Apparently Lord Justice Leveson has said that what he most wished to avoid when producing his report on the culture, practices, and ethics of the press, was publishing a document that would be discussed and then put away in a cupboard. I know how he feels.
At the end of last year, someone leaked an email from Bob Ward - spinmeister and chief attack dog at the Grantham Institute - which was evidently intended to stimulate action on an academic message board dealing with ‘science communication’. Bob was a worried man:
The Leveson Inquiry is considering the culture of both the UK Press and broadcast media. No doubt the ‘sceptics’ are bombarding Leveson with anti-BBC propaganda in the same way they did during the early stages of the BBC Trust report. It would be good if there were some balancing submissions to Leveson from sensible psci-commers.
Until I saw this, I had not realised that Leveson might be prepared to poke into some of the murkier corners of the media which Andrew Montford and I have been trying to illuminate for several years. It was also interesting to see that although Professor Steve Jones’ review of science reporting for the BBC had dismissed our submission out of hand, it had evidently caused concern elsewhere among the warmist ranks. This had dealt with the extent to which BBC reporters and programme makers seemed to be in thrall to environmental pressure groups and climate researchers, a problem that has recently matured into 28-Gate.
So far as the Leveson Inquiry was concerned, we did no more than agree that we should make a submission, but there were lots of other things to do and nothing much happened. Then Fiona Fox, CEO of the Science Media Centre, sent written evidence to the inquiry that caused us some surprise. Although the events relating to the climate debate that she described were familiar to us, her version of the facts and the inferences that she drew from them, were surprising. These mainly concerned a very dodgy press release that suggested global temperatures would increase by 11o C by the end of the century and what she considered to be media excesses in reporting Professor Phil Jones role in the Climategate scandal.
This provided the incentive to write to the Leveson Inquiry, so we asked whether it was too late to submit comments on Ms Fox’s evidence, and warned them that our evidence would conflict with that of Ms Fox. To our surprise we received a positively enthusiastic reply saying that the Inquiry would ‘welcome’ such a submission. Would this distinguished, and presumably fair minded Law Lord give a couple of climate sceptics a fair hearing? It seemed possible.
The document we submitted can be found here. It is long, very thoroughly referenced to documentary evidence, and covers the problems we have had with the BBC over the 2006 climate seminar as well as Ms Fox’s evidence. However it would not have surprised me if that had been the last we heard of it. The auto-responses from the ‘inquiry team’ all said that they receive many submissions, but only those that are used would be acknowledged. So morale was given another boost when, only a couple of days later, we were asked for our consent to the submission being published as evidence on the Inquiry website. However we were not called to give oral evidence.
Now, many months later, Lord Leveson has spoke - in four volumes comprising nearly 2000 pages, and goodness knows how many words. He has almost nothing to say about the culture, practices and ethics of the press when reporting on climate change.
Volume 1, Part A, 2.5 – 2.9 addresses a problem raised by various parties described as campaign groups. Under the present Press Complaints Commission (PCC) procedures, it is not possible for a complaint to be made other than by an identified victim. Therefore if you see what you consider to be a misleading report about a matter with which you are familiar, but the inaccuracy cannot be shown to affect you directly, then it is not possible to complain to the PCC. Examples of such ‘generic’ issues in which this situation might apply are immigration, domestic violence, and climate change. The danger of interfering with this situation is, of course, that an organisation like the Grantham Institute - which was set up by a billionaire hedge fund manager with a bee in his bonnet about ‘the environment’ - might choose to bring complaints against any report on climate change with which their benefactor might be expected to disagree. This would do nothing to promote courageous reporting of a controversial subject.
This problem attracted a flood of submissions to the Inquiry and at this early stage in his report Lord Leveson is at pains to reassure their authors that he has read all those that were published by the Inquiry, taken them into account when writing his report, and referred to them where appropriate (Vol 1, Pt A, 2.8), He also stresses that where evidence had not been taken orally as well, this did not mean that the written evidence was in any way inferior. There is no question,he says, of any of the published evidence being second class. This makes some of the things that he says, or fails to say,later in the report even more surprising.
In the meantime, I wonder if Lord Leveson smiled when he quoted this wonderfully complacent little purple passage from Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian:
“the simple craft of reporting: recording things; asking questions; being an observer; giving context. It’s sitting in a magistrates’ court reporting on the daily tide of crime cases – the community’s witness to the process of justice. It’s being on the front line in Libya, trying to sift conflicting propaganda from the reality. It’s reporting the rival arguments over climate change – and helping the public to evaluate where the truth lies.” Vol 1, Pt B, 3.2
Sadly, It seems far more likely that the irony of The Graun reporting ‘rival arguments’ over climate change to help their readers ‘evaluate where the truth lies’ was completely lost on him.
When, in the next volume, his Lordship makes another foray into the realms of climate change, he relies on evidence from an organisation called Full Fact. (Vol 2, Pt F, 2.27) The Inquiry website shows that they contributed no less than five submissions and a witness statement. The only reference to climate change I can find in any of these concerns a story in the Daily Mail, apparently relying on figures obtained from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) website, estimating the amount that energy from alternatives will cost householders. This could hardly be described as ‘misleading reporting in areas such as … climate change’.
