Nearly 70% of the public do not trust the independence of experts featured on BBC programmes about GM.
That’s the main finding of an open access survey which looked into the impartiality of the BBC when it comes to the reporting of genetically modified food and farming.
The survey, set up by the GM campaign group Beyond GM, collated results from 1000 people, of which 667 said they did not trust the independence of the experts featured on programmes such as Panorama, Countryfile and Radio 4’s Today programme. It comes in the wake of the recent Panorama programme, GM Food – Cultivating Fear which claimed to explore a “new generation of GM crops”, but which was widely criticized for pursuing a pro-GM agenda (see Was this the beginning of a pro-GM television future?).
Nearly 90% of the people surveyed felt that academics, researchers and other independent experts featured on BBC programmes should reveal their sources of income, corporate affiliations and whether or not they are patent holders, to the public before being interviewed on BBC programmes. Nearly three quarters of the respondents felt that BBC programming represented a pro-GM stance. One respondent wrote: “BBC News reports are very superficial and don’t even attempt to independently investigate the downsides of GM, such as: potential health issues, increased use of pesticides, contamination of conventional/organic crops, pesticide resistance, whether advertised yields are achieved.”
Pat Thomas, director of Beyond GM, and lead author of the survey report says: “As a journalist myself, I find the results of our survey concerning. In the GMO debate, the distance between what the media wants to report and what the public wants to know, and indeed needs to know, is becoming ever wider. The 2014 Science and Technology Committee report emphasised the need for broadcasters to review their own content on genetic modification and challenge whether they were getting the perspective and balance right across the broad context of other agricultural issues of food production and food security. This is a warning shot from an informed public and calls into question whether the BBC is fulfilling its own remit as a public service broadcaster.”