The BBC is facing allegations that it altered a news story about climate at the behest of an activist.
A series of emails from BBC reporter Roger Harrabin and activist Jo Abbess were posted on the Campaign Against Climate Change website on April 4th.
After a series of back and forths Harrabin writes “Have a look in 10 minutes and tell me you are happier. … We have changed headline and more”.
The original headline – Global Warming ‘dips this year’ – changed to the current Global Temperatures ‘to decrease’. Needless to say as soon as these emails were noticed they were picked up by unhappy sceptic bloggers (here, here and here for example).
The BBC told us:
A minor change was made to the “Global temperatures ‘to decrease’” piece on our website to better reflect the science. A few people including the report’s authors, the world meteorlogical organisation, pointed out to us that the earlier version had been ambiguous.
Harrabin was contacted by Abbess who asks for corrections to it, sometimes in quite a heavy handed fashion, for example:
It would be better if you did not quote the sceptics. Their voice is heard everywhere, on every channel. They are deliberately obstructing the emergence of the truth.
I am about to send your comments to others for their contribution, unless you request I do not. They are likely to want to post your comments on forums/fora, so please indicate if you do not want this to happen. You may appear in an unfavourable light because it could be said that you have had your head turned by the sceptics.
Making corrections to an article in response to a complaint is not necessarily wrong.
It’s certainly a bit much to string up Harrabin as a result of this exchange. I’ve certainly gone over things I’ve written and thought “I wish I’d put that differently.”
To my mind there are only two questions to be answered here.
The first of these is should the BBC have flagged the article as having been changed? The answer here is yes if they thought the original version was wrong, and no if they thought they were just altering for readability. As they think the change is minor then there isn’t really a need to flag it**.
The second question is why on earth Abbess put up the email exchange. Anyone could have predicted the response from the sceptics out there…
|Old version [top three paragraphs]||New version|
|Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said.||Global temperatures for 2008 will be slightly cooler than last year as a result of the cold La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said.|
|The World Meteorological Organization’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer.||The World Meteorological Organization’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer.|
|This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory.
But experts say we are still clearly in a long-term warming trend – and they forecast a new record high temperature within five years.
|But this year’s temperatures would still be way above the average – and we would soon exceed the record year of 1998 because of global warming induced by greenhouse gases.|
- Here’s an extract from a blog post by a BBC editor from 2006:
When we make a major change or revision to a story we republish it with a new timestamp, indicating it’s a new version of the story. If there’s been a change to a key point in the story we will often point this out in the later version (saying something like “earlier reports had said…”).
But lesser changes – including minor factual errors, corrected spellings and reworded paragraphs – go through with no new timestamp because in substance the story has not actually progressed any further. This has led to accusations we are “stealth editing” – a sinister-sounding term that implies we are actively trying to hide what we are doing. We’re not. It’s just that continually updating the timestamp risks making it meaningless, and pages of notes about when and where minor revisions are made do not make for a riveting read
Cross-posted from Daniel Cressey on The Great Beyond