Then, at last, it looks as though Lord Leveson will, on page 491, get down to the nitty gritty of the way the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’ impact on the reporting of climate change. This is how Lord Leveson launches into the subject:
Similar, but more controversial, concerns have been raised by organisations in relation to the reporting of issues as diverse as climate change and drug addiction. It is unnecessary to do more than touch on these: the relevant submissions are available on the Inquiry website for public scrutiny. It goes without saying that the Inquiry has not undertaken the task of forming its own expert scientific judgment on this material and, in any event, it is unnecessary that it should do so. Vol 2, Pt F, 3.30
Scrutiny of the following paragraphs show that he has touched so lightly on climate change that is seems not to be mentioned at all, although he does say that:
… the public must be in a position to understand what is fact (and therefore to be relied on as such) and what is opinion … There is, of course, no bright line for the way that accurate facts are described, or for the choice of accurate facts that are reported and it is recognised that journalists do not have the same standards of impartiality that affect broadcasters. Vol 2, Pt F, 3.32 – 3.33
There are two points here. Firstly, Lord Leveson does not need to form his own expert scientific judgement in order to determine whether there are problems in the way that climate change is reported, any more than Mr Justice Burton in the High Court needed any scientific expertise of his own to determine that Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth’ was alarmist and misleading. Secondly, his Lordship seems not to have considered the problem of distinguishing what is fact and what is opinion in climate change when nearly everyone claims that their opinions, or speculations, are facts.
However, he does recommend that readers should look at evidence published on the website. When one sees that he cites the Welcome Trust, Sense about Science, Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre and the UK Drug Policy Commission, but makes no mention of our submission, that rather undercuts his earlier claim that there is no such thing, in his eyes, as second-class evidence.
Much further on, his lordship grapples, very briefly, with the concerns of various defenders of the scientific orthodoxy about ‘false balance’. They argue that,if both minority and majority views in a scientific discourse are reported - for the sake of balance - then this is unfair to the majority who, of course, must be right. Wisely he smartly moves on to other things after pointing out that this may be a problem in some areas of medical research. In spite of introducing the subject by citing climate change as one of the areas where false balance may be a problem, he has nothing specific to say on the subject, which may be wise of him, but surely his remit was to deal with difficult issues like this.
Finally, Lord Leveson bids goodbye to the topic of climate change altogether on page 691, never to return to it:
Examples of scare stories are not limited to health journalism; the reporting of climate change is also susceptible to exaggeration. When a Nature paper modelling climate change projected warming between 2 degrees and 11 degrees, almost all the newspapers carried the latter figure in their headlines, with one tabloid splashing a huge 11 degrees on the front page alongside an apocalyptic image. This was in spite of the fact that the press briefing to launch the paper had all emphasised that the vast majority of models showed warming around 2 degrees. Vol 2 Pt F 9.68
Given that our evidence to the Inquiry provided a link to the press release with which the scientists concerned briefed the press by claiming a possible temperature increase of 11o C, without mentioning the 2o C estimate at all, his conclusion is rather surprising. But one does get the impression here that science may not be Lord Leveson’s favourite bag of tricks. Referring to ‘degrees’ four times in one paragraph without once mentioning what temperature scale they may be recorded in hardly inspires confidence in the sceptical reader.
What is remarkable about this four volume, 2000 page mammoth based on evidence that took nine months to gather, is how little it has to say about one of the most controversial areas of media reporting. In order to prepare this article I used ‘climate change’ as a search string and I have summarised all the instances that I could find.
A first take on the Leveson Report yesterday evening at the GWPF website had this to say:
It was also disappointing that Lord Leveson ignored the arguments and comments made by Tony Newbery and Andrew Montford. In my view this renders the section on science reporting in the report little more than a Science Media Centre press release.
Those kind word are particularly appreciated, coming as they do from David Whitehouse, for so many years the man at the BBC who told us about science when it was in the news. I don’t remember there ever being any angst about impartiality and accuracy in those pre-Harrabin, pre-Shukman, pre- seminars with activist s posing as ‘the best scientific experts’ days.
But perhaps, just possibly, I have taken a too pessimistic a view how our evidence was treated. The last paragraph of our contribution says:
In this submission we have attempted to draw attention to some of the very complex forces and issues that apply to the reporting of climate research, a field of science that has become heavily influenced by politics, and dogmatic convictions.
Perhaps Lord Leveson did read what we said, and understood it well enough to steer as wide a course round the subject as he possibly could. If so, that was certainly not our intention.
Update 02/12/2012: Andrew Gilligan has an excellent critique of Leveson’s recommendations in The Sunday Telegraph. He is particularly scathing about the risks attending his lordship’s enthusiasm for allowing third party complaints, which I touched on above, This would, as Gilligan points out, open the way for aggressive lobby groups to make editor’s lives a misery any time they publish reports on some controversial subjects with which they did not agree.
We are lucky, perhaps even honoured. We own an ash tree, and it’s rather a special one as the picture shows. The small figure to the left of the trunk is my wife, and she’s of average height. This is a very, very large ash tree indeed, and of course that also means that it is very, very old.
Our land includes about 17 acres of wood, mainly oak but with some ash and too much sycamore, but this tree isn’t part of one of the woods. It’s a lone sentinel in a pasture (the Welsh term is parc) and that means this tree really gets noticed. Of all its neighbours on our land, this is the individual that stands out from the rest, and it would be missed far more than any of the others should something happen to it.
With Ash Dieback Disease (Chalara fraxine ) firmly established in the UK’s woodlands and forests - and in the headlines too for the moment at least - we’ve been thinking about this tree quite a lot. It’s not just its visibility as it towers above all competitors, and the impact if it falls victim to this terrible disease, but also what it tells us about the world we live in, and how it has changed during the tree’s lifetime
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
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.
And here is the Background section from the 10-page version, with the participants list, found by Maurizio:
REAL WORLD BRAINSTORMS
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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!
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:
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.