BBC makes itself a political football again

Wednesday, 19th September 2007 at 7:54 UTC 1 comment

Many people it seems are saddened by the spinelessness of the BBC as it has given in to pressure to scrap its Planet Relief day of programs to highlight the effects of Climate Change. Inevitably, a Facebook group now exists to allow you to voice your concerns. But anyway, what I want to draw on here is the way in which political neutrality is dangerous, not because it prevents an organisation like the BBC from speaking out, but because, by attempting to stay out of muddy ground, the BBC has made itself a football to be kicked around.

Had Planet Relief gone ahead, it would probably have been a really heavily vetted day of shows anyway. Under the BBC’s guidelines, there would have had to be some space for voices critical of mainstream Climate Change theories. But the fact is, the BBC’s own weather forecasters almost monthly have to say “this was the X-ist month Y on record”, be that Hot, Wet, Windy, whatever. When the statistics from the Met office already make it that clear, to make such a climb down, or indeed to fail to speak out, is not to move out of a political camp, but to be pulled into one.

You see, by running with the bare-bones facts, and then adding two different explanations, the BBC maintains a balance. It is never neutral, thats simply impossible, and it never manages to feature more than about 3 sides to a debate at a squeeze, but sadly attitudes to what neutrality looks like still rely on 2-side-establishment debates (i.e. Europe good for business, Europe bad for business, but never Europe bad for poor or No Europe poor still exploited).

By being silenced, the anti-environmentalist lobby has won the BBC over to its cause. By failing to hold the course, the BBC also failed to maintain its independence and ability to think freely about what it portrays and how, no matter how much we might like to influence it on other issues. If the BBC wants to stay on the sideline of debates, then this has been a stupid move, allowing it to be drawn into tacit endorsement of one side over the other.

On top of this, Planet Relief would have raised money for those who have been the victims of natural disasters, either directly or indirectly. If they canceled because someone claimed the Climate isn’t Changing, then they have pretty much denied the real, visible, newsworthy suffering of millions, and if they have decided to cancel because of the debate on how far human actions are causing Climate Change, then they have allowed suffering to be silenced by irrelevant debate.

This is, in some ways, a continuation of two previous debates. One of these, which is mentioned in various places stems from 2005 and the Make Poverty History/Live 8 coverage. But the other I want to mention here is that of the Israel/Palestine review which the BBC held, in response to complaints from supporters of both sides of the conflict. The BBC had, by general survey, allowed more voices from Israel than from Palestine, and had given more focus per suicide bomb or per death from suicide bomb, than it had given per Israeli attack or, even more disproportionately, per Palestinian death.

The fact is, the conflict simply isn’t balanced. Its not two major countries battling out. Despite their differences, Russia and America in the Cold War remained much more closely balanced than the Palestinians and the Israelis do today. The Israeli’s have killed 7 times more Palestinians than vice-versa and yet the BBC still feels it must divide time between the 7 and the 1 equally, thus giving 7 times more media value to each Israeli killed.

Again, the BBC was drawn into a situation where its own abilities and its own independence (the one thing that actually gives it objectivity in most people’s eyes) were called into question. In the end, the BBC did not manage to make quite a mess of things as it has with Planet Relief, but it still ceded more to the Israeli lobby, who’s arguments were purely emotional and who wanted the BBC to condemn the Palestinians’ actions while remaining neutral whenever Israel’s forces moved against them.

The whole neutrality thing has been proven to be unattainable in so many ways. Either the BBC ends up being drawn into listening to one side more than the other, or to ignoring whole swathes of the debate. It has allowed facts to be called into question, and has shut down the very debates it should be broadcasting both sides of. Unlike the Palestine conflict example, this is a case where it is not the balance of the content, but the presence of it, which has become the issue, making this a case of silence rather than misrepresentation.

What is most alarming in this instance is that the BBC has closed down an argument which many believe the side which is currently losing would rather not have to face; I think it is in the interests of Climate Deniers to silence discussion, and I think that they have won a major victory, setting a dangerous precedent, and one which neither the planet, nor the vast majority of its inhabitants, will ever thank the BBC for.

Entry filed under: Climate Change, Environment, Free Speech, Media, News.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jonathan  |  Wednesday, 19th September 2007 at 10:18 UTC

    IMO, “balance” is one of the most damaging concepts for any media outlet to subscribe to. it’s often taken to mean “give equal time to all sides”, rather than “present what is happening.”

    I have to deal with this shit on wikipedia all the time. people basically decide that in order for wiki to be balanced it has to present each group’s view, and if it doesn’t, obviously the site is biased. well, yes it is – because some views are simply wrong, idiotic, factually inaccurate, or irrelevant. we wouldn’t expect to have statements from the flat earth society in every article in geology just to be “balanced”, yet some people assume this doesn’t apply when it comes to other subjects.

    if 90% of people believe one thing, and 10% believe another, and you’re giving equal time to both, that isn’t balance, it’s artifically promoting the 10% and giving an impression of parity that simply isn’t there.


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