Blair 2 In the wake of press coverage (Mail on Sunday and Daily Telegraph ) of the BBC climate seminar scandal, I posted some background to the current revelations here. This touched on connections between Tony Blair’s presidency of the G8 in 2005 and the seminar. It is worth looking at this in more detail.

The G8 is a forum for the governments of eight of the world’s largest economies. During an eight-year cycle each nation takes it’s turn to act as chairman and set the agenda on an annual basis. Of course this opportunity does not occur for every government leader. Some may be in and out of office during the years when others hold the post, but there is no doubt that presidency of the G8 provides politicians with an opportunity to be seen playing a major role in international affairs. Of course it is also important that the G8 president should have solid public support at home for the policies that he chooses to be the hallmark of his term in office.

In 2005, Tony Blair had been prime minister for 8 years and was under pressure from his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to stand aside. There can be no doubt the ‘Blair legacy’ was by this time a major consideration in formulating public policy. This golden opportunity to strut the world stage could play a valuable part in bolstering his rather tarnished reputation and particularly so in 2005, which was a general election year in the UK. Finding policy initiatives for the G8 agenda that would enhance the prime minister’s image as a caring man of the people, and command public support at home too, would be a crucial task at such a time.

Downing Street finally decided that the two subjects that would best serve the purpose were African development and global warming. The prospect of saving not only Africa from chaos and starvation, but also the whole of humanity and the planet from environmental catastrophe would surely fit Blair’s messianic persona perfectly. There is some inside information about the processes by which this decision was taken.

In 2007, Sir David King retired from the post of Government Chief Scientific Adviser and was inclined to reminisce about the influence he had had on public policy during his term in office. During an interview on the BBC Today programme in late 2007 he had this to say:

… in that early period in 2004 there was much discussion about what we would be doing during our G8 presidency, and the response – and I think this was because it was taken up so well with the media, so let me say something nice about the media – the result was that we lead the G8 with climate change and African development, both of which I was very very strongly in favour of.
BBC Today Programme 20-12-2007

In other interviews Sir David provided clues as to how this came about, and the decisive influence that he had on events: Continue reading »

At the end of my last post I invited readers to write to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee asking that there should now be genuinely independent inquiry into the BBC’s 2006 seminar Climate Change - the Challenge for Broadcasting. Below is Andrew Montford’s contribution, which covers all the angles.

If you feel that such representations are worthwhile, but don’t have time to construct the detailed arguments in a letter yourself, you might like to write to the chairman of the committee saying that you have seen Andrew’s letter here and support what he says. Or you might like to attach a copy. (Download pdf version here) The address is to write to is: cmscom@parliament.uk and do remember to give your name and address.

Dear Mr Whittingdale

Over the weekend an article was published in the Mail on Sunday Describing the links between environmental NGOs and the BBC and the possibility That the last government effectively subverted the corporation’s output. Those involved with the BBC – staff and management and the BBC Trust – have repeatedly made false representations to the public.

This is not the first time that BBC has received adverse publicity as a result of clandestine links to environmental organisations: in 2011 it was revealed that BBC World was taking free programming from environmental NGOs. It is now clear that the corporation has become inextricably linked with the environmental movement

There is now an urgent need for an independent inquiry into the links between the BBC and green groups. Despite direct representations, the BBC Trust has shown no interest in examining these issues; nor is there any likelihood that it would do so in a fair and transparent manner. Previous scandals involving the BBC have shown that the first instinct of the Trust is to protect the corporation rather than the public interest.

I would therefore like to formally request that your committee institute an investigation into the links between green NGOs and the BBC, and in particular the so-called 28-gate affair.

Please note that I will publish any reply you give.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Montford

XX-XX XXX

XXXX XXXXX

XX X & XXXX

XXXX

BBCLetter In the Mail on Sunday today, David Rose has reported on some startling developments in the long, long quest for information about a BBC’s 2006 seminar on climate change. He has been very careful, as ever, to get his facts right, but writing for a popular Sunday paper necessarily means that much detail has had to be sacrificed in favour of a broad brush and the big picture. This is not a criticism in any way, it is just that a lot more could be said if space and the genre permitted.

