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‘Warmers’ In Denial Over BBC News Article

From the UK’s Guardian:

Paul Hudson, weather presenter and climate correspondent for Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

Climate change sceptics seize on BBC after lines blur between news and views

Blog about drop in global temperatures over the past 10 years was unexpected grist to the denialists’ mill

Every now and again the deniosphere – as some are now calling the climate change-denying lobby – locks its collective teeth on to any scrap or morsel and simply refuses to let it go. Over the past few days we’ve witnessed the latest such feeding frenzy as a rather innocuous-looking blog on the BBC website suddenly seemed to be imbued with the kind of importance and meaning normally reserved for the second coming.

On Friday lunchtime, the blog by Paul Hudson, a "weather presenter and climate correspondent for BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire" (this title is important and its significance will become clear later), was posted up onto the BBC weather website. Presumably it was a spin-off of a short report Hudson had put together for a segment on Sunday’s Politics Show discussing the claims made by UKIP’s Yorkshire MEP Godfrey Bloom that "man-made global warming is a myth based on bad science".

The blog had the rather provocative heading, "Whatever happened to global warming?" But then Hudson immediately explained its use:

The title of this may be a surprise. So might the fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not last year, or 2007, but 1998. For the last decade we have not observed any increase in global temperatures. What’s more, climate models did not forecast it even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise. So what on earth is going on?

The blog then continued with a quick run through of Hudson’s views as to why this apparent anomaly might be so. He included some of the familiar thoughts put forward by climate sceptics such as Weather Action’s Piers Corbyn (although, curiously, the blog didn’t point out that Corbyn himself is a well-known sceptic). So far, so mundane.

But then a few hours later the blog was repackaged as a news story and posted on to the BBC news science and environment section. From the section’s front page it was trailed as a "features, views and analysis" article, but once you clicked on the article it carried no such "furniture", namely, the look and feel of other such opinion-driven articles such as this recent one by the BBC’s environment analyst, Roger Harrabin. To the untrained eye, it looked like a "straight" news story (and will continue to do so to people arriving at the page via an aggregator or, in months to come, via a web search).

Furthermore, Paul Hudson was now being described as "climate correspondent, BBC News", a subtle but important difference from "weather presenter and climate correspondent for BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire", because it could be read as meaning that he was an integral part of now very familiar team of environment journalists at BBC News that includes the likes of David Shukman, Richard Black, Roger Harrabin and Sarah Mukherjee.

It didn’t take long before the news version of the Hudson blog was being seen in some predictable quarters as an "amazing U-turn" in the long-established stance on climate change at BBC News. By yesterday, the story had been linked to on dozens of websites popularised by climate sceptics and had even been blessed with a prominent trail on the Drudge Report. As a result, it has remained the most popular story on the BBC News science and environment site for the past four days.

It had a provocative title and gave disproportionate emphasis to the views of the sceptics, and dealt with an issue that has been discussed ad infinitum for years. But what intrigued me most was why a blog containing what was clearly a personal view should then be dressed up as a news story just a few hours later and, therefore, give the impression to some that this was the BBC’s official view on the matter?

The Telegraph got a rather terse statement out of the BBC: "We have always reported a range of views and this article is no different. The point the article is making is that views about climate change are hotly contested. To characterise this as some sort of change in position is simply wrong."

But this didn’t explain why the blog had morphed into a news story. So I put two questions to the BBC. First, why did this blog get "dressed up" as a news story for the BBC News website? Second, is Paul Hudson a "climate correspondent, BBC News", as the news story states, or is he "weather presenter and climate correspondent for BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire", as his personal page says?

A spokesperson responded:

Stories are decided on merit. What started as a blog on the weather website had touched on an important point that views about climate change are hotly contested. BBC News strives to report on a range of views and stories on climate change, and felt that the information Paul Hudson used in his blog was also worthy of coverage on the news website. His story ran in a section of the news website where people interested in climate change and environment would expect to see such stories. Paul Hudson is a BBC Climate correspondent for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. He’s also a weather presenter for Look North.

It wasn’t exactly an explanation of why the personal views contained within a blog should be repackaged as a news story, nor was it a clarification of whether Paul Hudson is a member of the BBC News team of environment journalists. So I pushed them one more time and received the following response:

Your first point: we don’t recognise the question – news is news and, as we have already said, it was worthy of coverage. The second point you make: we regularly use correspondents from the English regions to cover stories of national interest. Paul Hudson is a BBC climate correspondent for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. He works for BBC news in the same way that other correspondents work for BBC News.

But I felt my first point was integral to this debate so I tried to put it another way: would they take, say, a personal blog by the BBC business editor Robert Peston, which has a personal ring to it, and then repackage it as a straight BBC News story a few hours later?

The BBC responded:

"This isn’t about some sort of policy [to change blogs into news stories], this piece was clearly about context."

Well, at least I tried. BBC news is clearly not keen to discuss what is, in my view, an important distinction in any more detail. Nor does it seem to see why Paul Hudson’s news story — in its current form — caused such a ripple of interest online.

One footnote to add: the BBC has just added a link to the original blog from the news story, and Paul Hudson has re-entered the debate by posting a new blog entry entitled, "A few points about my article". How long before we see it reappear as a news story?

We have to note that we were among the first to post the BBC News article which seems to be so upsetting the ‘Warmers’ at the Guardian.

But to sum up their lengthy investigation, Mr. Hudson is a BBC climate correspondent and the BBC considered his article to be news qua news.

So exactly who are the deniers here?

It is truly frightening the preposterous contortion some people will go through to defend their religious beliefs. Even posting pictures of BBC correspondents that make them look goofy.

But what intrigued me most was why a blog containing what was clearly a personal view should then be dressed up as a news story

Thankfully, there are no other recorded cases of personal views being presented by media outlets as news stories.

By the way, note that this piece was posted on the Guardian’s ‘Environment Blog.’

Are we to presume that it and all of the articles posted there are groundless conjecture?

Which, come to think of it, might not be a bad rule of thumb for the entire Guardian output– especially when it comes to the ‘environment.’

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, October 15th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

3 Responses to “‘Warmers’ In Denial Over BBC News Article”

  1. Colonel1961 says:

    ‘Thankfully, there are no other recorded cases of personal views being presented by media outlets as news stories.’


  2. proreason says:

    Well, Al Toad told us the other day that Polar Bears are threatened, and damn the fact that their numbers are increasing.

    So up is up and down is up. Good is good and bad is good. Cold is cold and hot is cold.

    And global warming is true no matter what the climate does.

    • Liberals Demise says:

      But in the White House its a balmy 85 degrees because the Big Kahuna is from the Islands (among others).

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