Thursday, 16 December 2010

More on BBC's woeful reporting of Anderegg

At last I have recieved a response to my complaint about the BBC's reporting of the Anderegg paper. First impressions are this simply doesn't wash. The weasel words are 'based on an interview'. I can point to  evidence in the public domain that Doctor Anderegg started work on this paper before the climategate or glaciergate events.  Yet in the BBC's version the paper was motivated by events that occurred after work began on the paper. Of course that is impossible.  Here is the response from the journalist who compiled the report, complete with spelling mistakes.

Dear Mr McStont

Many thanks for your email and your interest in the news report on the BBC website.

Paragraph 12 is based on an interview carried out with Mr Anderrgg.

We contacted Dr Boedmer-Christiansen and Professor Von Storch for comment in the interest of balance. The Anderegg paper was critical of those sceptical of climate change research and we felt they deserved a right of reply.

Best wishes and many thanks for your interest.

Pallab Ghosh

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Email to Newswatch

Dear Sir or Madam,

I write about your December 4th 2009 broadcast . The rules on impartiality (which were referred to in the programme) say that skeptics should not get half the space, yet there were two skeptics in the studio and only one proponent. This programme was transmitted in the immediate aftermath of the release of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia. The skeptics only contemporaneous complaint is that there had not been enough conjecture on the BBC. They could not be complaining contemporaneously that the BBC was not reporting facts because very few facts were known at that time. Since then three public enquiries have exonerated the scientists, but you haven't reported that on Newswatch.

I have to put it to you that speculation against the victims of a crime is not a standard that I have ever seen elsewhere on the BBC's news coverage. Why was that standard adopted by yourselves in this case?

An email is shown on your programme saying '...the CRU at Anglia University admit "hiding the the decline" (in global temperatures)' . But that is not true. The CRU have never admitted any such thing and no hacked email says that either. The words in brackets were added by your correspondent clearly trying to make a partisan point. Are you going to make an effort to correct the record and apologise?


Hengist McStone

Thursday, 18 November 2010

CRU hack: Skeptics wrote emails to suit BBC news programme!

Have found quite an extraordinary broadcast from last year which examines bias on the BBC's coverage of the climategate story less than two weeks into the affair. Essentially the programme suggests there may be a pro-green or pro-climate science bias. This is done by inviting two skeptic activists on to the programme to ask why hasn't the BBC given more skeptical coverage to the story. What is extraordinary is that this was broadcast on December 4th 2009 when few if any facts were known,  as shown by this handy Guardian Timeline graphic.

The broadcast reports skeptical activists conspiracy theories at one point even adding words in to the emails to make a completely bogus point. An email is shown saying 'the CRU at Anglia University admit "hiding the the decline" (in global temperatures)' .

For the record  the CRU do not admit any such thing and no hacked email says that either. This is an email sent to the BBC and the words in brackets have been added by a skeptic activist . Never let the truth get in the way of a good story! The University of East Anglia explained in late February in it's submission to Parliament exactly what the phrase "hide the decline" means, and it's not anything to do with global temperatures. So aren't the BBC jumping the gun here?

This is a propagandist's trick pretending to bend over backwards at being impartial (which we've seen before) . Rather than report facts, which could prove to be wrong, they are reporting concerns about their own bias , but concerns only from one side. Leaving the audience to conclude that the complainant has been wronged. It is a technique which leaves it's mark not just for what is said but for what is not said, because the clear implication is that there is something being held back. In the context of the timing it's difficult to see what the two skeptics could have complained about. Devoid of any contemporaneous gripe they instead recite the usual litany of (unchallenged) moans about the science and politics .  At the time, the one thing that really needed to be established was the facts, instead the BBC gave us skeptic activists complaining not about facts but about their viewpoint .

Could it be that amongst the media frenzy of the first couple of weeks the broadcaster was unable  to report any damning evidence from inchoate facts and in danger of falling behind it's competitors in the mainstream media. So a programme was done musing over whether the BBC itself was biased against the skeptics. As I can testify, the examination of bias is not an exact science, so if a broadcaster of the BBCs standing suggests it may itself be biased itself who's to argue?

One final point for now. Richard Black explains at some point about the BBCs impartiality document**  which states that skeptics get less than half the 'space' . Yet there are only four people in the studio including the presenter (who is presumably unconvinced either way). Two of those are skeptics. There are no proponents of AGW apart from Black, and no one to defend the scientists at all.  So that's 66% of the space going to the skeptics. Here we see the impartiality rules being explained to skeptics whilst ignoring the impartiality rules.

