At the beginning of this month I put up a post about a Freedom of Information Act request that I had made to the BBC: Jeremy Paxman, the BBC, Impartiality, and Freedom of Information .The information I requested referred to a seminar on climate change that the BBC had mentioned in a major report on impartiality published last year: From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel. This is how they described it:

The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].

From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, Page 40

As the BBC seem most unwilling to tell me who the ‘best scientific experts’ who attended the seminar where, I’ve spent some time googling in the hope that the internet might yield more information. It did, and what I found is rather astonishing.

My first hit was on the International Broadcasting Trust’s site, where I found this:

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.

2006

A one day event was held in London on January 26 2006, focusing on climate change and its impact on development. The brainstorm brought together 28 BBC executives and independent producers, this time including several from BBC News, and 28 policy experts. It was chaired by Fergal Keane and looked ahead to the next 10 years, to explore the challenges facing television in covering this issue. Several delegates attended from developing countries, including Ethiopia, China and Bangladesh. [My emphasis]

Link

So when the BBC’s impartiallity report says that, ‘The BBC has held a high-level seminar’, it would seem that they are being a little coy about revealing just who organised it. Checking the dates of the event that the IBT describe and the name of the chairman, there can be no doubt that the IBT and the BBC are referring to the same event. So it appears that three organisations were involved in putting this seminar together. But the BBC say that ‘the best scintific experts’ were present, while the IBT referrs only to ‘policy experts’. Surely there is rather an important distinction here or, in the climate debate, does the BBC fail to make any destinction at all between a policy wonk and a scientist?

[Incidentally, the BBC's letter replying to my FOI Act request refers to ' specialists in the area of climate change', once again not quite the same as 'the best scientific experts' mentioned in the impartiality report.]

The next obvious step was to try and find out who the BBC’s co-organisers were. Here is what the IBT say about themselves on their website:

Our work focuses on four main areas of activity:

  • lobbying Government, regulators and broadcasters
  • dialogue with the main public service broadcasters
  • research on television coverage of the developing world
  • developing a slate of innovative programme ideas

http://www.ibt.org.uk/about_us.php

There can be no doubt from this description that the IBT is a lobby group, so I wondered whose interests they might represent. The answer was not difficult to find:

The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) is an educational charity which seeks to promote high quality television and new media coverage on matters of international significance. IBT represents a coalition of international charities campaigning for high quality television coverage of ‘matters of international significance or interest’.

Its members include: ActionAid, Amnesty International, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International, Christian Aid, Comic Relief, Concern UK, Friends of the Earth, Merlin, Oxfam, Plan UK, Practical Action, Progressio, RSPB, Save the Children, Sightsavers International, Skillshare International, Tearfund, UNA UK, UNICEF UK, VSO, the World Association for Christian Communication and World Vision. The views in this submission reflect the concerns of IBT’s member agencies regarding adequate common understanding of the world in which we live. These concerns are shared by millions of UK supporters of our organisations. [My emphasis]

Link

This document dates from Dec 2007, nearly two years after the climate change seminar, but a similar one dated Mar 2007 says much the same thing. It would certainly be interesting to know whether the IBT were representing Friends of the Earth at the time of the so-called BBC seminar. Among the other charities and campaign groups mentioned, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Tearfund have also vigorously promoted global warming alarmism. I haven’t checked up on the others yet.

But the IBT was not the only ‘joint organiser’ of the seminar, the Cambridge Media and Environment Group is also mentioned. Googling this name proved to be far from revealing about who they are or what they do. Remarkably, they do not seem to have a website. On the other hand I did get hits that provided some rather tantalising information. I found this example particularly surprising:

Mr. Roger Harrabin

Environment Correspondent
British Broadcasting Corporation

Mr. Harrabin is environment correspondent for the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, an associate Press Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and co-director of the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme – an organisation founded to engage media gate-keepers in debates on sustainable development. He has been reporting environment, transport, energy and development issues for the BBC for 17 years.

[Page dated Feb 2002: speakers and moderators - Earth Dialogues]

http://www.earthdialogues.org/en/biography.html

That certainly sounds as though the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme is an environmental pressure group with an interest in influencing ‘media gate-keepers’ attitudes to matters that concern them. Roger Harrabin is now the BBC’s Environment Analyst, and I have yet to find out if he is still involved with the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme.

