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.’

24 Responses to “A statement from the BBC – at last”

  1. 1
    db Says:

    I find it impossible to reconcile the words ‘impartial’, ‘journalism’ and the phrase ‘free and frank discussion’ with what is a seminar with a list of specialist attendees made up of people who either work for organisations which lobby on behalf of or benefit from the belief in CAGW, or who have made public statements that suggest a strong personal belief in CAGW.

    How can you discuss or debate anything if you all agree and believe the same things? Americans have a derogatory term for this kind of meeting; they call it a circle-jerk.

  2. 2
    Mike Haseler Says:

    I’ve just been writing an article for bbcgate and this statement seems to fly in the face of the judgement. In particular the information tribunal said: “The Commissioner is satisfied that as the purpose of the seminar was to influence the BBC’s creative output, the details about its contents are held by it to a significant extent for the purpose of art, literature or journalism. ”

    The statement says: “They were a forum for free and frank discussion of global issues and not created to produce programming nor set story direction.” If that’s the truth, then what the told the information tribunal can’t be the truth.

  3. 3
    geoffchambers Says:

    There’s a hostage to fortune in the very first paragraph:

    “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 BBC Trust’s science review (Steve Jones’ report) spent quite a lot of time discussing climate scepticism, mentioning five sceptics by name. References to two of them (Dr Peiser and Lord Lawson) had to be removed for legal reasons. You and Andrew Montford were mentioned specifically in relation to your effort to discover the names of the 28:

    “A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery.. devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006… The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.”

    The implication being that there can’t be much wrong with the science if sceptics are so obsessed with such a trivial matter.
    Perhaps the BBC Trust should think about revising this section of the report, too.

  4. 4
    Paul Matthews Says:

    The first paragraph of the BBC statement is also contradicted by climategate email 2496.txt, from Mike Hulme (UEA) who attended the January 2006 seminar:

    Did anyone hear Stott vs. Houghton on Today, radio 4 this morning? Woeful
    stuff really. This is one reason why Tyndall is sponsoring the Cambridge Media/Environment Programme to starve this type of reporting at source.

  5. 5
    geoffchambers Says:

    Paul Matthews:
    “Starve this type of reporting at source” deserves to go into any collection of great CRU quotes, alongside “hide the decline” and “why should I give you my data..?”

  6. 6
    TonyN Says:

    Geoff, #3:

    Thanks for anticipating tomorrow’s post!

  7. 7
    Barry Woods Says:

    Lets not forget, te irony of Mike Hulme inviteing Harrabin and Greenpeace legend – Bill Hare onto the Tyndall Advisory board, at the same time: (
    http://www.ecowho.com/foia.php?file=1038.txt&search=bill+hare

    1. We invite three more members to our AB:

    Roger Harrabin (media; Radio BBC) – reserve Paul Brown (The Guardian)
    Bill Hare (NGO; Greenpeace) – reserves Mike Harley (English Nature); Derek

    ————————

    Mike Hulme (Tyndall) knows what he was dealing with, an earlier email from Doug Parr (Greenpeace ‘Cheif Scientific Advisor’ !), to Hulme

    Otherwise hope all’s well. Bill Hare should be continuing to give sme comentary on the ‘dangerous climate change’ proposals. I’d like to find a way of keeping involved without being swamped!
    Best
    Doug

    Dr. Douglas Parr
    Chief Scientific Adviser
    http://www.ecowho.com/foia.php?file=1201.txt&search=bill+hare

  8. 8
    Malcolm McClure Says:

    More mutual back-scratching organized by the peripatetic Joe Smith and paid for by BBC. It just went on and on and on. (See nice pic of Frances Weil):
    http://memex.naughtons.org/archives/2008/07/04/5287
    Also: http://www.bjr.org.uk/data/2007/no1_andreadis_smith
    That provides the smoking gun pointing at Joe’s real agenda, (which BBC determined Shall Be Nameless).
    See also Bios of Andreadis and Smith who both attended the 2006 gathering.5

  9. 9
    Hilary Ostrov Says:

    If I might be forgiven for cross–posting an observation I had made at BH when Skiphill reported this “response” yesterday (well, earlier today in my time-zone!) …

    Seems to me that they are following in the footsteps of the IPCC in their haste to “revisionize” and paper-over their foibles and failings. Considering the full context of Phillips’ post (and noticing particularly that to which they did not respond) they’ve done themselves further injury.

    Don’t know about you, but I am having considerable difficulty squaring:

    [the seminars were] not created to produce programming nor set story direction [emphasis added -hro]

    with their claim in the next paragraph that:

    BBC has refused disclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature,

    Additionally, their reliance on (the “authority” of):

    BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage

    which they did publish with great fanfare, serves to shine the spotlight on the self-serving hypocrisy of their adamant refusal to publish the Balen Report (a review of their “coverage” of the Middle East).

    Although, I suppose one must give them some “credit” for the consistency of their arrogance and very expensive obfuscatory stonewalling when questioned by members of the public they are supposed to be serving.

  10. 10
    Alex Cull Says:

    Not much to add to the fine commentary so far, just to encourage TonyN to keep up the excellent work, also if anyone’s interested in what was said during the “Stott vs. Houghton” exchange on BBC Radio 4 in 2002, I have a transcript of the programme here.

  11. 11
    TonyN Says:

    Barry:

    Yep! I can assure you it’s not forgotten.

    Malcolm:

    It is astonishing how many climate change enthusiasts formed their deep convictions prior to the fourth IPCC report when the research findings were even more rudimentary than they are now.

    Hillary:

    I am presently focusing on getting this take on events into the MSM with rather more context than Melanie Phillips was able to give it in her excellent article.

    Alex:

    That will come in useful before long I am sure!