I find the deceipt going on by the commission of this programme to be deeply unsettling. I complain about BBC bias regularly. I have put in countless complaints this year, most of which have been completely ignored by the BBC. Yet here we see skeptic activists getting access to the airwaves only two weeks into the scandal to complain about nothing more than a percieved lack of speculation by the BBC, at a time when the only known fact was that the CRU had been hacked, which was of course a crime against the scientists.

** From SeeSaw to Wagon Wheel page 40

P.S. After many months three enquiries into the hacked emails cleared the scientists. The corresponding Newswatch programmes were broadcast on 9th April, 16th April and finally 10th July. But these programmes do not find time to mention the exoneration of the scientists.
Am working through the rest of the broadcasts. 23rd April is interesting,  it's on science in general and contains an interview with Phallab Ghosh and one with the enigmatic Fiona Fox (director of the Science Media Centre and LM Group so she has a foot in both camps). Doesn't mention that the first enquiry was already in by then though.

Friday, 22 October 2010

BBC head honcho interviewed on Radio 4

The BBC announces new editorial guidelines that concern climate change. Science has been added to the list of controversial subjects, I gather . I haven't yet found the BBC's official announcement but the skeptics seem to think this will benefit them. David Jordan, Controller Editorial Policy is the author of the new  guidelines and was interviewed by the esteemed Roger Bolton on Feedback, for the record here's what was said.

RB: Can I start by asking you... it is the attitude that producers should take to the question of climate change. Is it alright for a programme maker to proceed on the basis that climate change is occurring and it is largely man made?

DJ: The way we approach scientific controversy and indeed other controversies where there is a general consensus about something being the case is to say that we don't have to in every time we mention the issue have a balance of view one way or the other, in fact you can distort the debate if every time you talk about man made climate change you have somebody who either denies that it's happening at all or doesn't believe that it's man made. The important thing is that in our airwaves and in our coverage it's acknowledged that there are people who don't accept that there is man made climate change. They don't have to be part of every programme we make on the subject or be part of every discussion we do on the subject  provided across our airwaves in general that view is reflected from time to time.

RB: You say they don't have to refer to the alternative view but do they have to critically question those who are saying that it is a proven reality?

DJ: It's appropriate for any report on those subjects to cross examine or question any assumptions that people may be making but it isn't necessary for the two different views always to be represented equally in any given programme.

RB: But no BBC programme should be a campaigning programme on an issue like this.

DJ: No. We don't do campaigning. We report

RB (interrupts) We shouldn't do but some of our listeners would think some programmes are campaigning.

DJ: We report campaigns and we shouldn't ever be campaigning on issues of this sort. Other than issues around broadcasting the BBC doesn't take sides and doesn't have a view.

RB; Can we move on to the new guidelines that you've just published. why are they needed, what has happened to make them necessary in your view?

DJ: Well, you know Roger, someone as long in the tooth as you are, knows that things change over the years we've had a lot of

RB: (interrupts) Principals don't change do they?

DJ: No the principals may not change hugely but the last one was produced in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry and the Gilligan affair, this one's being produced in the wake of some major editorial policy shocks, namely the telephony and interactivity issues, the issues over queengate and latterly the Brand Ross issue.

RB: Now you're extending the ideas of impartiality to a wider area. Theres an investigation by the Trust about the question of science and there's the issue of religion where you have at least in the view of the National Secular Society given further protection from offence to religious believers , have you done that?

(Interview continues on the subject of religion)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

World Service only half biased

With comparative lightning speed the World Service's One Planet have responded to the point I made last week. It seems we have to follow the whole series to see impartiality. I was expecting an answer like that. This episode shows up how awkward it is to monitor the question of impartiality. Perhap's the Editor's response could be paraphrased as "this was only half biased."  More thoughts to follow. Here's what he has to say:

Many thanks for your email, I always appreciate it when people take the time to write into the One Planet team.

I was aware that the interview with Professor Lindzen would open up the show to criticism from many people. But I do think it was right to speak with him. It's not often that we interview a climate change denier on the show (reflecting the fact that it remains a minority view among scientists), but it would be wrong of us to simply ignore the issue or pretend it doesn't exist. That does no one any favours as it fuels talk of conspiracies and cover ups. I believe it's much better to reveal the arguments being made on both sides, and allow listeners to make their
own choice. As you clearly have done.

I don't think anyone could accuse One Planet of giving equal time to those who do not believe in man-made climate change. And during the interview, Mike made a number of references to the fact that Professor Lindzen's view is in the minority. If - over the course of the One Planet series - you balance this show against the many other programmes which involve interviews with scientists, academics and politicians who strongly believe in the dangers posed by climate change, I believe One Planet offers a fair and impartial examination of the subject.

