Balancing Bees and the BBC

Studying to become a journalist, one of the first concepts we’re introduced to is ‘balance’.

In order to be true to the cause, an audience must be able to gain full apprehension of all aspects of a story without his/her views being tainted by the beliefs of the narrator, ie, the journalist. Now, this topic alone has been endlessly debated and in recent months, the perception that the journalist should remain non-bias and emotionally detached is being contested in preference of ‘real’ reporters expressing very human emotions when reporting sensitive topics. The Bee Diaries does not seem a likely candidate for sensitive editorial issues – but according to the BBC Trust’s 2014 review of accuracy and impartiality in BBC science coverage, “Scientific developments have the capacity to directly affect us all significantly.” So it is, for that reason, that they should be treated with as much delicacy as stories considered more emotionally impactful.

True to my education, I initially set out to explore the world of bees with an impartiality hat placed firmly on my head. But upon learning that the representation of the counter-bee-conservation argument was just so marginal, I began to question how on earth I’d go about presenting an equal balance of viewpoints. My quest became more a question of ‘do I need to present both sides of this story?’ Struggling to find a professional who would contest the assertion that bee numbers are declining and are in need of rebuilding, I turned to the BBC Trust guidelines. In the same review, Professor Jones described the application of Editorial Guidelines on impartiality in relation to science coverage, ‘over-rigid’. He stated that this relentless adherence to editorial guidelines did not take into account the ‘non-contentious’ nature of some stories. He explained that this resulted in giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion’, citing the existence of man-made climate change as an example.

After some more research, I feel confident in my conclusion that bees are non-contentious subject. One potential contributor contested the idea put forward by conservationists, entomologists and ecologists world-wide – stating that “It’s all a load of media hype, bee numbers are fine.” Despite his authority as an experienced beekeeper, his judgment was based solely on the observation of bees in his immediate local area. For this reason, his assertion will be discarded, as it’s less qualified than that of the research scientists who will feature in the documentary. To include his viewpoint, although it would be true to impartiality, would create false balance that could only confuse a listener.

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