What is clear in the Mail on Sunday report is that funding for the 2006 BBC climate change seminar came from a government department. Also that the funds were channelled through environmental lobbyists who were organising the seminar. And it is possible that the government department that provided the funds had some input about the topics selected for the seminars.

The documents concerning the International Broadcasting Trust’s (IBT) application to the Department for International Development (DFID) were obtained by Terry Sanders who kindly sent them to me. He deserves a very big thank-you indeed!

The Mail on Sunday article does not mention the 2005 G8 summit, which Tony Blair chaired. The subjects that he chose to lead on were development in Africa and climate change. Those happen to be the very subjects that the seminars focused on at that time. It is also interesting that when Sir David King was reminiscing at the time of his retirement as Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government he not only laid claim to turning Tony Blair on to climate change, but he also seems to imply that he was instrumental in getting the subject on the G8 agenda.

What is certain is that the Government organised the 2005 Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change conference at the Hadley Centre, which led to a barrage of scare stories in the media, and that this was done in order to raise public awareness of the problem. A major seminar at the BBC early the following year, which was organised by environmental lobbyists who were being funded by a government department, must have seemed like a godsend to the Downing Street spin-doctors.

Lord Hall, as the man who encouraged Roger Harrabin to set up the seminar programme, features in this story too. He had left the BBC to run the Royal Opera House before DFID got involved with the seminars, so he bears no direct responsibility for what happened in 2005 and 2006. However since his return to the BBC he has thrown some interesting light on the matter, contradicting just about everything that the BBC has claimed about the seminar previously.

Here are some of the things that the BBC has said about the seminar:

It was described in John Bridcut’s landmark ‘Wagon Wheel’ report on BBC’s impartiality, which was adopted and published by the BBC Trust in July 2007, as:

”A high level seminar with some of the best scientific experts [on climate change]”

The BBC’s letter of 31st August 2007 refusing to disclose the information I had requested says:

”… information relating to the seminar is held to help inform the BBC’s editorial policy around reporting climate change.

The attendees at the seminar were made up of 30 key BBC staff and 30 invited guests who are specialists in the area of climate change.”

A BBC submission to my previous Information Tribunal appeal last year had the following description:

“The requested information concerns the organisation, administration and content of a seminar concerning editorial challenges to the reporting of climate change. The seminar was held in order to provide attendees with an understanding of the existing state of knowledge on the issue of climate change, to identify where the main areas of debate lie,to provoke the imagination of the media to deal with the scope of the issue and to consider the role of the BBC in the public debate.”

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, BBC Director General, in written supplementary evidence to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee 25/06/2013:

“ The title of the seminar was ‘Climate Change, the Challenge to Broadcasting ‘ … the guests were not ‘a panel of climate change experts’, nor were they ‘advising the BBC on what their approach to climate change should be. Seminars such as this do not set BBC editorial policy on how it covers climate change’”.

You just could not have a more explicit conflict of evidence, and surely it really is necessary now to dig down to the truth, however uncomfortable that might be.

With so much at stake where trust in the BBC is concerned, it would seem essential that, as the statutory regulatory body, the BBC Trust should now set up a genuinely independent inquiry into how editorial policy on climate change has been formulated and who has been able to exert influence on that process. If you think that this is the right next step, then you might like to write to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee (cmscom@parliament.uk). If enough people do so, then they just might put some pressure on Lord Patten to act next time he is hauled up in front of them. He has been on the receiving end of some pretty rough handling by that committee recently.

There is still a great deal more to come out about this matter, and I think that the best thing that I can do at the moment is attempt to answer any questions that people might have.

The Disclosed Documents

Documents that Terry Sanders obtained from DFID concerning IBT funding. These include a very recent additional disclosure which names some senior BBC executives and shows that Mark Thompson, then Director General of the BBC, was directly involved in negotiations over the seminar programme with the IBT.

1 IBT application for DFID funding.pdf

2 Correspondence.pdf

3 Grant Agreement.pdf

4 Grant Approval.pdf

5 Financials.pdf

6 Addional disclosure BBC names.pdf

The documents that I have obtained from the BBC, including lists of attendees, their brief biogs, Jana Bennett’s opening remarks, and a briefing document and some administrative documents.