All the very best,
Steven Duke
Editor, One Planet

Friday, 8 October 2010

Response to BBC World Service 'One Planet' broadcast 3rd October featuring  Dr Richard Lindzen

Most of this programme is given over to an interview with Dr Richard Lindzen who is clearly an opponent of the scientific consensus. The BBC's guide on impartiality in this field states :”the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus. 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. ” (From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel page 40)

There was nobody to rebut his assertions . It was not a debate . Dr. Lindzen's views were broadcast largely without criticism. In this programme the sceptics are clearly getting more than equal space. I suggest this is against the rules established for the BBC's impartiality.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

BBC misrepresented scientists behind empirical paper - Fact.

Have sent a follow up to my unanswered complaint about BBC Online's report of the Anderegg paper.

Hello, I sent a complaint about this article on August 9th and I have not received a reply. Paragraph 12 says that the motivations of the researchers was in part a response to 'recent scandals, such as "climategate" at the UK's University of East Anglia and the use of non-peer reviewed literature in the IPCC findings.' The press release from Stanford University does not cite these events, and I have to put it to you on that evidence alone the author of your report is speculating rather than quoting facts. But I have since been in touch with one of the authors of the scientific paper Mr Jim Prall of Toronto University * who states that Dr Anderegg contacted him in August 2009 and they began working on their paper the following month. It was not until November 2009 that the UEA emails were released . Ergo your reporter's speculations about the motivations behind this study amount to a factual error.
Needless to say, I also stand by my earlier remarks about your reporters sceptical commentary .

Or to put it more simply the BBC reporter made up the bits about motivations behind the paper, this can be proved by looking at the dates Anderegg and Prall had begun work on the paper.

So why am I so hot under the collar about this pissy little article? Well, it's about a very important scientific paper that could not be ignored, which gives empirical evidence for public understanding of climate science . The reporter is keen to present it as a 'he said she said' argument, when it is nothing of the sort.  The report introduces what sceptics have to say in the third paragraph and concludes with the sceptics too. But the BBC report also suggests that the media bias is only as recent as , and limited to, the recent peccadilloes highlighted . The press release from Stanford University clearly suggests the paper is motivated by much wider and deeper frustrations.

"It is sad that we even have to do this," said the late Doctor Stephen Schneider. "[Too much of] the media world has just folded up and fired its reporters with expertise in science."

* Correpondence available in comments at

UPDATE: Phoned BBC 15th November to chase it up, was given a reference number, was told I would get a reply in ten days.

UPDATE: Phoned BBC 6th December to chase it up, was given a reference number, was told I would get a reply in ten days.

P.S. And for those that want to see how a science article should be written, Martin Robbins of The Guardian helpfully provides a pro-forma.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Manufacturing Ignorance

In "Manufacturing Consent" Noam Chomsky laments that the attention span of television news reporting is so short that only conventional thoughts can be expressed. Chomsky's brand of dissent is undermined by insufficient airtime, in the parlance of TV journalism it is called 'concision'.  Global warming advocates are particularly susceptible to concision because of all the uncertainties and unravelling decades of misinformation .  In short the unfolding narrative goes that the scientists present a dire prediction then the skeptical mass media ask how bleak? When the scientists express uncertainty the media move on. The effect is one of uncertain scientists rather than the bleak outlook.

This trick was skilfully played when Kirsty Wark on Newsnight (23rd August 2010)  asked are the floods in Pakistan due to climate change?  It's not a yes or no question, that unfortunately was posed as a yes or no question. Before we look at Newsnight's effort let's consider some informed opinion , here's Dr Kevin Trenberth on the subject:

“I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”

Then there's Dr James Hansen who fairly observes essentially changing the climate is like loading a dice.  A more unstable climate is more likely to give us extreme weather events and hence there will be more extreme weather events. But nailing a specific extreme weather event and asking if it is down to climate change is a different ball game*, and whilst the science, and effects of climate change are so hotly disputed one has to ask what purpose does Kirsty Wark's question serve?

Imagine you are in a casino and your suspicions lead you to say out loud that the roulette wheel might be loaded . And the croupier's response is to claim that the last spin might not have been different if the wheel weren't loaded; the sensible gambler should not find such a remark comforting and conclude it was time to give up.

Perhaps, when BBC producers commissioned this particular debate, they expected all critics to give up. So here's my two cents worth.

BBC news programmes habitually present climate related matters as two sided , a duel between skeptics and everyone else. For expert opinion the BBC chose Dr. Ghassem Asrar, a man with academic credentials in climate science as long as your arm who was cited as from the World Climate Research Project but is also from NASA. a doctor with membership of five professional societies and numerous awards was not enough for the BBC so they called on Andrew Montford a chartered accountant from Kinross. An odd choice for the question at hand because Montford's credentials are that he cannot agree on what the climate has been over the last millenium. Montford largely agreed with the eminent doctor, so was he on the programme for balance or for concision?

