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Editorial: Striking a Balance

In England, they have review boards that make “taste” calls about their journalism. While those calls help us appreciate the protections of the First Amendment, we think the BBC is on to something when it comes to climate change reporting and avoidance of a false “balance” in presenting both sides.

The BBC Trust, which insures that TV viewers who pay a TV license (yes, you pay a government fee to watch and/or record TV in Britain) get their £145.50 a year’s worth of content, issued a report last week that includes some sound advice for covering climate change, an issue whose heat on one side should not overpower the light on the other.

The Trust, in essentially an ombudsman role, is advising the BBC to give due weight to climate change denial. That is, if nine scientists say one thing and the tenth another, a one-to-one ratio in presenting the story is not being impartial. That does not mean excluding criticism, of course, or not putting all claims to the test. It means putting the information in context and giving it its proper respect in the balance. “The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices,” the report concludes.

As a government directive, that is a nonstarter. But as advice to independent news outlets—in this country as well as that one—it is worth following.