Another co-director seems to be Dr Joe Smith. He was recently involved with a group which drew up an abortive 176-page complaint to Ofcom about the ITV documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle. Here is what the complainant’s website says about him:

Dr Joe Smith

Senior Lecturer in Environment at The Open University and Co-Director of the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme

Dr Smith peer reviewed the sections of the complaint relating to the media’s coverage of climate change

Within the protective bubble of media commissioning it is easy to see why Swindle looked like a good idea: it was provocative, naughty and counterintuitive. It gave voice to outcast experts, defied groupthink and surprised the audience. But pop the bubble, step outside and talk to the numerous and broad climate change science and policy community and it is viewed as one of the most unhelpful pieces of programme making about a science topic that anyone can remember. Britain had established itself as a leader in the extent and quality of public debate about climate change but the Swindle programme dented that. It is a clear example of how the media’s desire to appear edgy and probing can leave everyone involved in a commission looking at best foolish and dated.

http://www.ofcomswindlecomplaint.net/About/Ruling/ContributorResponses.htm

It certainly does not sound as though Dr Smith has impartial and objective views on climate change.

One last hit gave a little more information about where the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme might be coming from:

16. Tyndall supports media & environment programme

The Tyndall Centre is co-sponsoring the University of Cambridge Media and Environment Programme, run by Joe Smith (Open University) and Roger Harrebin (BBC) through the University of Cambridge’s Committee for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (CIES). The Programme aims to overcome the obstacles to effective reporting of environment and sustainable development in the media, by bringing together about 15 media decision-makers (including news editors, producers and journalists) and a similar number of leading experts from the environmental research and policy community. The Tyndall Centre is co-sponsoring the Programme because we share its commitment to the effective communication of climate change information to increase knowledge and inspire discussion and debate in society. The Centre also places importance on the need to engage with the media to disseminate research results and other information relating to Tyndall activities, and sees the Programme as an excellent opportunity to build on links to this network.

http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/tynd-all/Tynd2a.pdf

Is this another lobbying operation designed to raise the profile of the Tyndall Centre and the climate research that is undertaken there? It’s hard to say.

So what do all these gleanings from the internet tell us?

  1. When the BBC said in their impartiality report that ‘the BBC has held a high-level seminar’ it looks as though they were being extremely economical with the facts. They didn’t mention their willing little helpers, and there seems to be some doubt about the status of the participants. Were they ‘the best scientific experts’ or were they policy experts?
  2. The IBT is a lobby group that represents Friends of the Earth among other activist organisations.
  3. The Cambridge Media and Environment Programme also seems to be a lobbying organisation which has, or has had, surprisingly close links to a BBC journalist who has been instrumental in forming public opinion on global warming. Apparently they are important enough to help organise a seminar that the BBC used to justify lack of balance in their reporting of the global warming debate, but they are too shy to reveal themselves to the world on a website.
  4. If the IBT are lobbyists who represent Friends of the Earth, to what extent was their client’s interests represented in the way that the seminar was organised?
  5. There is strong circumstantial evidence that the ‘high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts’, which defined BBC editorial policy on climate change, was held in collaboration with two environmental pressure groups.

All this raises far more questions than it answers of course. but perhaps it does make the BBC’s refusal to provide information about this seminar more understandable.

13 Responses to “The Freedom of Information Act and the BBC’s willing little helpers”

  1. 1
    Bishop Hill Says:

    The page is gone now, but Harrabin’s profile on the BBC website used to talk about his work with CEMP, and said that the BBC were sponsoring it too. If you are right that it’s a lobbying organisation, then they are paying people to lobby them. This is not unheard of.

    I’m not sure about whether lobbying is the right word though. Lobbying implies some sort of persuasion, and I think the BBC is already very amenable to environmentalist ideas. Perhaps a co-ordinating body would be a better description?

    I did some work trying to find out what kind of body CEMP is, but drew a blank at Companies House and the Charities Commission. It may well be an unincorporated association of some kind.

  2. 2
    TonyN Says:

    Bishop Hill

    Your point about suggesting that CMEP may be a lobby group is well taken, but the mention of ‘media gate-keepers’ in this description of their mission certainly suggests that they intend to influence editorial policy:

    an organisation founded to engage media gate-keepers in debates on sustainable development

    And although this only mentions ‘sustainable development’, remember that it dates from 2002, before AGW really took off in the media.

    According to your post here, Roger Harrabin introduced Matt Prescott to Jon Plowman of the BBC at Cambridge. The article that you reference for this makes no mention of Harrabin. Might this have disappeared after you wrote your post, in the same way that references to Harrabin’s connection with CMEP seem to have disappeared from the BBC web site? Or might it have been one of those slips we all make from time to time? Is there any way of checking?

