A threat to the quality and integrity of TV and radio coverage of climate change
British broadcasting could be about to experience an earthquake that would threaten the integrity of television and radio coverage of climate change.
Unconfirmed media reports suggest that the Government is about to appoint Charles Moore as chair of the BBC, to take over from Sir David Clementi in February 2021, and Paul Dacre as chair of the communications regulator Ofcom from December next year.
Mr Moore and Mr Dacre, as former editors of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail respectively, have no experience of broadcasting, but their selection would no doubt please many Conservative backbenchers.
However, their rumoured appointments will cause dismay among many scientists because both men have a track record of promoting unscientific climate change denial.
With Mr Dacre at the helm, the editorial line of the Daily Mail was consistently hostile towards the findings of mainstream climate researchers, and frequently featured fantastically inaccurate and misleading articles about the causes and potential consequences of rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
For instance, in July 2018, the Daily Mail published an article by Christopher Booker falsely claiming that there is no link between climate change and an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwave periods in the UK. The highly irresponsible polemic appeared on the warmest day of the year when high temperatures killed hundreds of people across the country.
The newspaper refused to accept that the article breached the Editors’ Code of Practice, and the feeble newspaper self-regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), also failed to hold the Daily Mail to account.
Mr Dacre chaired the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee for eight years until July 2017, during which time the Press Complaints Commission was abolished as a result of the phone hacking scandal, and partially replaced by IPSO.
During the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Dacre astonishingly attempted to defend the output of the Daily Mail on scientific and medical issues, including an article that bizarrely claimed turning the light on to visit the toilet at night could cause cancer.
In 2011 the Daily Mail stepped up its promotion of climate change denial, reportedly after Mr Dacre met with Lord Lawson, who had launched the Global Warming Policy Foundation to lobby against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Even without Mr Dacre as chair, Ofcom has a patchy record on climate change. In 2008, the regulator decided that the propaganda film The Great Global Warming Swindle had violated the Broadcasting Code in terms of impartiality but not accuracy.
However, Ofcom has more recently upheld some complaints about misinformation broadcast on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
The speculation over the chair of Ofcom comes just after Andrew Neil announced that he is leaving the BBC to launch a new TV channel, GB News. Mr Neil has been the subject of criticism for his own expressions of climate change denial, and for providing a platform for climate change deniers on his programmes. If he decides to replicate the Fox News model, viewers can expect a flood of ridiculous claims about climate change, which will test how vigorously Ofcom, perhaps with Mr Dacre as chair, is willing to uphold the statutory requirement for all broadcasters to seek accuracy.
Mr Neil’s departure from the BBC coincides with reports that the favourite to be its new chair is Lord Moore, an outspoken climate change ‘sceptic’ and a trustee of the lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Lord Moore regularly writes articles for The Daily Telegraph that champion climate change denial. The newspaper was forced to publish a correction last year after IPSO ruled that one of his articles on climate change had breached the accuracy clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Lord Moore has criticised the BBC’s coverage apparently for not providing enough opportunities for climate change deniers to offer their views. During his guest editorship of the Today programme last Christmas, Lord Moore provided airtime to climate change ‘sceptics’, including an adviser to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Viscount Ridley, who made several false claims.
Lord Moore also wrongly accused Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s energy and environment analyst, of being biased. His attack on a journalist with whom he disagrees was particularly ironic because Lord Moore claimed that he wanted to defend ‘freedom of expression’.
It is clear that if Lord Moore, Andrew Neil and Paul Dacre are all drafted into senior positions in British broadcasting, there would be a great risk that the public interest will be undermined and that audiences will be targeted with a constant stream of propaganda about climate change instead of fact-checked information.