Review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC's coverage of science

Category: Impartiality

Given the importance of science in contemporary life, the sensitive ethical and social issues that it raises and the fact that the public looks primarily to the media for its science information, in 2010 the BBC Trust launched a review of the impartiality and accuracy of BBC science coverage. The review covered specialist and non-specialist science content on TV, radio and online. Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, was commissioned to write his own independent report as part of the review. The Trust also asked the Science Communication Group at Imperial College London to carry out content analysis of relevant coverage over a three month period in 2009 and 2010. Having taken into account these reports, and the BBC Executive response, on 20 July 2011 the Trust published the results of its review.

The review below includes the Trust commentary, Professor Jones' report and the Executive response. The Imperial College content analysis and the Terms of Reference for the review are listed separately.

Update of 08 August 2011

On 08 August 2011 the Trust published an updated version of Professor Steve Jones' independent review of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC's science coverage due to an ambiguity in the section on climate change. This reference was in the section on pages 71-72, immediately before Professor Jones discussed statements about climate change contained in two BBC programmes.

The Trust and Professor Jones now recognise that the passage as originally published could be interpreted as attributing statements made in those two programmes to Lord Lawson or to Lord Monckton. Neither programme specifically featured Lord Lawson or Lord Monckton and it was not Professor Jones' intention to suggest that this was the case. Professor Jones has apologised for the lack of clarity in this section of his assessment, which has now been amended.

2012 follow-up report

At the time the review was published, the Trust asked the Executive to report back in 2012 on progress made. The report was published in November 2012.

2014 follow-up report

In the 2012 report, the Trust identified a number of areas where progress could only be properly assessed in the long term, or where progress had been slightly slower than expected. The Trust asked the Executive to report back on the following areas:

  • Progress on gender balance for contributors and presenters;
  • Feedback and effect on output of the new science training workshops;
  • Effect of the science seminars;
  • Progress in widening the range of universities and institutions across the Nations and regions that are used to source stories and contributors.
The Trust's conclusions were published in July 2014.