1 BBC diclosures.pdf

2 BBC disclosures.pdf

Some of the files are quite large and may take some time to download.

Anyone seeking more context on this post may like to read Andrew Montford’s excellent The Propaganda Bureau or Christopher Booker’s equally excellent The BBC And Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal. Both deal with the earlier revelations about the BBC climate change seminar and its consequences.

Back in November and December last year, at least three people that I know of wrote to their MPs about my attempts to discover who attended the BBC’s 2006 climate seminar and Maurizio Morabito’s subsequent revelations at Omnologos. It now appears that two of these people got near identical replies using text that appears to have been drafted by the BBC, although the wording gives the impression that it is the MP’s own.

This is the boilerplate text I’m talking about. Note particularly the phrases I’ve emphasised in bold:

"A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was made for material held by the BBC relating to a seminar discussing climate change held in 2006. The BBC tell me that they refused pattendisclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal unanimously upheld this in its decision of 8 November 2012.

The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that the BBC felt necessary for its independent journalism. Further information about the Rule including the publication of lists of attendees can be found here: www.chathamhouse.org/about-us/chathamhouserule.

I am informed that the 2006 seminar was one in a series of seminars looking at a range of global topics. They are used to inform the BBC’s journalism through debate and access to expertise, though the setting of the BBC’s editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust. Impartiality is key to the BBC’s reporting and is the subject of continuous scrutiny by the BBC and the BBC Trust.

If you would like to complain about the BBC, I suggest you do so directly to the BBC Trust, at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/. "

The availability of a form letter reply suggests that a considerable number of people contacted their MPS who, presumably, then contacted the oh-so-helpful folk at the BBC.

Whatever the ethics of busy MPs, or their staff, using a ready-made replies in these circumstances may be, the BBC’s arrogance in taking upon itself the task of drafting constituency correspondence for elected representatives – if this is what happened – would indicate just how hubristic the management culture at our national broadcaster has become.

I would be very interested to hear in the comments from anyone who wrote to their MP about 28Gate and particularly those who received replies using the wording above.

[H/T to Jockdownsouth for this]

TonyHall The news at lunchtime yesterday that Tony Hall is to be the next Director General of the BBC nearly caused me to choke on the last homegrown tomato of the year. It is always a poignant moment when one realises from now on it’s going to be unripe, tasteless, bullets until at least early summer next year. And you certainly don’t want bad news to add to the distress.

A quick look at my database throws up a few references to Hall, mostly encomiums from Roger Harrabin. As Head of News - preceding Helen Boaden - he gave the BBC’s one-and-only Environment Analyst his big chance when he encouraged him to set up the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme over a decade ago. This certainly showed very sensitive political antennae on Hall’s part as he jumped on the environmental bandwagon earlier than most.

Whether those antennae will identify the current change in the public’s attitude towards climate change, and whether he is capable of accommodating BBC coverage to the new political and economic circumstances in which climate change is no longer a priority remains to be seen. The alternative would be to continue with the present policy of attempting to educate the public, in line with the BBC’s very committed position on this divisive subject, rather than informing them impartially about the vast uncertainties that dog the subject.
In any case, Hall will bear the stigma in the eyes of many people of having fathered the series of Real World Brainstorm seminars that culminated in the 2006 event that was so dodgy that tens of thousands of pounds had to be spent keeping the participants list secret.

