BBC Let Emma Thompson Get Away With ‘Inaccurate’ Climate Change Claims, Watchdog Finds

  • Date: 11/08/16
  • Hannah Furness, The Daily Telegraph

The BBC must not let on-air guests bamboozle viewers with inaccurate statistics, its watchdog has warned, as it finds Emma Thompson was allowed to spout climate change inaccuracies without challenge.

The BBC Trust found the Oscar-winning actress was permitted to make “inaccurate statements” about temperature rises during a Newsnight appearance, without being properly interrogated.

A report into the BBC’s impartiality found presenters and journalists must do more to challenge statistics and statements by celebrities, politicians and spokesmen who appear on its shows.

The independent paper said it found “many examples where statistics were used erroneously or in misleading ways by guests on programmes and were not challenged by presenters”.

Audiences, it said, endured “considerable frustration” when statistical claims are pitched against one another in a ‘he said, she said’ format “without presenters giving guidance on which was more accurate.

Noting that nearly three quarters of statistics from political figures come from the Conservative government, it added: “It does make it vital that those statements are challenged where necessary so that the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of political affairs is not affected.”

The report, led by statistician Dame Jil Matheson, said: “More should be done to ensure that all BBC presenters are able to confidently challenge misleading/ inaccurate statistical claims made by interviewees.”

She added: “Whether it’s a celebrity or a minister or a spokesperson from a charity, then the same recommendation, the same comment, the same questions of what’s beyond the numbers should apply.”

Among the examples it singled out was an episode of Newsnight in September 2015, in which Emma Thompson was invited to speak about her climate change campaigning.

In an interview with Emily Maitlis, she said: “If they [oil companies] take out of the earth all the oil they want to take out, you look at the science. Our temperature will rise four degrees Celsius by 2030, and that’s not sustainable.”

The Trust noted scientific research had showed that temperature rise is more likely to occur over a longer period of time, “by the end of the century” according to the World Bank (sic), but was “not challenged in any way by the presenter or programme”.

Statistics about the number of migrants claiming benefits quoted by David Cameron, the then-Prime Minister, had also been used throughout BBC news coverage without proper challenge, the report found.

The study advised the BBC to spend more time putting statistics in context, going “beyond the headlines” and avoiding causing alarm by giving viewers more guidance about how much weight should be placed on claims.

Staff who lack confidence should undergo training to help them understand statistics, while the BBC should make its Reality Check service – an analysis of competing claims – a regular fixture in reports.

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