science is settled'. On one occasion, an MP used BBC airtime to link climate change doubters with perverts and holocaust deniers, and his famous interviewer didn't bat an eyelid.
(PI adds: This is probably a reference to the present Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Nick Clegg, who used this comparisonn in the pre-election debates. Clegg's wife has a good reason to be concerned about the issue - she is the director of a business that makes wind turbines, and relies on government largesse.)
Sissons makes another interesting point too:
'Meanwhile, Al Gore, the former U.S. Vice-President and climate change campaigner, entertained the BBC's editorial elite in his suite at the Dorchester and was given a free run to make his case to an admiring internal audience at Television Centre.'
At the BBC, Gore's views were above journalistic scrutiny, 'even when a British High Court judge ruled that his film, An Inconvenient Truth, ≠contained at least nine scientific errors, and that ministers must send new guidance to teachers before it was screened in schools. From the BBC's standpoint, the judgment was the real inconvenience, and its environment correspondents downplayed its significance.'
Sissons also records how daily reporting turned into daily applauding:
'At the end of November 2007 I was on duty on News 24 when the UN panel on climate change produced a report which later turned out to contain significant inaccuracies, many stemming from its reliance on non-peer reviewed sources and best-guesses by environmental activists.'
But the way the BBC's reporter treated the story was as if it was beyond a vestige of doubt, the last word on the catastrophe awaiting mankind. The most challenging questions addressed to a succession of UN employees and climate activists were 'How urgent is it and 'How much danger are we in?' Back in the studio I suggested that we line up one or two sceptics to react to the report, but received a totally negative response, as if I was some kind of lunatic.'