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]

23 Responses to “Letters to MPs answered by the BBC”

  1. 1
    Kon Dealer Says:

    I was one of those 3.
    I have continued to pursue this scandal with the BBC directly.
    Here is my latest correspondence- so far not replied to.

    To the BBC Trust.
    Dear Sir/Madam.
    I have just received this wholly inadequate reply to a complaint that I made about a breach of broadcasting standards. My particular concern relates to the BBC Trust’s unquestioning acceptance of the Bridcut report, commissioned by the BBC Governors and the BBC Executive and which informs the current BBC Guidelines which state that, “Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item”.
    My first concern, which the BBC Complaints response does nothing to address, is the credibility of Mr. Bridcut’s conclusion that the Seminar included ‘some of the best scientific experts’. I have yet to hear a credible explanation of how Mr. Bridcut’s specialist knowledge of English 20th. Century composers in any way qualifies him to pass judgements on science, or whether those who attended (see list below) are “some of the best scientific experts”. In fact the vast majority on this list are not scientists, rather activists and campaigners from organisations that promote climate change alarmism and indeed, stand to profit from it. Furthermore the few scientists present are from the “alarmist” camp and do not in any way represent the true range of scientific opinion on the issue of climate change. Even more disturbing, several of the BBC attendees have since been compromised by the Jimmy Savile scandal- a scandal that raises serious issues about their judgement.
    Furthermore Mr. Bridcut cannot in any way be considered “independent”, having previously worked for the BBC for 12 years.
    In short the conclusions of Bridcut report are seriously flawed, by virtue of the author’s lack of scientific expertise. Hence, by extension, BBC editorial policy, which derives its legitimacy from this report must also be flawed.
    The rest of the response is an “appeal to authority”. Just because the Royal Society makes a statement, does not make it true. They have proved fallible in the past and will, no doubt, prove fallible in the future. The observation that political parties agree with the current, fashionable theories on climate change is irrelevant.
    Yours faithfully,
    XXXXXXX

    “Specialists”:
    Robert May, Oxford University and Imperial College London
    Mike Hulme, Director, Tyndall Centre, UEA
    Blake Lee-Harwood, Head of Campaigns, Greenpeace
    Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen
    Michael Bravo, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
    Andrew Dlugolecki, Insurance industry consultant
    Trevor Evans, US Embassy
    Colin Challen MP, Chair, All Party Group on Climate Change
    Anuradha Vittachi, Director, Oneworld.net
    Andrew Simms, Policy Director, New Economics Foundation
    Claire Foster, Church of England
    Saleemul Huq, IIED
    Poshendra Satyal Pravat, Open University
    Li Moxuan, Climate campaigner, Greenpeace China
    Tadesse Dadi, Tearfund Ethiopia
    Iain Wright, CO2 Project Manager, BP International
    Ashok Sinha, Stop Climate Chaos
    Andy Atkins, Advocacy Director, Tearfund
    Matthew Farrow, CBI
    Rafael Hidalgo, TV/multimedia producer
    Cheryl Campbell, Executive Director, Television for the Environment
    Kevin McCullough, Director, Npower Renewables
    Richard D North, Institute of Economic Affairs
    Steve Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Labs
    Joe Smith, The Open University
    Mark Galloway, Director, IBT
    Anita Neville, E3G
    Eleni Andreadis, Harvard University
    Jos Wheatley, Global Environment Assets Team, DFID
    Tessa Tennant, Chair, AsRia
    BBC attendees:
    Jana Bennett, Director of Television
    Sacha Baveystock, Executive Producer, Science
    Helen Boaden, Director of News
    Andrew Lane, Manager, Weather, TV News
    Anne Gilchrist, Executive Editor Indies & Events, CBBC
    Dominic Vallely, Executive Editor, Entertainment
    Eleanor Moran, Development Executive, Drama Commissioning
    Elizabeth McKay, Project Executive, Education
    Emma Swain, Commissioning Editor, Specialist Factual
    Fergal Keane, (Chair), Foreign Affairs Correspondent
    Fran Unsworth, Head of Newsgathering
    George Entwistle, Head of TV Current Affairs
    Glenwyn Benson, Controller, Factual TV
    John Lynch, Creative Director, Specialist Factual
    Jon Plowman, Head of Comedy
    Jon Williams, TV Editor Newsgathering
    Karen O’Connor, Editor, This World, Current Affairs
    Catriona McKenzie, Tightrope Pictures catriona@tightropepictures.com
    BBC Television Centre, London (cont)
    Liz Molyneux, Editorial Executive, Factual Commissioning
    Matt Morris, Head of News, Radio Five Live
    Neil Nightingale, Head of Natural History Unit
    Paul Brannan, Deputy Head of News Interactive
    Peter Horrocks, Head of Television News
    Peter Rippon, Duty Editor, World at One/PM/The World this Weekend
    Phil Harding, Director, English Networks & Nations
    Steve Mitchell, Head Of Radio News
    Sue Inglish, Head Of Political Programmes
    Frances Weil, Editor of News Special Events

