BBC and unheard voices

BBC's Question Time

I complained to the BBC this week about the coverage of climate change on the Today programme, in particular John Humphreys’ misinterpretation of the MET Office report that the global warming trends may slow until 2017. He said that the MET Office thought that global warming was not going to be as severe as predicted, which was not at all correct. The MET later made clear that they did not intend this meaning, that the Today spin was inaccurate. I just received a reply from the BBC which includes this “Editors are charged to ensure that over a reasonable period they reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends in their subject area. The BBC does not seek to denigrate any view, nor to promote any view. It seeks rather to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience.”

This emphasis in their reply on how they try to avoid bias seems to be immaterial to my complaint. But I find it an interesting statement in the light of my experience last night of attending BBCR4’s Any Questions in our local church, St Catherine’s.

This week we have seen some of the most devastating evidence that climate change is here now, well before expectations, and more horrific than imagined at only 1 degree of warming: the extreme temperatures in Australia and bush fires sweeping across it. We have also seen David Cameron take up the leadership of the G8 and announce his priorities, in which climate change is invisible but he promises to ‘unleash the power of the private sector’. We have seen the revival of protests against tree-cutting for roads. We heard a report that up to 50% of food produced is wasted.

So, I thought, I’ll submit some questions on these topics as they’re far more significant than any other news. The producers had laid out some prompts of topical issues that we might want to address. Not one prompt related to any environmental-economic issue. I was called up to the front to ask my question about how politicians might address the problem of food waste. There wasn’t time for my question so at the end I asked Jonathan Dimbleby why there can’t be more questions that embrace an ecological perspective. He apologised for not including my question but said he felt the panel weren’t equipped to deal with it. I suggested then that the BBC might invite more panellists (on this and other programmes) who are equipped to deal with a broader perspective that takes account of natural resources and the climate emergency. He was sympathetic, reminded me he had a wind turbine and told me how much he was frustrated by mountains of wasted potatoes and the ways that people misunderstand population issues. He also said he’d been arguing for a R4 programme that would investigate in more depth a key topical issue each week, drawing out the environmental and social justice issues. (I think that’s a good idea.)

Later in the ‘green room’ I talked to the commissioning editor, Jane Ellison. I expressed my frustration that BBC current affairs coverage did not represent a broad spectrum of world views, especially ecologically-aware alternatives to the dominance of pro-growth neo-liberalism. Unfortunately, she seemed to equate that alternative perspective with the BNP, UKIP or unionist/independence parties in the home countries. I tried to explain what I meant by this alternative being not just a niche interest but a broad spectrum of expertise and ideas that offers us a survival strategy for human civilisation. The three main political parties are extremely close to each other in their lack of foresight intelligence, lack of any kind of ecological epistemology and lack of response to the breaching of planetary boundaries. However, the BBC presents them as if they are three distinct parties, as if healthy debate between them might arrive at some solutions. I argue that the BBC has not identified all significant views and tested them rigorously and fairly, as they promise to do, because they are effectively silencing the most significant world view of all.

Rather than trying to define this alternative worldview in more depth, all I can do for now is to suggest some people who can articulate it better than I can. These people might enrich the BBC intellectual landscape, offering ideas for a more resilient, wellbeing-focused, commons-based society: John Thackara, John Wood, Polly Higgins, Jay Griffiths, Alex SteffenIndy JoharEllen MacArthur, Charles EisensteinKate Raworth, Jimmy GreerPaul Kingsnorth, Kate Pickett, Andrew Simms, Professor Kevin AndersonEve Mitleton-Kelly, Aled Jones, Jim McClellandDavid Abram, David Graeber, Pat Kane, Tristram Stuart, Sharon Blackie, Satish Kumar, Kumi Naidoo, Natalie Bennett, Umair Haque, Nafeez AhmedRuth Potts, Tom Crompton, Michel Bauwens, Alice Bell, Simon Lewis, David Harvey, Alison PowellAnn Finlayson, Ann Pettifor, Joss Garman, Tony Juniper, Dave Hampton, Trudy Thompson, Rebecca Hosking and Tim Flannery.

Another thought is that presenters or TV experts we already see plenty of in science, countryside or lifestyle programmes, such as Joanna Blythman, could be involved in more general political or economic programming.

Do send me more names to add to this list.


11 responses to “BBC and unheard voices

  1. Great post. I often feel very powerless when it comes to climate change. I feel that the government is doing little to address what is fast becoming the most important issue the planet is facing. If voices like Greenpeace can’t make the government take action, what chance do I have? I think often the problems with climate change, is that people choose to ignore it as it an abstract thing ‘in the future’. Maybe now that future appears to be becoming the present, and the effects of climate change are starting to be felt, governments around the world will be forced to take action. I am not articulate enough to be able to express my anger, frustration and concern over this issue effectively, but it scares me so much. When will meaningful action be taken, and will it be before it is too late?

  2. yes very frustrating that the bbc version of balance is balance betweent the existing political parties – ridiculous and self replicating narrow mindedness

  3. Hi,
    I was also at AQ last night (I apologise, it was me with the cough). I was going to ask the question “could you not have some more scientists on”, in the warm-up, and for exactly this reason. I was quite annoyed by the fact that we had 3 politicians and a “political commentator” on – four people who are not competent to comment on the pressing issues (such as climate change). In fact, having heard the response of JD to your comment makes me even more annoyed. IF the BBC doesn’t have anyone competent to answer questions, WHY NOT GET SOME PEOPLE WHO ARE COMPETENT ON?

    P.S. Yes, I’m a scientist… so I’m aware that this is a bit self-interested / aggrandising!

  4. Quite agree! The BBC’s children’s news programme, Newsround, which quoted the Met Office’s Chief Scientist as saying “the warming trend has not gone away”, and which put the Met Office revision into its proper perspective – that of a short term, five year forecast – did better at reporting this story than the flagship of BBC News, the Today Programme.

  5. I suggest Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs – he would not be the person with scientific viewpoint of the dangers, but he is very knowledgable about eco housing and the comfort, reduced bills and independence from energy companies solutions that home owners can adopt.

    I agree with the comments on bad BBC coverage. On the day that David Bowie released an unexpected album the news had what seemed like 15mis coverage and a brief but inconclusive 2 mins on the Met Office global warming adjustment. By the way Vicki Pope of the Met Office is talking in Highgate on the 5th Feb. 8pm 10a South Grove Highagte Society – no charge.

  6. The BBC World Service did run a programme along the lines that Jonathan Dimbleby suggested. It was called ‘One Planet’. The past tense gives it away – it was cut after the World Service’s budget was cut. Whilst it ran, it did cover a wide range of ecological and ethical issues with a fairly balanced perspective.

  7. Hi, Bridget, it seems like your conversation with JD may have struck enough of a chord for him to invite Ruth Davis from Greenpeace on to last night’s show – and what a voice of sanity she brought. One appearance does not a revolution make, but still, Well Done.

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