  12. 12
    m Says:

    Maurizio did a great job last night on the WUWT broadcast.

    It looks like this story is going to “get legs”

    But will “heads roll”?

    Max

  13. 13
    Maurizio Morabito Says:

    How strange for Harrabin and Smith to be co-operating in the downplaying of their work. I wonder if the BBC should ask for its money back given how irrelevant these Seminars were.

    Also strange that time was taken off by BBC VIPs to attend the same irrelevant Seminars, and for many years. Those irresponsible individuals should step aside or resign! (WAIT…they have, already..)

    ps Irony aside, we still have not one single attempt to defend the BBC’s bullying tactics about FOI. Good.

  14. 14
    Hilary Ostrov Says:

    Maurizio writes:

    How strange for Harrabin and Smith to be co-operating in the downplaying of their work

    I’m not so sure that it’s so strange. Their posturing seems to be a variant of the “trial balloon sidestep”. I didn’t see Smith’s downplaying, but I do recall seeing Harrabin’s tweet; and if I’m not mistaken it preceded the BBC’s highly dubious “response” to Melanie Phillips (part of which the lawyers reiterated in their “response” to Tony’s request for confirmation of the names on “the list”.)

    But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that such a “sidestep” has been attempted by the great and the good partisans on the green-side. For example, as I had blogged a few years ago, long before ME Mann published his “Portrait of the Artist as an Aggrieved Mann“, he was invited by the (US) Daily Caller’s Scott Ott to expand on his reported June 2010 post-”exoneration” comment to the BBC:

    “I always thought it was somewhat misplaced to make it (i.e. the “hockey-stick” -hro) a central icon of the climate change debate,” [Mann] said.

    Not surprisingly, Ott’s follow-up questions were greeted with that familiar tune: Sounds of Silence. Ott, therefore concluded (quite reasonably under the circumstances, IMHO):

    Who can blame the average curious person for harboring suspicions about a purported scientist unwilling to stand behind his data or conclusions — unwilling even to explain why his findings should receive less attention than they have?

    So, it seems to me that whether it’s the BBC, the IPCC, or an individual “climate scientist” resting on his igNobel laurels, the pattern was established long ago – and they just don’t know (or don’t want) to change it.

    These continued insults to the intelligence of John and Jane Q. Public strongly suggest (to me at least) that they are stuck in a time-warp, during which they had the floor all to themselves. Either that or they are verrrrrrrry slow learners ;-)

  15. 15
    TonyN Says:

    #13, Maurizio and #14, Hilary:

    It will seem even stranger when I can post about the legal issues in this case and publish the BBC manaagement’s witness statements and the legal submissions.

  16. 16
    TonyN Says:

    HELP!

    Although in a moment of enthusiasm I once set up a Twitter account, I have never used it and do not understand that particular comms environment. Can anyone out there point me to the Tweets by Smith and Harrabin that are being mentioned on this thread?

  17. 17
    HELPER Says:

    You can find Harrabin’s tweets at

    https://twitter.com/RogerHarrabin

    I do not think he has said anything except to plead Chatham House rules and try to change the subject.

  18. 18
    HELPER Says:

    Joe Smith’s tweets are at

    https://twitter.com/citizenjoesmith

  19. 19
    TonyN Says:

    Many thanks HELPER. Is it possible to search individual Twitter accounts, for instance looking for terms like Chatham or CHR?

  20. 20
    Alex Cull Says:

    It’s possible that Helper knows of a good way of monitoring or aggregating Twitter comments; in the meantime, I’ve found Twitter’s own search function quite useful:
    http://twitter.com/search-advanced

    You can search for key words from any account, e.g., “Chatham” from “citizenjoesmith” – in fact neither “Chatham” nor “CHR” comes up from Joe Smith’s account, but “Chat” does (bearing in mind that Twitter communications are often full of abbreviations). As far as I know, the only way of recording these (in case they get deleted) is by taking screen shots, as I’ve done here:

    http://twitpic.com/bf3r5p
    http://twitpic.com/bf46iz

  21. 21
    HELPER Says:

    Yes, see

    http://snapbird.org/

  22. 22
    Alex Cull Says:

    SnapBird is an excellent resource, many thanks HELPER!

  23. 23
    TonyN Says:

    Thanks to HELPER and Alex Cull.

  24. 24
    Bob_FJ Says:

    It seems that the BBC is moving towards claiming that they do show balance in reporting both sides of the controversy on climate-change. (maybe in anticipation of an appeal from TonyN?). For instance, see Geoff Chambers comment on the thread: “Orlowski of ‘El Reg’ takes a very cool look at 28gate”

    Oh Really BBC?

    I did a crude Google search from here in Melbourne on an open time limit for ~ BBC climate change ~ and got over 60 million hits, (but 3,370,000 when limited to the past year), but unfortunately I didn’t have time to read them all, and they include very many worldwide sources that quote the BBC. (which says things about the worldwide influence of the BBC, wot?)

    I then did a crude search for ~ “climate change” + sceptic + bbc ~ and got about 930,000 hits, (but 74,100 when restricted to the past year), which included non BBC sites and at a quick look there were many attacks on sceptics therein.

    In a quick alternative look, whilst it is still also a tad crude, one can specify the source site of ~ bbc.com.uk ~ in a more advanced search, and here we have for two such quickies over the past year:

    ~ sceptic climate change [for] site:www.bbc.co.uk ~ 270 hits (including attacks on sceptics)
    ~ climate change [for] site:www.bbc.co.uk ~ 7,020 hits

    It might be interesting to do a more thorough search and to ask the BBC for their attribution to their statutory impartiality in terms of article counts on both sides of the controversy. (being careful to distinguish between attack and defence articles)

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