A chilling theme of the debate was that now that climate change is upon us, mitigation is obsolete and the question becomes how to adapt.Wark suggested proacive work be done in the form of local levees. But carbon was not mentioned once.  The word mitigate was used only once, by Montford, erroneously or mendaciously suggesting that local adaptive measures were mitigation.

The consensus inevitably reached was that you can't say that these particular floods in Pakistan are due to climate change. But that is due to the 'crooked croupier's proposition' given above. Never did they mention the caveat that the extreme weather events we are beginning to witness now are just the kind of thing scientists would expect in a global warming world .

For no good reason at the end of the debate Wark asked after climategate are scientists becoming more cautious in pronouncing on what could be aspects of global warming? Montford was asked "do you accept climate change is a grave risk facing us all," to which he blustered "errm from my perspective I think the answer is I don't know. I think mankind is affecting the climate but whether it's a little or a lot , I think , in reality we really just don't know"

'We really just don't know' is the so called informed opinion they would like to leave you with on climate change. You've got to hand it to those folks at the BBC  - they are skilled propagandists.  Wark deserves particular opprobrium for fronting this angle, which seems trivial with two million homeless and thousands dead . Of course it's anything but trivial , such is the twisted nature of the media's reporting of our changing climate. 

* A sensible discussion of the question is offered by Michael Tobis in 'When it Rains it Pours'

Monday, 9 August 2010

Falsehoods and bias in BBC Science report

On 24th June BBC online published "Study examines scientists 'climate credibility'" , in response to a carefully thought out empirical paper on scientific expertise in climate science. It was an important paper as the press release from Stanford University shows. Read the press release then read the BBC's article and see if you think the BBC's article is fair.  Here is my complaint, sent August 9th 2010:

I have compared the Stanford Press Release to your article and have to say that the claim you make in paragraph 12 is false if it is based on that press release.

Please could you cite your source for the claim that the Anderegg study was a response to the specific recent scandals you refer to.

This article breaks the story of one of the most important scientific papers published recently for public understanding of Climate Change. You say “Sceptical groups, however, argued that publication in scientific journals was not a fair test of expertise.” That is not a view being honestly held or coherently expressed because no alternative measure is offered.

Your suggestion that Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen is an impartial observer is false. She is a founder of a pressure group called the “Scientific Alliance” which recieves funds from the mining industry, Whilst Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen is from the University of Hull, she is an Emeritus Reader in geography, therefore retired. Her criticisms of Anderegg et al would have to apply to herself if you were being even handed.

Concluding your article with her quote “that the authors belong to an IPCC supporting group that must count as believers and belong to the beneficiaries of the man-made warming scare” is biased . Such a statement deserves to be investigated if true. It can be investigated as I demonstrate in the above paragraph , and I have found that this article is manufacturing a controversy to suit industry and special interest groups.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Stage 2 of the BBC complaints process

Here is the response to Stefan Curran, sent 9th August 2010

Dear Stefan,

Thank you very much indeed for your undated letter.

In addition to my letter (of February 5th ) I sent the BBC a number of emails through the internet complaints portal. However I 'phoned the complaints department the day I received your letter and they confirmed that your letter is also a response to all of those emails. You have not addressed the points I made in my emails sent on or around 15th February about editorial guidelines on impartiality and personal view.

I also emailed on 21st February an assertion that sections 7.9 and 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code had been breached. I even received a response from Alec Mackenzie on the 28th February promising a substantive reply. I have to take your letter as an indication that the BBC complaints department is now backtracking on that position. And I must express shock that the BBC ignores accusations of stepping outside OFCOM's rules. On June 8th I emailed to point out that Ms Townsend was unwilling to substantiate or clarify her claim about the “200 environmentalists”. I have repeatedly asked for identification of the 200 environmentalists (most recently on 8th June by email) and the BBC's response has been highly unstatisfactory. Ms Townsend's assertion about the motivations of such individuals has not been scrutinized by the programme makers and does not stand up to scrutiny after the event.

I put it to you again that OFCOM section 7.9 demands that the BBC be able to determine whom Ms. Townsend was referring to, and also demands that an offer to contribute to such persons or organization was made. And that in the absence of that, sections 7.9 and 7.13 have been breached.

I have to suggest that your assertion that the title of the programme was posing a question rather than asserting a point of view is dishonest. As a linguistic construction it was a question, but not one that the programme made any attempt to answer. The title of a documentary is clearly an indicator of a point of view.

Thank you for disclosing the original intention of the programme. I take that as an indication that the bias displayed by Mr Rowlatt was inherited when the documentary was conceptualized, which he has chosen to amplify rather than moderate.

