A few weeks ago, as reported here, the BBC and the rest of the media gave a great deal of publicity to a report from a think tank making untrue statements about climate change. In particular, Martha Kearney, on the Radio 4 Today Programme, read out the following falsehood to her 7 million listeners:
But when you look at the scale of the problems outlined in the report, like the number of floods increasing by 15 times since 2005, extinction rates increasing by a huge rate – are these reversible?
See Alex Cull’s transcript for the full interview. As I mentioned at the time, I filled in a complaint form on the BBC website about this on the same day, requesting a correction and an apology for misleading listeners. Here is the text of my complaint (the system doesn’t allow you much space, so you can’t go into any detail).
At 6:50 today 12 Feb on the Today Programme there was an item about a report by the IPPR. Martha Kearney read out something from the report, saying “the number of floods increasing by 15 times since 2005”.
This is a ridiculous claim, that does not pass the most basic sanity check, and utterly false. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there has been no change at all in floods. “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.”
Please correct this falsehood and apologise for misleading listeners, as soon as possible, preferably on tomorrow’s Today Programme.
Eight days later on 20 Feb I received an automated email saying that the BBC “regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply.”
Eventually, on 4 March, I had this response:
Dear Dr Matthews
Thank you for contacting us about “Today”, broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 12th February.
I understand you believe Martha Kearney read out an inaccurate figure on the programme.
Martha was citing a figure that was in the IPPR’s report at the time. The report was later amended however. Please rest assured there was no intention to mislead listeners.
Your complaint was made available to senior management and “Today” on our Audience Feedback Report. This report is among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and helps to inform our approach to reporting.
BBC Complaints Team
For such a short letter, it is remarkably disingenuous. Firstly they say that I “believe” the figure was inaccurate, as if that is merely my opinion, but they later acknowledge that it’s more than that, since the IPPR changed their report. Secondly, they imply that it’s all OK because the report was later amended. As if the 7 million listeners who the BBC misinformed will all have gone to the IPPR website, a few days after the Today programme announcement, downloaded the report, and noticed that the claim about flooding had been changed. Finally we have the statement that there was no intention to mislead. Of course that is not the point and that is clearly not what I was complaining about. The BBC misled the public and should issue a correction, on the same programme, as I said in my complaint.