Broadcasters don’t have to provide false ‘balance’ on climate change, regulator confirms

Green Party TD calls for annual report on how media covers climate issues

There is no requirement on broadcasters to provide artificial balance when discussing the topic of climate change, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has told an Oireachtas committee.

Declan McLoughlin, senior manager at the BAI, said there was a “misperception” about broadcasting regulations when it came to television or radio discussions being balanced and fair.

“There is no legal obligation to balance, it is not in the Broadcasting Act. It has never been in any piece of broadcasting legislation,” Mr McLoughlin told the Oireachtas committee on the environment and climate action.

“Where there is no actual alternative view, in this case the fundamentals of climate change and the greenhouse effect, then there is no requirement to provide balance,” he said.

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The committee was hearing from officials at the regulator about how television and radio broadcasters cover the topic of climate change.

“Really, balance is a means for achieving fairness and objectivity and impartiality in particular circumstances, but it is not a requirement in all circumstances,” he said.

“It may be necessary, so if somebody makes a claim about a Deputy or Senator on a radio or television programme then that Deputy or Senator naturally has a right of reply,” he said.

There was a need to avoid “balance for the sake of it” on radio and television programmes, the official said.

“You ultimately end up with false equivalency, where views are presented which don’t represent the truth, or don’t represent anyone, or if they do represent someone, they represent somebody whose views are not actually factually correct,” he said.

However, when it came to the impact of addressing climate change on local communities, the debates about those impacts would need to be balanced, he said.

Green Party TD Brian Leddin said the BAI’s policy of waiting for a complaint from the public to investigate media coverage was “not enough”.

There was a need for the authority to examine on an annual basis how broadcasters were reporting on climate change, he said.

“I think it is fair to say that it has improved ... But perhaps if there was an annual report by yourselves ... an analysis on the reporting on climate and the editorial policy approach across the sector, I think that would be helpful,” he said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times