I have to say that I find point (i) very disturbing. An evaluation of what is really justified requires full understanding of the magnitude of the problem, we simply don't have that. By suggesting that some proposals can be dismissed as not really justified, the programme downplays the problem.

I should point out that all informed commentators know that there is a wide gulf between climate science and the public's view of climate change. The climate change problem is a hotly contested issue which many people deny altogether, there is a considerable degree of public confusion and unscientific skepticism about this issue which, I might add, the BBC has played a part in disseminating. This documentary proceeded as if that context did not exist, that the threat of anthropogenic climate change had somehow instilled a shared set of values upon which environmentalists infringe. In essence this documentary has turned reason on it's head.

Turning to point (ii) this documentary produced an argument to that effect without producing any evidence . There was no examination whatsoever of the profile or rationale or numbers of people who were taking climate change less seriously than they might.

We have a vague reference at the end when Mr Rowlatt refers to “many people” but he simply ploughs on to his conclusion that solutions being proposed will serve to confirm scepticism. Whilst there may be some truth in that, he offers no caveat that such an approach is irrational, unscientific,illogical and biased. The listener is left with a false impression that such thinking is reasonable. I put it to you that this is not impartial and is indeed identified in the BBC Trust's guidance on this, which sees causation and solution as separate debates . I am sure we would both agree there is great wisdom in the BBC Trust's approach, which states that it “is not the job of the BBC to close down [the causation] debate”. Likewise it is not the job of the BBC to enflame the causation debate with arguments from the solution debate. This documentary set out to conflate these debates in order to reach a conclusion which is neither honest nor rationally held.

I urge you to please reconsider the position of the BBC. The best course of action would be for the BBC to admit that this broadcast was ill-concieved. That it was unfair from the outset, and that as an investigation it was a sham.

My best wishes and,

Hengist McStone

P.S. You may be interested that I develop my thoughts publicly on this at

Friday, 2 July 2010

There is only one Bjorn Lomborg

On Monday 28th June  BBC Panorama broadcast a documentary entitled "Whats UP With the Weather". A pun that will be not lost on climate geeks. To some extent it moved on the debate but only on carefully controlled terms dominated by the near certainties of anthropogenic climate change. There was nothing new in this programme except that towards the end  we were treated to a fleeting moment of the long overdue adaptation/mitigation debate. And for the skeptics the BBC called on, a man who needs no introduction : Bjorn Lomborg . One might ask  : Why does the BBC invite the climate skeptics to answer the question derived from their misplaced skepticism ?

The subtext here is AGW is happening but the same old faces are going to get in the way of any serious mitigation. It's a bit like asking the head of Philip Morris if he can reccomend a cure for cancer now.

What is so tragic is that the average TV audience's credentials are better than Lomborg's because he has been wrong for too long . Most people haven't had their knuckles rapped by a national scientific institution. Most people haven't been pretending to be climate scientists when their doctorate is political science - specifically, game theory . Most people do not have a website dedicated to their errors! Or a book dedicated to their deceipt !

Yet the BBC ask Lomborg to pontificate on the moral question of which is the worst cassandra .**
The BBC Trust's view is this : "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. 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. Acceptance of a basic scientific consensus only sharpens the need for hawk-eyed scrutiny of the arguments surrounding both causation and solution." *

But Hengist McStone suggests BBC programme makers are conflating causation and solution . The point at which the Adaptation vs. Mitigation debate was reached is surely where Doctor Lomborg has to leave the stage. He has been given a platform on the BBC for at least as long as The Skeptical Environmentalist was first published by CUP. Since then the science has moved on considerably to present a more urgent and a more clear and a more catastrophic scenario.

* From SeeSaw to Wagon Wheel page 40

**Lomborg advocated a projection that sea level rises where predicted to be only thirty centimetres this century, it is the lowest figure this writer has ever heard , it was unchallenged . Further reading try Joe Romm or for a less confrontational view try the eminent and entertaining Doctor Michael Tobis

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

AGW : Does the BBC have a hidden agenda ?

Some months ago I started this blog to document a correspondence with the BBC caused by a controversial radio documentary that I took exception to. It was entitled "Are environmentalists bad for the Planet?" and it was about a lot of things but , oddly, put forward no evidence to justify the title. The BBC have now admitted that the title was to hook in the listeners , perhaps what journalists would call "sensationalist".  It's an explanation but not a satisfactory one.

My contentions only start with the title. So what was the documentary about. Well , one account from the producer of the documentary ( Helen Grady ) says it was lamenting the use of religious language in environmental campaigning. The BBC complaints department divulge "The original intention was to explore whether the assertion by some prominent environmentalists such as Jonathon Porritt that capitalist economic model and tackling climate change are (i) really justified and (ii) in danger of alienating some people who might be persuaded to take the issue of climate change more seriously. " And the presenter (Justin Rowlatt) says it was about hidden agendas in the environmental movement.  So that's four things that it could have been about. Which makes the focal point of the documentary hard to pin down.