Yesterday, the BBC was wallowing in an orgy of self-congratulation. Tony Hall is, so far as insiders are concerned, the perfect choice; a consummate BBC type who, in the words of Mark Byford, (World at One, 22/11/2012) has public service broadcasting in his bones. In their eyes this is the saviour who can miraculously restore the BBC’s reputation to some fictitious state of unblemished trust and rectitude. Little time was wasted on pointing out that Hall was appointed at breakneck speed from a shortlist of one, or that his reason for leaving the BBC a decade ago seems to have been his failure to get the top job. Nor was there much said about Lord Patten’s appalling failure of judgement in appointing George Entwistle, who clearly wasn’t up to the job, and the very real danger that, if he didn’t appoint a replacement very quickly, his own position would continue to be extremely precarious. Is there any reason to think that his judgement has suddenly improved?
Over the last few years we have seen the BBC hit by scandal after scandal. Since Andrew Gilligan’s early morning escapade reporting the dodgy dossier, without any editorial supervision and Hutton Inquiry that followed, there have been a succession of scandals: ructions over manipulation of a royal film, Blue Peter’s involvement in the Great Phone Prize Scandal of 2007, unacceptable coverage of the Diamond Jubilee pageant, documentaries funded by environmental lobbyists, the Saville affair which apparently spans decades, and Newsnight’s appalling mistake over Lord McAlpine. BBC management seem to have learned nothing from these problems, most of which seem to involve a degree of dishonesty and attempting to cover up of issues that should have been confronted openly.
Now we have a Director General designate who, in March next year, will pick up the threads of his long and very successful career at the BBC after a spell working elsewhere. An old hand returning to the scene of former triumphs and no doubt easing himself back into the cosy culture that he knows so well.

It seems not to have occurred to Lord Patten that it is precisely this BBC culture that has caused all the problems of the past decade. In the Wagon Wheel report, published five years ago, John Bridcut identified the rather smug, metropolitan, university educated, young and liberal mindset that besets BBC management and ensures that, in many ways, the organisation is out of step with its audience. Anyone who has had experience of the BBC complaints process will be all too familiar with the organisation’s infuriatingly arrogant attitude to its audience. Auntie is always right, and those who don’t think so are either misguided, undereducated, fools or malicious and ungrateful troublemakers, probably of a right wing persuasion.

If ever the BBC really needed an outsider to come in, turn things upside-down, and clean house, it is now. The age that spawned the BBC culture that Entwistle represented, and Hall is now expected to restore and perpetuate, is well and truly over. The information age has made the Reithian model of public service broadcasting obsolete. No longer can an elite at Broadcasting House rely on a docile public to unquestioningly embrace the BBC outlook on the world. Nor can the BBC expect the public to accept their standards to be accepted as the benchmark for impartiality and editorial rigour, simply because they are the BBC’s standards.

Now the public have too much information at their fingertip, they know too much about what sources other than the BBC are saying, and above all they have become used to making up their own minds about what they should think. They are accustomed to distinguishing information from indoctrination in a way that their forbears were not when the BBC culture was formed.

I wish Tony Hall well, but I fear that when the history of the final decline and dissolution of the BBC is written, his appointment may be seen as a crucial missed opportunity to salvage something from the wreckage of this once great institution. At a time when even that most hide-bound of national institutions, the Church of England, has had the courage to appoint an ex-oilman to sort out its problems, Tony Hall looks awfully like George Entwistle Mark 2 to me.

When I returned home after the Information Tribunal hearing in London, I assumed that apart from deciding whether it was worth taking further action in an attempt to get the information out of the BBC, really the last word had been spoken on the matter of the Seminar. It looked as though life might become pleasantly quiet again, for a while at least. How wrong I was.

First there was Andrew Orlowski’s revelations about the two lay judges who sat on the tribunal, and the rather tantalising comment that he obtained from the BBC concerning grounds for an appeal.

And Andrew Orlowski was anything but finished with the story. He was still publishing reports which were picked up by Christopher Booker, James Delingpole and others.

Then the bombshell from Maurizio arrived late last Monday night, and a media storm began to develop. At the moment, if I type ‘my name’ + BBC + seminar into Google, it yields over 3 million hits. Life is not quiet at all really, but yesterday I thought that things were, at last, beginning to settle down a little. Surely nothing else could to crawl out of the woodwork?

So in rare idle moments I was exchanging comments with Maurizio on Geoff Chamber’s blog about the files that he had found on the WayBack Machine. I seemed to have a print-out of the same ten-page PDF file in which he found the participants list. The funny thing was that my September 2008 version had only had three pages: no sign of any participants lists.

One couldn’t help wondering when the file was either altered or replaced.

