Very often, we here at VOA News get emails from someone in our global audience who challenges one of our reports not because it is wrong, but because he or she simply doesn’t like what the report says or disagrees with what one of the sources in the report is quoted as saying.
Is this legitimate criticism? Well, far be it for us to tell audiences what they may or may not write us.
But let us put the question back to the audience: what would you have VOA do? Not quote somebody? Not report at all on a certain topic? Or leave out one or more significant viewpoints in a report that tries to present multiple points of view?
If that were our practice, we might find it difficult to write any reports or to quote many officials, including some very prominent ones.
We raise this topic in light of an email we received recently which accused us of doing a disservice to our audiences in reporting on what has become a rather contentious topic --- climate change.
The writer was referring to a TV report about a recent appearance at the National Press Club in Washington by Director James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
Hansen is among the first scientists to sound a warning about the potential dangers of greenhouse gases and global warming. He now asserts the dangers are even greater.
In the VOA report, he says, “We really have reached a point of a planetary emergency” and he predicts, “We are going to lose all of the sea ice in the Arctic summer season, and we know we are going to lose that sea ice because the planet is out of energy balance.”
Our emailer accuses Hansen of ranting and raving and insists “the science is not on his (Hansen’s) side.”
He accuses VOA of failing to do adequate research, suggests a couple of websites we should use and ends by demanding that we “start reporting the science and not the propaganda.”
Well, it’s not as if we don’t recognize there are other points of view. In this report, for example, our reporter notes there are those who, as the report puts it, “downplay the warnings of global warming and dispute the claim the climate system is reaching a tipping point.” It even quotes a lawyer representing energy interests as saying, “Most people who work on climate change issues… believe there are a suite of technological applications that we will be able to apply that can reverse, or at least adapt, to the consequences of global warming.”
This all gets back to a point we have made before. We think it is our responsibility to present significant points of view and let the audiences weigh them and draw their own conclusions. We don’t decide for you.
A final note: we looked at the two websites suggested by our emailer as sources of expertise on climate change. One of them is for a supposedly independent non-profit center which, after a little search, we learned is reported to have taken money from a major energy corporation, something that journalists generally view as a conflict of interest. The other is the website of a scientist who, when we looked into his work, characterizes himself as a global warming optimist and who appeared in a documentary film titled, “The Great Global Warming Swindle”.