Nov 232012

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:



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.

3-page version

And here is the Background section from the 10-page version, with the participants list, found by Maurizio:



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.
10-page version

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.

31 Responses to “What a very strange coincidence”

  1. Geoff

    Even more important, I think, is that this article considers the matter in a far wider context than the vexed question of climate change. In the same way that the Saville scandal is really about a cover-up at the BBC which seems to have extended over decades, and not about paedophilia, so 28Gate is really about betrayal of trust when the BBC committed tens of thousands of pounds to covering up an error in the Wagon Wheel report, not about climate change. Lets hope that others follow the same line now.

  2. Hopefully not too OT (and apologies if this item has already been a topic for discussion on a different thread) but here in the British Journalism Review is an article curiously named “Beyond the oozone layer”, by familiar names Eleni Andreadis and Joe Smith, dated 2007:

    What lies ahead for the media is no small task. The proposed transformation of the political economy of carbon is on a scale parallel with the industrial revolution. The economics and politics of action to mitigate climate change will require boldness and experiment in terms of market measures and regulations. There are plenty of stories in all this, but journalism will need to sustain a sharply sceptical tone as it interrogates proposals for carbon sequestration schemes, switches to biofuels, and the getting and spending of “green” taxes. Their principal question should be: Will this help to reduce emissions dramatically, or is it a way of only denting the status quo?

    A “sharply sceptical tone” – but only within certain narrow limits.

  3. The economics and politics of action to mitigate climate change will require boldness and experiment in terms of market measures and regulations. There are plenty of stories in all this..

    I know journalists use the term”story” in a special sense, but it’s striking how this use has spread to everyone else in the Climate Change business.
    I recently transcribed a Greenpeace/Guardian debate
    in which government adviser Tom Burke and Committee on Climate Change Chief executive David Kennedy repeatedly used the term “story” (or sometime “narrative”) to describe global warming. It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell us something…

    For those who don’t know, the two authors of the article Alex quotes were both among the “top scientific experts” consulted by the BBC.
    Jo Smith is a lecturer in environmental studies at the Open University. Eleni Andreadis was a student of environmental studies, but is now a director of the family hotel business.

  4. Alex and Geoff:

    I think you can trace the story/narrative meme back at least to that very influential little shocker Warm Words, which seems to have been a blueprint for so much manipulaton of public opinion:

    Try searching for myth as well as story.

  5. Wow. Warm words indeed! Particularly (my bold):

    Climate change is most commonly constructed through the alarmist repertoire – as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control. This repertoire is seen everywhere and is used or drawn on from across the ideological spectrum, in broadsheets and tabloids, in popular magazines and in campaign literature from government initiatives and environmental groups. It is typified by an inflated or extreme lexicon, incorporating an urgent tone and cinematic codes. It employs a quasi-religious register of death and doom, and it uses language of acceleration and irreversibility.

    The difficulty with it is that the scale of the problem as it is shown excludes the possibility of real action or agency by the reader or viewer. It contains an implicit counsel of despair – ‘the problem is just too big for us to take on’. Its sensationalism and connection with the unreality of Hollywood films also distances people from the issue. In this awesome form, alarmism might even become secretly thrilling – effectively a form of ‘climate porn’. It also positions climate change as yet another apocalyptic construction that is perhaps a figment of our cultural imaginations, further undermining its ability to help bring about action.

    So we know that, and they know that – and obviously have for several years. I find it quite surprising that they should acknowledge that climate change is, in effect, a “construction”.

    Yet the media mavens – aided and abetted by the “construction workers” of climate change, aka “climate scientists” – are still regaling us with floods of ineffective, unscientific apocalyptic messages of gloom and doom. And the “construction workers” are blaming us for their failure to get their constantly “reframed” message across!

    They haven’t succeeded in brainwashing us, but they do seem to have succeeded in whipping themselves into a terminal state of climate hysteria. Which perhaps prevents them from realizing that they’ve constructed an elaborate façade on a very shaky foundation, and they cannot acknowledge that it’s crumbling all around them.

  6. Hilary Ostrov:

    I find it quite surprising that they should acknowledge that climate change is, in effect, a “construction”.

    An ideology which aims to underpin society must necessarily be a “construction”, since all society’s actors have to participate in their different ways. These ways may even appear contradictory in some cases.
    As you rightly put it, the climate scientists are the construction workers in this project. The architects might be the founders of environmental thought , the Paul Ehrlichs and the Club of Rome who established the idea of a “fragile planet” which underpins the whole project.
    Warm Words’ criticisms of climate porn is just part of the “normal” debate about how to complete the project. Our criticisms come from outside the construction and so are inaudible. I don’t know what we can do except warn people to keep out of the way when the whole construction comes tumbling down.

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