So in the end, Maurizio and I put a chronology together, and this is what it looks like:

(Maurizio’s contributions are in red, and mine are in black)

13/07/2007 International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) ten-page document recovered by Maurizio written after this date.
20/07/2007 Request to BBC for information about the seminar.
21/08/2007 The BBC’s response citing their derogation under the FOIA.
05/09/2007 I send a complaint to the Information Commissioner.
09/09/2007 Creation of ten-page IBT document recovered by Maurizio according to file properties.
08/11/2007 IBT document recovered by Maurizio written before this date.
It was a very long time before the ICO did anything more, and so far as I am aware the BBC never replied to their letter.
July 2008 Date when link to truncated IBT document became available according to Gareth.
28/07/2008 The ICO eventually writes to the BBC asking for their side if the story.
30/07/2008 Creation date of truncated IBT file according to file properties.
O6/08/2008 My first post at Harlmess Sky on the mattter:  

Jeremy Paxman, the BBC, Impartiality, and Freedom of Information

 

 

Sept 2008 I print out a three page document at the IBT website describing a number of seminars, including Climate Change – the Challenge to Broadcasting, but without the participants lists.
29/09/2008 Post at Harmless Sky mentioning the IBT:  

The Freedom of Information Act and the BBC’s willing little helpers

 

 

28/01/2009 The ICO say they are still waiting for the BBC to reply to their letter of 28/07/2008 and so I ask for a case review.
17/11/2009 The ICO publishes a decision notice endorsing the BBC’s decision not to provide me with any of the information.
16/12/2009 I send Grounds of Appeal to the Information Commissioner.
19/01/2010 The ICO submits its response to my appeal.
14/04/2010 BBC joined as a party in the appeal.
12/05/2010 The BBC submits its response to my appeal.
The speed at which the case could then be heard was determined by the progress through higher courts of Steven Sugar’s attempts to obtain the Balen Report as this sought to determine how ‘for the purpose of journalism’ should be interpreted in terms of the FOIA and therefore how the BBC derogation should be applied.

Can anyone spot a rather startling coincidence? Sometime around the end of August 2008?

Well goodness-gracious-me! You never seem to know what’s going to happen next, do you?

So far, everyone seems to have been so transfixed by the revelations of the participants list that they have ignored any other alterations made to the information on the IBT website. So lets look at the first section of each version of the document.

Here’s the first section headed Background from the first page of the later, three-page version:

REAL WORLD BRAINSTORMS

Background

The Real World Brainstorms take place annually and are co-hosted by BBC Vision and BBC News. The aim is to bring together key decision makers within broadcasting with a mix of writers, producers and environment and development specialists to explore how we can more effectively represent our interconnected world Delegates exchange views on key issues and ideas, discussing fresh approaches to stories which impact here in the UK and around the world.

Past seminars have had enormously positive feedback, inspiring major programme seasons as well as diverse individual projects. But the meetings are not about pitching ideas – they are about making space for fresh thinking about the way the world is and how it might be represented more richly.

The seminars are organized jointly by the BBC, IBT and the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme.

3-page version

And here is the Background section from the 10-page version, with the participants list, found by Maurizio:

REAL WORLD BRAINSTORMS

Background

The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) has been lobbying the BBC, on behalf of all the major UK aid and development agencies, to improve its coverage of the developing world. One of the aims is to take this coverage out of the box of news and current affairs, so that the lives of people in the rest of the world, and the issues which affect them, become a regular feature of a much wider range of BBC programmes, for example dramas and features. The BBC has agreed to hold a series of seminars with IBT, which are being organized jointly with the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme, to discuss some of these issues.

So far, 6 seminars have taken place. They have had a significant impact on the BBC’s output and have also provided a unique opportunity for dialogue between those working in development and broadcasters.

As a result of the success of these seminars, further brainstorms are now planned for 2008.

For a full list of delegates see attached Appendix.
10-page version

If you then have a look at the bottom of page 2, and then page three of this document, you will find sections headed The Aim, Themes, Participants and Plans for 2008, none of which appear in the later version. There are a fair number of other minor differences between the two documents that suggest routine editing, and the later document includes a description of the 2008 seminar, which had taken place some two months earlier. (3-page Version and 10-page version)

Whether all this is just coincidence, or an annual update that had nothing to do with the Information Commissioner’s letter alerting the BBC to the fact that a complaint was about to be investigated, is hard to say. But there can be no doubt that between September 2007 and September 2008 the IBT seems to have become very much less forthcoming about its relationship with the BBC, and about its agenda as lobbyists representing some of the wealthiest and most active NGOs, including Oxfam and Friends of the Earth,dedicated to campaigning for action on climate change.