But one angle stands out. Anthropogenic Global Warming . Humanity has never before faced a threat quite like it. Our scientists, the brainiest people on the planet are saying and have been saying for years that the planet , our life support system is endangered by our habitual use of fossil fuels. Consensus was reached long ago , indeed Jim Hansen head of NASA's climate science unit testified before Congress that he was 99 per cent certain that the signal for anthropogenic climate change was being detected above the background noise. That was in 1988. Since then the political football has been kicked in to the long grass.  And the science has become more exact , the warnings more stark. But the public are, to this day, largely misled into doubting the science that prophesises the demise of life as we know it.

In such circumstances to adopt a contrarian view of the science (without fully understanding the science) is to argue from a position of ignorance.

Justin Rowlatt asserts his credentials as someone who passionately wants to fight global warming with words like "the urgency and scale of the climate issue " , but delivers a conclusion that takes us back to the skeptics point of view.

Comparison of climate science with the mainstream media's representation of it reveals a startling anomaly. We are being lied to. This is to be expected of the Daily Mail and Murdoch stable which most of us would take with a pinch of salt but the malaise goes much deeper. Try it for yourself. You have already been exposed to the mainstream media's version, now look at what the scientists are saying . Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists agree that humans are the cause of global warming. But they express themselves in hard to read scientific papers so we have journalists to understand it for us. Let's ask scientific institutions at national level . Well it's worth noting that there is 100 per cent agreement amongst these scientific institutions. You wont have read that in the Daily Mail. OK I reccomend NASA which gives a no-nonsense summary of the evidence  causes and the impacts of global warming.

Here are two ways of evaluating a hypothesis , starting out with no prejudices and solely going by evidence to arrive at a conclusion ; or , searching for evidence to support one's favoured theory whilst ignoring or downplaying evidence which is contrary to such a theory. The first is (broadly) the scientific method and the second is called 'confirmation bias'.

The documentary's claim to being impartial is a pretence. In his conclusion Rowlatt delivers a monologue detailing improbable conditions , false allusions and fictitious premises  to arrive at the words "that will only serve to confirm their scepticism. " A clear example of confirmation bias.

Now one might argue that Rowlatt is just making an observation of how a skeptic's brain might work. But climate science has to stand or fall as science, there is a scientific method for arriving at a conclusion and this is not it. A skeptic might well choose to reject climate science because he doesn't like the political, social , or economic ramifications but that would not be rational . The only valid opposition to the science is better science, and the skeptics are conspicuously short of that commodity.*

Justin Rowlatt's conclusion is biased because it rationalises this fallacious dogma. He doesn't cauition that such thinking flies in the face of cause and effect,  nor does he remind us of the concensus mentioned above . He boldly leads the listener to a conclusion that climate science can be  rejected on terms he has invented which defy all logic.  That is not impartiality.

In doing so he posits the words "hidden agenda".  

Now, Ive got to take issue with this. By definition a movement (in this sense) is diffuse .  Of course there are many agendas in the environmental movement. But just because the BBC has chosen to ignore them for so long does not make them "hidden" . Examination of  this requires a definition of hidden agenda , gives "An undisclosed plan, especially one with an ulterior motive." Pretending to endorse anthropogenic global warming whilst subverting public confidence in it would seem to fit that definition . Which is exactly what Justin Rowlatt has done.

* GP Wayne 2010

Friday, 18 June 2010

Conclusion of Stage 1

Here is the written response to my complaints. It is undated, recieved by post on 16th June. I have foned the BBC complaints department and spoke to Matthew and he said it was a response  not just to the original letter but to ALL the follow up emails. Which brings them all together, a manouver I am ok by. I am not okay about the lack of disclosure and I have to say that I have been misled by the email I recieved from Alec Mackenzie on 28th Feb.

Dear Hengist,

Reference 725605

Thanks for your letter regarding 'Analysis' as broadcast 25 January.

Firstly, please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

We forwarded your complaints on this issue to Innes Bowen who explained in response that the reporter was not assuming that envronmentalism necessarily encompasses anti-capitalism. Indeed the reporter's main point was that environmentalism need not be anti-capitalist.

He was merely challenging the views of those environmentalists he has come across in his role as a BBC journalist specialising in green issues who assert that environmentalism and capitalism are incompatible.

We are sorry if the distinction the presenter was trying to make between environmentalism and the views of some prominent environmentalists was not sufficiently clear in the programme.

