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.
An email from Jana Bennett, Head of Vision and co-host of the seminar with Helen Boaden - obtained with a FOIA request but not from the BBC - stresses the way in which this seminar fed through into programming, whatever the claimed primary intention of this event might be.
The aim of the annual event, [Real World Seminar] which I co-host with BBC News, is to bring together key decision makers within broadcasting with a mix of writers, producers and environment & development specialists to explore how we can more effectively represent our interconnected world. You will be able to exchange views on key issues and stories, and explore together ways of bringing those stories to the screen.
Past seminars have had enormously positive feedback, inspiring major programme seasons on the BBC: Africa in 2005, Climate Change in 2006 and last year’s season on India & Pakistan, as well as other diverse individual projects. That said, 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 overarching theme of the seminar is: Making Sense of an Interconnected World. This theme will provide the framework for the discussions, and we’ll explore five sub-themes in small group sessions: resources, money, movement, population and objects.
The seminars are organised jointly by the International Broadcasting Trust and the Cambridge Media & Environment Programme, in collaboration with BBC Television and BBC News.
Melanie Phillips also has some very interesting things to say about the International Broadcasting Trust.
At a time when trust in the BBC is at an all-time low, why has the press office put out a thoroughly misleading statement that attempts to downplay the impact of the 2006 seminar Climate Change – the Challenge to Broadcasting? And who was the manager in BBC News who signed this statement off? These are questions the BBC Trust, as the only watchdog on the BBC Executive’s activities, really must ask and then make the answers known if the damage being caused by this new scandal is to be limited any time soon.
There are other aspect of this statement and Melanie’s article that I will blog about later.
Update, 16th November 2012:
James Delingpole has an excellent article in The Spectator with the typically restrained headline Here’s a BBC scandal that should really make you disgusted. And he had this to say about the way that the seminar seems to have fed through into programme output at the BBC.
To give you an idea of the effect this conference had on the BBC’s programming, here is a sample from 2006: 24 May — David Attenborough launches ‘Climate Chaos’ season with a two-part documentary, Are We Changing Planet Earth? (his pained, breathy, earnest conclusion: YES!); 28 May — Songs of Praise — Sally Magnusson visits an environmental project in Oxford that has made a real difference to the local community; 28 May — Test the Nation — Know Your Planet: Are you aware of climate and environmental issues?; 6 June — Five Disasters Waiting To Happen: a study of potential climate disaster scenarios in London, Shanghai, Mumbai, Paris and Tuvalu; 2 June — The Money Programme spends a week with a family in Teesdale, the area with the UK’s highest CO2 emissions per capita; 6 June Panorama: Climate Chaos — Bush’s Climate of Fear.
Oh, and I haven’t mentioned the involvement of Blue Peter, which changed its name to Green Peter for the day, offering top tips on how to ‘plant a drought-resistant garden’ and ‘how to boil a kettle with a bike’. Not even the Proms were immune. In 2007, the BBC commissioned a music drama inspired by Hurricane Katrina. Said Controller Nicholas Kenyon: ‘Climate change is such a subject of the moment and the Proms does reflect what is going on in the world.’