  3. 3
    Bishop Hill Says:

    No, I’m certain it was there, but there is no way of checking. Unfortunately the page doesn’t appear to be in archive.org.

  4. 4
    Bishop Hill Says:

    No, hold on, here it is:

    Roger Harrabin.

  5. 5
    Bishop Hill Says:

    The amazing disappearing Roger Harrabin!

    I’ve written a couple of posts on the subject of BBC environment correspondent Roger Harrabin’s work with something called the Cambridge Environment and Media Programme, which appears to be a body …

    TonyN: Bishop Hill’s post is a must read – here.

  6. 6
    TonyN Says:

    Got it, saved it, printed it. Thanks!

    He co-directs the Cambridge Environment and Media Programme, which is supported by BBC News to bring together senior journalists with outside experts to discuss media coverage of long-term sustainable development issues

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an oversight of the selection process. The names Monbiot, Lynas, May, Rapley and Burke come to mind.

  7. 7
    TonyB Says:

    http://www.leverhulmeclimatesymposium.org/page/19/london-speakers.htm

    In March this year Roger was still described as a co director at this London seminar.Didn’t he also give a sympathetic appraisal of the greenpeace protest at kingsnorth on the Today programme? Greenpeace and Oxfam lobbyists surely helped to write parts of the policy papers for the last IPCC report?

    TonyB

  8. 8
    TonyB Says:

    http://www.take3management.co.uk/eleni_andreadis.htm

    see link above-eleni andreadis worked on Today and with the Cemp which is described as supported by bbc news. Her profile and agency is linked above. interestingly this agency also handles Dr Iain Stewart of Climate Wars infamy (a bbc programme)
    Eleni coauthored a book with joe smith-there are various other references to the bbc connection listed on the web site below. hmmm

    http://www.bjr.org.uk/data/2007/no1_andreadis_smith

    TonyB

  9. 9
    TonyN Says:

    Tony, welcome back.

    Roger Harrabin seems to be moving in rather exalted circles: Cox, Hoskins, King, Mitchell, Schmidt, Thompson and Watson. All very big names in climate science, but also in climate alarmism.

    Although he is listed under speakers on the website, I can only find him in the programme as chairman of a session entitled, ‘Lessons from the Past to Inform the Future’. This is a strange role for a reporter working for an organisation that prides itself on impartiality and suggesting that he has progressed from being an observer of the climate debate to being a player in it. And why would a scientific symposium enlist the services of a chairman whose only academic qualification, so far as I am aware, is an English degree?

    As you say – Hmmm!

    Incidentally, have you posted a link to the video of Schmidt’s presentation at CA? I think that they might be interested.

  10. 10
    TonyN Says:

    Tony

    The other links are interesting too:

    He [Joe Smith] has organised (with the BBC?s Roger Harrabin) a programme of seminars that have helped BBC and other senior media decision-makers to respond to environmental change.

    Sounds way beyond the job description of a reporter to me.

  11. 11
    TonyB Says:

    Thought you might be interested in this which is a handbook of speakers and presenters for conferences. Roger commands fees of £5-10000 per conference generally as a moderator. So he’s obviously (?) a free lancer. He has hosted numerous environmental conferences

    The link takes you to the html version of the catalogue then click on the pdf link to see the profiles of Roger and dozens of other BBC people I had always fondly thought were staff but seem to command high prices in the market. Incidentally TonyN, Roger was an associate press fellow at Wolfson college Cambridge-an honarary position?

    http://216.239.59.104/search?q=cache:Q_Nxi3lHcg0J:www.jla.co.uk/Downloads/Index/JLA_Index.pdf+cambridge+environment+media+programme+roger+harrabin&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=40&gl=uk

    Tony Brown

    TonyN: I hope that you don’t mind, but I’ve moved your comment about the Exeter conference here as I think that it may be of interest to the people who use that thread.

  12. 12
    Ian T Says:

    I picked a more blatant example of the BBCs neutrality on climate change a few years back when I was listening to Radio 2 – the current affairs slot between noon and 2 pm. Sadly I did not make a record of the comment. The female “environment correspondent” stated that “it has to be said that a TINY MINORITY (my emphasis) of scientists disagree with man made global warming.” The really telling point, though, was that she prefixed the above statement with the word “Unfortunately”.

  13. 13
    Alex Cull Says:

    Was reminded of this thread when reading a new post about Roger Harrabin on Omniclimate today. Is he a journalist, an activist or an expert? Or all three? The boundaries keep getting blurred.

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