Am I being too suspicious about this coincidence? The problem is that the BBC is a national institution that has traded on its reputation for integrity throughout its ninety-year history. If that reputation is compromised, then public trust is likely to be lost very quickly and very completely.

 

Update 24th Nov. 2012: See Gareth’s comment #17 below. It would seem that the strange coincidence of dates at the end of July 2008 in the chronology above are exactly that: a coincidence.

 

leg As Andrew Montford has said at Bishop Hill, Andrew Orlowski’s long and very thorough appraisal of the context of the BBC seminar scandal posted at The Register is a must-read. In the end he comes down more on the side of cock-up than conspiracy so far as editorial policy is concerned, suggesting that oversimplification and over reliance on the authority of experts led to distortion in the BBC’s reporting of AGW.

Be that as it may, cock-up is unlikely to be the explanation for a decision to cover up the conflict of evidence between the claim in the Bridcut Report that Climate Change - the Challenge to Broadcasting was ‘a seminar with the best scientific experts’ and the actual participants list found on the WayBack Machine. That is a matter, which the BBC must, sooner or later, be made to come clean about.

In the meantime, here is another quote from Jana Bennett, Director of Vision and joint host of the climate seminar, this time speaking about climate change at a seminar on impartiality held sometime afterwards.

As journalists, we have the duty to understand where the weight of the evidence has got to. And that is an incredibly important thing in terms of public understanding – equipping citizens, informing the public as to what’s going to happen or not happen possibly over the next couple of hundred years.

trust2 I have already commented on the discrepancy between the BBC’s statement about their 2006 climate change seminar and the evidence submitted to the Information Tribunal by Helen Boaden, the then Director of News. Whereas the latter seems to be claiming that the input provided by external attendees at the seminar had a major impact on programme content, the former is at pains to downplay any impact, apparently in light of the very surprising contents the participants list.

Now I want to look at another strange aspect of the BBC’s statement; a very cynical
assertion:

There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage.

See Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail

There is absolutely no doubt that the BBC Trust’s report, authored by Professor Steve Jones, did deliver such praise, however it also dismissed, and misrepresented, an obviously relevant and well referenced submission that Andrew Montford and I provided in a couple of sentences.

A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti?global?warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.

BBC Science Review, p72

Had Professor Jones considered what we were telling him, then the BBC would not now be embroiled in yet another scandal impugning both its impartiality and its trustworthiness.

The submission is here, and it sets out in detail all our concerns about the activities of the organisers of this seminar and the BBC’s unwillingness to come clean about who attended it. The length to which the BBC Trust went in order to avoid facing-up to a problem that, like Jimmy Saville’s behaviour, would obviously become more damaging the longer it was suppressed, is detailed in our submission to the Leveson Tribunal from §60 onwards. We were not even able to obtain confirmation that the Trustee responsible for the review was aware that we had requested permission to make a submission.

One might think that, given the way in which the BBC is beset with scandals concerning Saville and possibly others, Newsnight’s gratuitous assault on Lord McAlpine’s reputation, and now the secret climate change seminar - with even the Trust’s chairman, Lord Patton, admitting that trust needs to be restored and, ‘What we now need to do is get a grip on what’s happening in the BBC, including the journalism which is at the heart of what we do’ - the BBC statement might do better than attempt to invoke some Professor Jones sycophantic praise. In fact it would seem that he was more concerned with praising his paymasters than doing his job properly. When the opportunity, indeed the necessity, arose some two years ago to air the issues surrounding the seminar calmly, and long before our national broadcaster was under fire as never before, the chance was missed.

And still no one at the BBC seems to realise that the time for dissembling and hoping that problems will just go away is over. As I write, a new angle on the seminar story is breaking on the website of Dr Richard North (not to be confused with Ridhard D North who attended the seminar)

Climate change: another of those interesting networks

If a bomb has now exploded in the BBC’s face, then they have had plenty of warning that it was ticking.

