BBC 'political bias is unmissable, risible, almost the stuff of satire – and that’s dangerous'

| 6th September 2018
The BBC needs to better educate and inform its audience about the severities of climate change. Children's author SUE HAMPTON sets out five ways in which it can clean up its act

By informing and educating us about climate change the BBC could be instrumental in our very survival.

Ever since I watched Robin Hood riding through a black-and-white cardboard glen, the BBC has enriched my life.

As an adult I grew to admire the technical artistry of wildlife programmes, and the remarkable courage of news correspondents like John Simpson and Kate Adie reporting from war zones. I cooked and cleaned while genuinely learning from Radio Four.

The respect for which viewers and listeners like me had for the BBC was earned through detailed research, fairness and expertise. 

Losing support

David Attenborough, arguably the world’s most respected presenter, has for decades exemplified the highest standards of integrity on which the nation has depended.

In recent years Professor Cox has enhanced our understanding of what it means to be human in a mysterious and fascinating world.

Yet now the Corporation responsible for such excellence has lost my admiration and support. It is with sadness, anxiety and growing anger that I ask why values so embedded in the BBC’s raison d’être have been compromised and abandoned.

The political bias is unmissable, risible, almost the stuff of satire – and that’s dangerous. It threatens democracy.

The rise of the Far Right began with the BBC platform that made Nigel Farage ubiquitous (see Question Time panel statistics). News often constitutes misinformation as the BBC takes its agenda and even its vocabulary from the predominantly right wing press.

Climate chaos

But I am writing about something even more serious, so dangerous as to threaten the future of life on earth.

Our most prestigious national broadcaster fails to acknowledge the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists. It almost never finds it necessary to share the causes, nature and potential outcomes of climate change these experts identify.

Calls for change to mitigate climate chaos are apparently banned. Instead, I observe a persistent and perverse determination to give a voice to climate deniers in spite of their statistical isolation, and a blithe or strategic head-in-sand approach to programming.

Weather presenters have smiled about sunshine through this summer, while new temperature records have been set in Africa and Australian cities, Taiwan, Georgia and the west coast of US, heat stroke or forest fires have killed (at least 119 in Japan).

We have seen freak blazes in Lapland and elsewhere in the Arctic Circle.

Informing and educating 

It became clear, after Blue Planet’s shocking exposé of plastic pollution, that the truth inspires in many of us immediate and committed changes of attitude and behaviour. By informing and educating us about climate change the BBC could be instrumental in our very survival.

Instead its silence sends out a clear message that there’s no problem. If we were at risk on this earth, the BBC would be telling us! 

Of course the government is guilty of pursuing an energy policy that accelerates climate crisis. It continues to subsidise fossil fuels, pursues fracking despite medical opinion as well as earth science. All this in spite of ever-mounting opposition, low and declining support and the rejection of proposals by local Councils.

Indeed no MP would support fracking in their constituency because every community would resist it. Yet, as the government threatens to push ahead and frack our countryside, we hear next to nothing of the reasons other countries and states have thought better of this reckless idea and agreed a moratorium or ban.

Presenters seem more interested in challenging Jeremy Corbyn on every move he makes and breath he takes than in challenging a government about to begin a hugely damaging practice that will destroy our chances of achieving the less-than-ambitious targets agreed in Paris.

Peace and justice

I am a Green Party member, but my interest is much less in party politics than in the survival of humanity, in peace and justice. I’m a Quaker and a grandma; I believe in acting on what love requires of us.

Visiting schools as an author, I’m acutely aware that the young who grow up in the knowledge of climate change wonder why the adults in charge – in government, but also in the media – ignore the truth and in doing so, jeopardise their future. 

I therefore suggest that in order to fulfil its responsibility at this crucial time in human history, the BBC needs to:

  • Stop crediting climate deniers with a reasonable position when climate scientists are virtually unanimous in the expert conviction that climate change is real, dangerous and exacerbated by human activity;
  • Stop referring to climate change as though it’s no more important than football, if somewhat inconvenient for gardeners, and as if nothing can be done to address it;
  • Look into the political allegiances of key figures behind and on screen and ensure that there is no unrepresentative imbalance of opinion. While I’m tempted to ask that climate deniers make up no more than three percent of BBC staff, I would happily settle for minimum science qualifications for all those representing or presenting scientific data, news, weather or political debate. 
  • Challenge government policies that endanger future generations with the same unshifting focus currently applied to Labour’s difficulties.
  • Invite David Attenborough, Brian Cox and Chris Packham, all of whom agree on the vital need for action, to present the truth and inspire change.

Nothing has ever mattered more.

This Author 

Sue Hampton is an author writing fiction for children, teenagers and adults, all underpinned by green values. She lives in Berkhamsted, Herts, where she is a Trustee for People not Borders supporting refugees, a Green Party member and a co-founder of Plastic-Free Berko. 

Right of Reply 

A BBC spokesperson told The Ecologist"The BBC is committed to covering all subjects, including climate change, with due impartiality. The term 'due' means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation. This does not meant that there has to be equal balance between opposing views and the BBC is mindful of the findings of the 2011 BBC Trust review of impartiality in science coverage and its recommendations on due weight of opinion.

"In the case of climate change the BBC acknowledges the weight of scientific consensus around climate change and this underpins our reporting of the subject and we always seek to make this clear. This does not mean, however, that we should never interview someone who opposes this consensus and there are times when it is editorially appropriate to hear from a dissenting voice. The BBC is committed to reporting the facts and most recently has covered a range of climate change based [stories] such as the ‘Hothouse Earth’ scenario, pioneering climate change resistant farming and a study from the Nature Communications journal about rising temperatures.”

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