    Dear XXXXXXX
    Reference CAS-1894266-J8738S
    Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC News.
    I understand you were unhappy with my colleague’s response and you continue to believe the BBC is biased in relation to climate change.
    The seminar to which you refer was held on 26 January 2006 under the Chatham House Rule. It was organised in partnership with the Cambridge Media and Environmental Programme (CMEP) in conjunction with BBC News and BBC Vision. It pre-dated the Trust and was not a BBC Trust event. Our understanding is that it was a one-day event focusing on climate science and the possible implications for businesses, individuals and international diplomacy looking ahead to the next 10 years and exploring the challenges facing the BBC in covering the issue.
    The event brought together 28 BBC representatives and 28 external invitees including scientists and policy experts including representatives from business, campaigners, NGOs, communications experts, people from the ‘front line’, scientists with contrasting views and academics. It is important that, in order to achieve an understanding of where due weight might lie in an argument, the BBC establishes what the prevailing consensus on an issue is and we understand that the seminar was part of that effort. The Bridcut Report itself was commissioned by the BBC Governors and the BBC Executive but was an independent report by Mr Bridcut. He concluded that the Seminar included ‘some of the best scientific experts’. His report was presented to the BBC Trust, which accepted the report, agreed the principles outlined within it and approved the recommendations for the Trust.
    You have quoted from the Bridcut Report on the seminar but you will also be aware that the Report went on to make the following point: “But these dissenters (or even sceptics) will still be heard, as they should, because it is not the BBC’s role to close down this debate. They cannot be simply dismissed as ‘flat-earthers’ or ‘denier’, who ‘should not be given a platform’ by the BBC. Impartiality always requires a breadth of view: for as long as minority opinions are coherently and honestly expressed, the BBC must give them appropriate space.”
    New editorial guidelines were published in 2010. The current BBC Guidelines state that, “Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item. Instead, we should seek to achieve ‘due weight’. For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.”
    The Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee has explained its position in some of its findings on the subject in recent years. The Committee decided that its position was that there is a broad scientific consensus that climate change is definitely happening and laid out some of the reasons for reaching that decision, which included the statement by the Royal Society that, “Our scientific understanding of climate change is sufficiently sound to make us highly confident that greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming”. The Committee also noted that all three of the larger British political parties, as well as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have accepted man-made climate change as a reality.
    The BBC complaints procedures explain that, in order to use licence fee resources appropriately, we will normally investigate where evidence is provided to suggest a possible breach of Editorial Guidelines but otherwise we will not normally investigate further. For the same reason we note observations or expressions of opinion but cannot reply to them in detail. Full information about the BBC’s complaints procedures is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/complaints_framework/.
    We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to contact us again and have noted your points. We feel that we responded as fully as we could, given the nature of your complaint, and do not have more to add.
    This reply is therefore to explain that we do not consider the points you raised suggested a possible breach of standards. We reported them to the BBC staff responsible but are not able to engage in more correspondence or address new complaints and questions at this stage of the BBC’s complaints procedures. You may request a review by writing to the BBC Trust within 20 working days, explaining why you believe this decision is inconsistent with the BBC’s complaints procedures. You can contact the BBC Trust at 180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ, or by emailing trust.editorial@bbc.co.uk.
    Thank you again for contacting us.
    Kind regards
    BBC Complaints
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

  2. 2
    TonyN Says:

    Kon,

    The problem with the revised Guidelines seems to be who determines what ‘due weight’ means in any given circumstance. Would the outside attendees at the seminar be the right people to assist the BBC on this for example? And in any case, how does anyone outside the BBC discover how the decision was taken, as the FOIA has no application in these circumstances. And who has oversight of such decisions just on the off-chance that there is a one-in-a-million chance of the decision being wrong?

    I would dearly like to know whether the ‘boileplate’ referred to in my header post originated with the BBC Executive or the BBC Trust, and if the latter, whether the BBC Litigation Department had a hand in it. I know about the Chinese wall that is supposed to exist between the Executive and the Trust but ……..!

  3. 3
    johnbuk Says:

    Hi Tony, have copied the Mercer letter re Bishop Hill.
    John

  4. 4
    johnbuk Says:

    Tony, sorry, I think our paths have crossed! I recd. your missive directed to “oldtimer” at BH then answered it without reading fully. You need to resend your original to oldtimer. John

  5. 5
    TonyN Says:

    It would seem that the BBC are not the only public authority that is able to use MPs as willing stooges. See this link provided by Jonathan Jones in a comment at Bishop Hill.

    http://mygardenpond.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/how-will-we-meet-emissions-targets/

    The sixth paragraph says:

    “39 MPs sent substantive signed replies. However, 11 of these replies were the same letter (or close variants) which I will call the ‘form letter’. As MPs could (and did) edit this letter, I’ve taken it to reflect their own opinions, but it must have been supplied from some common source which may have been DECC.”

    In this case, at least some MPs seem to have added some content of their own.

  6. 6
    TonyN Says:

    Johnbuck:

    No problem, but it is really the BBC stuff that I am after.