The title of the programme "Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?" was intended as a short and provocative hook to attract the attention of potential listeners. It was posing a question rather than asserting a point of view.

The programme itself was far more nuanced , exploring tensions between environmental campaigners. The title had to be submitted even before production of the programme was under way.

The original intention was to explore whether the assertion by some prominent environmentalists such as Jonathan Porrit (sic) that capitalist economic model and tackling climate change are (i) really justified and (ii) in danger of alienating some people who might be persuaded to take the issue of climate change more seriously.
She added that:
"I don't think we need , as Mr McStone suggests, a balancing programme about why environmentalists are good for the planet as that is the assumption, usually unchallenged, in most coverage of environmental groups. Justin Rowlatts's programme was a rare opportunity to explore whether that assumption is always true"
I realist that you may continue to have concerns with the impartiality of this broadcast . There let me assure you that I've recorded your comments onto our audience log.
This is an internal daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff including members of the BBC executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

All feedback we receive, whether positive or negative, is always appreciated.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your views.

Kind regards

Stefan Curran

[Trancribed by HMcS 18th June]

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

'Ethical Man' accuses himself of bias !

Don't be fooled by the headline is the message here. The BBC's 'Ethical Man' Mr Justin Rowlatt suggests there is a pro-green bias in his slight of hand documentary "Are environmentalists bad for the planet". A few days after the programme was broadcast by the BBC , the highly reputable Roger Bolton of the Feedback programme took the editor to task , and suggested there was a bias, listen to the player on Justin Rowlatt's blog and decide for yourself.  But the headline on the player asks if there is a pro-green bias . That is not what Roger Bolton is suggesting at all. 

It's an old journalistic trick to put a headline up that contradicts with the nitty gritty of the copy. The devil is in the detail and many readers don't bother to read further than headlines.

I have written a comment (number 11) to suggest that this is either an innocent error or perhaps Mr Rowlatt is trying to confuse the issue of the bias he is accused of . But after two weeks the moderators still haven't okayed it, so my criticisms of BBCs ethical man are censored by the BBC and confined to this blog.

Now just for fun I'm asking the readers of my blog (both of you) to check it out and decide for yourselves .So here's what I'm asking you to do . Listen to the recording on the player on this page and ask yourself if the headline on the player is fair and vote on this gadget on the right. Yes I know that's 7 minutes and 47 seconds of your life wasted! Just to be clear you're not  listening to the original BBC documentary but the Feedback programme where the makers of BBC programmes give an account of themselves.

Hengist dares to ask an awkward question

Phoned BBC complaints department today. They weren't much help but agreed to 'red flag' two of the complaints I mentioned that are unanswered.

Long overdue , I have now asked the BBC directly to disclose the identity of the 200 or so environmentalists that Townsend disses. I strongly suspect that the BBC will rely on the veracity of this anecdote to rebut any allegation of bias.  This move of mine is a raising of the stakes somewhat. The makers of the documentary have shown a clear bias in the depth to which they have probed their contributor's positions. Thus they have wilfully neglected to nail down Solitaire Townsend's slur on the motivation of the people she claims to have met. In turn this could easily be interpreted to widen the scope of her claim to cover the whole of the environmental movement. Indeed that seems to be the inference made by the documentary. Compare the depth of probing of Townsend with Justin Rowlatt's hounding of Greenpeace head honcho John Sauven over the uncomfortable question of nuclear power in the context of a world overheating due to carbon emissions.

Will send a further complaint to the BBC in the next few days on the matter of impartiality.  Anyhow here is today's missive:


I refer to my complaint sent on the 21st Feb and await the substantive response promised by yourselves on the 28th Feb. I am writing to suggest that the contribution from Ms Townsend [at 02:05] is less than truthful. It lacks details to enable identification of whom she is referring , which is crucial to the natural justice concept of 'hear the other side'. An allegation about a specific group of people needs to be supported by identifying the specific group of people whom you refer to , without that it's credibility and the credibility of those making the allegation can be called in to question.

I have been in touch with the office of Ms Townsend to ask her to identify whom she was talking about when she refers to 200 or so environmentalists and her assessment of their motivations. She is unwilling to enter into any correspondence on the matter. If you have that information and have simply chosen not to broadcast it please will you disclose it to me . Or if not, please confirm that you are unable to support Ms Townsend's assertions by identifying whom she refers to.

At any rate the question of the identity of these people is apt to my points about the documentary being in breach of sections 7.9 and 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Hengist tells BBC : Put up or shut up

This Blog is now calling for the BBC to withdraw it's absurd documentary "Analysis : are environmentalists bad for the planet?" And asking for the makers to explain why they think that title is apt anyhow.  

