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Friday, 8 January 2010

BBC to launch review into allegations of bias in its science coverage

The BBC Trust is to launch an investigation into allegations of bias in its coverage of science.

By Urmee Khan, Digital and Media Correspondent
Published: 3:18PM GMT 06 Jan 2010

The BBC has been criticised for its reporting of science stories in recent months and it has been accused of failing to cover the climate change debate objectively.

The Trust will carry out the review in the spring to assess the "accuracy and impartiality" of the corporation's coverage of science.

The corporation’s governing body said the review follows "heated debates" around topics like GM crops, MMR and global warming.

The BBC came under fire in November, after a broadcaster admitted he knew about controversial emails in which scientists discussed "spinning" climate data long before it reported on them.

Paul Hudson, a BBC weather presenter and climate change expert, said he was sent the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia, indicating that researchers massaged figures to mask the fact that world temperatures have been declining in recent years, a month before the story broke.

It raised questions about why the BBC did not report on the matter sooner, and it reignited the debate over whether the corporation is biased on the issue of climate change.

Peter Sissons, the veteran newsreader, claimed last year that it was now "effectively BBC policy" to stifle critics of the consensus view on global warming.

The review, which will be published in 2011, will assess science output relating to public policy and "matters of political controversy".

The "science" label will include technology, medicine and environment coverage that "entails scientific statements, research findings or other claims made by scientists". The review is expected to consult scientists and experts in the field.

Richard Tait, a BBC trustee and chair of the Trust's editorial standards committee (ESC), said: "Science is an area of great importance to licence fee payers, which provokes strong reaction and covers some of the most sensitive editorial issues the BBC faces.

"Heated debate in recent years around topics like climate change, GM crops and the MMR vaccine reflects this, and BBC reporting has to steer a course through these controversial issues while remaining impartial.

"The BBC has a well-earned reputation for the quality of its science reporting, but it is also important that we look at it afresh to ensure that it is adhering to the very high standards that licence fee payers expect."

However, some critics have said the BBC Trust is not in a position to conduct the review as it is regarded as being to close to the corporation.

Godfrey Bloom MEP said: "I would like to see a completely independent judicial review, the BBC cannot be objective as it has consistently shown. It has blocked sceptics of a scientific view point of climate change for years. No debate is allowed. It is biased in its reporting which is a disgrace and nothing less than a fully independent review is good enough."

A BBC Trust spokeswoman said: "As set out in the BBC's Charter and Agreement, the Trust is the body charged with ensuring that the BBC's coverage of any issue is duly impartial. This review, which will be carried out independently on behalf of the Trust, will take an in-depth look at the BBC's coverage of science, taking into account the views of relevant stakeholders, to make sure that the coverage adheres to the high standards that audiences expect."

(Submitted by Ray D)

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