  7. 7
    MatthewS Says:

    I received a letter from my MP with this same wording. I have thrown the letter away but have requested a copy. Do you want a copy?

  8. 8
    James P Says:

    That’s a great photo of Lord Patten looking shifty – or is it Trougher Yeo (who never looks anything else)?

  9. 9
    Mike Spilligan Says:

    I wrote a one-pager (under my real name of Anthony Francis) to my MP on 16th November, that is almost immediately after Omnologos revealed the 28 names. My MP sent a copy on to Patten who replied (to my MP) on 8th January, who sent a copy on to me without any further, significant comment.
    As far as I can see it’s a different letter to the “boiler-plate” one, but is full of the usual BBC platitudes, prevarications and insincerities. I responded to my MP, adding further criticism, but suggesting that there was no point in pursuing the matter again.
    If you’d like to have copies of any or all of the above, please let me know.

  10. 10
    TonyN Says:

    Mike Spilligan

    Many Thanks. I’d be very interested to see the correspondence and there’s an email on the way so that you have my contact details.

  11. 11
    TonyN Says:

    JamesP

    That picture was selected with great care, but strange to say, my wife didn’t think his Lordship looked shifty at all!

  12. 12
    TonyN Says:

    MatthewS

    Many thanks. I’ve emailed you so you have my contact details.

  13. 13
    Ruth Dixon Says:

    Hi Tony

    Thanks for linking to my blog!
    http://mygardenpond.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/how-will-we-meet-emissions-targets/

    Pdfs of both the ‘MPs’ form letter’ and the ‘DECC letter’ (from ministers) are both linked there.

    If you’d like any further details do feel free to email me.

    Ruth

  14. 14
    oldtimer Says:

    You asked me to contact you at this site. Here I am!

  15. 15
    TonyN Says:

    Ruth Dixon,

    Yes, I had a look at them and I’m wondering just how widely this disingenuous practice is now occurring and being applied to other areas of controversial public policy. It seems unlikely that I will be able find as many examples as you were able to use in your fascinating analysis.

  16. 16
    TonyN Says:

    oldtimer,

    Many thanks for getting in touch. There’s an email on its way to you.

  17. 17
    TerryS Says:

    Tony, you might find this document interesting:

    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends50%5C0000326150_AC_20051231_E_C.PDF

    It was written between March and June 2006 by IBT and refers to its “Real World Brainstorms” and who organised them.

  18. 18
    TonyN Says:

    TerryS

    Very many thanks for that! Even at a first glance, I certainly does look interesting!

    At a first glance — and I’ll look at it far more carefully this evening — the IBT seem to be claiming ownership of the Real World Brainstorm seminars. How very strange that BBC personnel’s evidence to the tribunal made no mention of the IBT, describing the organisers as CMEP and the BBC only.

    The 2006 accounts are here, but this is a far shorter document and there is no mention of either the Real World Brainstorms or of the BBC unfortunately.

    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends50%5C0000326150_AC_20061231_E_C.PDF

    It would be very interesting to know what Aunty has contributed to this apparently very influential organisation that seems to run on a rather slender shoe-string.

  19. 19
    Stonyground Says:

    One thing about climate alarmism is that, if we a right, all we sceptics need to do is wait. Global temperatures ceased rising over fifteen years ago, they may start rising again but they may also stay level or go down. I notice that the alarmists have now shifted their emphasis from rising temperatures to extreme weather. Of course, the voices that point out that extreme weather has always been with us, and that there is nothing exceptional about current examples, are falling on deaf ears.

    I notice that the remaining Climategate emails have now been made available to certain prominent sceptical bloggers, it will be interesting to see if any more incriminating evidence emerges.

  20. 20
    TonyN Says:

    I’ve been on holiday and I don’t know what progress others have made with the final tranche of the Climategate emails, but before I went away I did have a brief look, and what I saw was daunting.

    Put it this way; if you printed out each email on a single sheet, then you would need 440 reams of paper, and if this was the usual 80gsm stuff, that would make a pile some seventy feet high. People do not realise the scale of the task.

    Just to find out what is there would need a scale of coordination and funding that simply is not available to climate sceptics. This is particularly frustrating as, from what little I’ve seen, there may well be evidence of gross government interference with research findings from CRU.

  21. 21
    Peter Says:

    Hi Tony,

    I hope you pick up this comment, as I’d like your views on an FOIA request I recently placed with the BBC:
    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/climate_change_seminar_26_januar

    As you’ll no doubt be aware, fellow blogger Maurizio Morabito was able to uncover the list the BBC sought so desperately to keep hidden. It now transpires that the leaked list has been removed from the Internet Archive. I am hoping to find out if the BBC had anything to do with this act of censorship/sabotage.

    If you’ve got any comment please do drop by our blog.

    Peter

  22. 22
    TerryS Says:

    Hi Tony,

    Can you email me please? I have some documents I would like to send you.

  23. 23
    TonyN Says:

    #21, Peter

    Sorry to be slow, but email sent now. Delighted to hear that you have done this.

    #22, TerryS

    Email sent today.

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