Oh! And do read Christopher Booker tomorrow!

Nov 162012

As soon as I’d had a chance to look at the list of attendees at the BBC’s 2006 Climate Change - the Challenge to Broadcasting seminar that Maurizio found on Monday night I wrote to the Litigation Department of the BBC . People who are fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with court proceedings may not be aware that there is a lot of behind the scenes contact between the parties about the ‘housekeeping’ practicalities of getting the case to court in good order. These generally take place in a spirit of cordial cooperation and in this case have been going on for several years. Getting on with the other side, and even having the odd giggle about this-and-that when the judge isn’t present, make life more pleasant and in no way impede anyone’s will to win. When the time comes, business is business, and no hard feelings.

So this is the email I sent the BBC on Tuesday morning:

In view of the decision of the Tribunal received last week, I am considering seeking permission to appeal and I understand that I have 28 days from the date of the decision to do so.

It would greatly assist me if the BBC would confirm or deny that a document published on the internet last evening is the participants list that formed part of the withheld information and which was also the main focus of the Tribunal hearing.

The report that I am referring to can be found here:

http://omnologos.com/full-list-of-participants-to-the-bbc-cmep-seminar-on-26-january-2006/

Yours sincerely

On Wednesday morning I emailed again asking for confirmation that my message had been received, something I don’t think I’ve had to do before with the BBC. It had of course occurred to me that the solicitor I had written to would need to take instructions from her clients, BBC management, and that my request might be causing some head-scratching. Again no answer.

Then yesterday evening (Thursday) a response arrived. This confirmed that my messages had been received and went on to explain that the Information Tribunal had found that the information I requested was held by the BBC for the purpose of journalism. Therefore the BBC had correctly applied the designation under the FOIA that allows them to withhold such information. So the BBC are not required to disclose any information and will not comment on the list of names that I referred to.

In other words, the BBC will neither confirm nor deny that the list that is available on the Wayback Machine is the real thing.

Although this may make sense in purely legalistic terms, I suspect that the BBC Litigation department’s clients may be suffering from a serious common sense deficit. Do they really think that if they stay shtum this scandal will go away, rather than continue to snowball?

My feeling is that there will have to be a cataclysm at the BBC before the mists of arrogance and the type of groupthink that may be described as ‘the BBC culture’ can be dispersed. But will there be anything worth salvaging at Broadcasting House then?

Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail has obtained a statement from the BBC on what is beginning to be known as ‘28gate’, although ‘BBC-Gate’ would seem to be more user-friendly. The statement is very interesting, but probably not in the way in which the BBC press department intended.

Here it is:

‘There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage. The event certain bloggers have referred to was one in a series of seminars for BBC editors and managers. They were a forum for free and frank discussion of global issues and not created to produce programming nor set story direction. They involved external contributors from business, science and academia. Seminars such as this do not set editorial policy. They can over time and along with many other elements help inform our journalism through debate and access to expertise, but the setting of our editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust.

‘The BBC has refused disclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal has unanimously upheld this. The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that is necessary for our independent journalism.

‘IBT were one of a range of organisations and different voices the BBC worked with in delivering these seminars. They are no longer involved. The events were considered against our editorial guidelines and raised no issues about impartiality for the BBC or its output.’

In passing, the straw man argument set up in the first paragraph - that the BBC is being accused of ‘censoring climate change reporting’ - looks like an attempt to avoid the real issues. The accusation is that the BBC has made a false claim that editorial policy on climate change was informed, and presumably underpinned, by a ‘seminar with the best scientific experts’ when it is now clear from Maurizio Morabito’s research (omnologos blog) that nothing could be much further from the truth. They are also being accused in the blogosphere, and now in the MSM too, of expending a lot of time and money on trying to cover up this fact.

But the most startling assertion in the BBC statement is that the seminar was not intended “to produce programming nor set story direction.” Helen Boaden’s witness statement for the Tribunal hearing does in fact say much the same thing, but goes on to identify output that the seminar did influence, including Dr Ian Stewart’s notorious three part hatchet job on climate sceptics, Earth: The Climate Wars.

Continue reading »

© 2011 Harmless Sky Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha