A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Media Responses to the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs)

Over the next few days, I shall post here links to media comments on the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) published today (for the full Royal Society press release, and access to the eight scientific papers involved, see the relevant posts below this one).

I will rate each media report according to the following criteria, giving them from no stars( ) to (******):-

a. do they report the significant finding that there was greater variation between the conventional crops than between conventional and GM crops?
b. do they stress that the results are only applicable to the three crops studied?
c. do they stress that the results are only applicable under the regimes of herbicide usage employed?
d. do they stress, like the Royal Society, that each new application of GM crop technology should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, using a rational evidence-based approach?
e. do they stress that the amounts of herbicide used, and when it was applied, were recorded and compared well with current commercial practice for conventional crops, and the industry-recommended guidelines for application to GMHT crops, and that, generally, GMHT crops were found to receive less herbicide, later in the season, than the conventional crops?
f. do they avoid the use of emotive language and quotations, and especially wild generalisations that these tests either totally vindicate GM crops or totally condemn them?

BBC Online News, Thursday, October 16: 'GM tests show danger to wildlife'. The headline is especially misleading and, for the BBC in particular, this should not have been allowed. Overall, for online written news, poor. (**)

BBC Lunchtime News at 1 pm, Radio 4, Thursday, October 16: this was far better balanced than the above, and, perhaps unusually, stressed clearly point (a) in the list of criteria. Good and careful reporting. (*****)

BBC News 24, 4.35 pm, Thursday, October 16: headlines poor and slightly misleading, although the report itself was better, with good points made about the results relating primarily to the herbicides in use and to farm management systems, rather than to GM crops as such. Again, surprisingly better than the BBC online written news. (****). The equivalent report on ITN News was, however, poor and emotive, with weighted use of language. (*)

Jeremy Vine Show, 12 noon, BBC Radio 2, Thursday, October 16: not heard by myself, but reported to me by a reliable witness as being very full and relatively balanced. Again, appears to have been much better than the BBC online news. (***)

Newsnight, 10.30 pm, BBC 2, Thursday, October 16: report just about acceptable (glorious pictures of Michael Meacher looking like Eeyore in his boggy place because he appeared to have been excluded from the Press Conference about the Farm Scale Evaluations - I thought it a nice touch from the Newsnight reporter giving him, the ex-Minister, a copy of the report). The following discussion was pretty lamentable with nobody much on form, even the redoubtable Jeremy P. None of the criteria for a good report dealt with satisfactorily, except, interestingly, by the current Minister, Elliot Morley. Overall, I should instead have gone to bed with a single malt. (**)

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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