"I sent a letter by post to your Glasgow complaints office on 5th February and have not received a reply nor an acknowledgement. So I have decided to send it to you again this time through your internet complaints portal , in a redrafted form.

The title of this documentary “Are environmentalists bad for the planet?” ,already described by Roger Bolton as provocative, is not addressed by the content. The body of the programme does not put forward the case that the title suggests. The programme can be said to make a case that environmental campaigning is poor, and that environmentalism is incompatible with the economy or indeed any politically adopted economic model. But you do not present a case that environmentalists or environmentalism is bad for the planet . Nor is a shred of reasonable evidence presented to show that the planet is harmed by environmentalism.

Indeed I challenge the makers of this programme to justify the title with what is found in the script. This can be viewed as the most serious of my many (mostly unanswered) complaints about this programme not just because the title is seen by more people than will actually listen to the programme and because the oxymoron in the title is defamatory. But also the title clearly suggests that there is such a case, fit for broadcast on the BBC, and then deceptively puts forward other arguments ,that I might add, would be dismissed by any cadre concerned by the title . That last sentence should also be considered in any complaint about the programme's impartiality.

In my letter that seems to have gone astray I asked for the BBC to broadcast a counter point of view. I now realise that is impossible and I am asking for the BBC to accept that this programme should not have been aired. Bearing in mind that the BBC has been unable to keep up with the correspondence I hope you will look on that plea favourably."

Monday, 5 April 2010

Breaking - Carbon Fairy stays silent

Enquiries of Solitaire Townsend the 'carbon fairy' in BBC Radio 4's documentary "Are environmentalists bad for the planet?" are now complete. Her claims against environmentalists cannot be substantiated.

The embarrassing implications for Townsend are explored by clicking here. Notes on BBC anti-green bias is now spilling over into my main blog!

Obviously this strengthens the case that OFCOM's code has been breached - specifically sections 7.9 and 7.13 but because of the byzantine nature of the BBC complaints department I will not go into further details other than to repeat what I have already said to them and which remains unanswered since 28th Feb -

"Thank you for your email. I have to say I am disappointed that you have sidestepped the point of this complaint. Perhaps I have not explained myself very well. Sec 7.9 states "Before broadcasting a factual programme, including programmes examining past events, broadcasters should take reasonable care to satisfy themselves that [..]anyone whose omission could be unfair to an individual or organisation has been offered an opportunity to contribute. " This begs the question: did the makers of this programme offer the 200 or so environmentalists[at 02.05] (whose views or motivations Ms Townsend purports to convey) an opportunity to contribute to this programme? Please could you answer that question. I do not see that the BBC can acquit itself without such an examination."

Monday, 22 March 2010

BBC poll shows BBC biased

Have sent out a complaint to the BBC about this poll in February.

UPDATE 5th May 2010: This poll is quoted on the Guardian website today, it's seven weeks since the BBC recieved my original complaint (they aim to respond in 10 to 30 days) and I have had no response so I phoned BBC Complaints, spoke to David who advised it is pending and has been sent to "Divisional Advisers"

"I write about the piece of research which you commissioned on public perception of climate change.

One would hope that a public opinion poll is used to gauge public opinion not to influence it . However you have framed your questions to invite a one sided observation about the veracity of the information seen by the respondent. This is put into a question that otherwise would tell us about the respondent's understanding of the scientific concensus. It is a shame that you have done that because you have rendered an otherwise very valid question meaningless.

In answer to the question "which of these statements is closest to your view" respondents are offered three propositions about scientific conclusions- climate change is man made, climate change is not man made or climate change is not happening ; and one proposition about the veracity of the information put out by one side - "Climate change is happening but it is environmentalist propaganda that it is man made" Why is that proposition offered amongst those other three, which cover the gamut of scientific conclusions?

The proposition about the veracity of the information "Climate change is happening but it is environmentalist propaganda that it is man made" brings a political dimension into a question on the understanding of the scientific concensus. You do not balance that with a proposition to the effect that industrialist propaganda plays a part .

You are being disingenuous in the way you go about surveying the public's perception of the veracity of the information. Firstly you are conflating different questions ie whether the respondent percieves scientific proof and whether the respondent percieves propaganda. Secondly you have to offer more than one proposition in that regard. Why do you only offer one proposition on the veracity of the information i.e. environmentalist propaganda ? Why do you not ask whether the respondent is aware of oil industry propaganda?

This research is framed to posit the view that environmentalists are lying on this topic, whilst ignoring the fact that propaganda is made by the energy industry. The BBC claims in it's editorial guidelines that it's approach will be even handed. Your approach in this survey was anything but even handed. It cannot be even handed when you only offer a proposition that veracity lies solely on one side of the argument.

You have used the research across a range of media to present the notion that belief in climate change is on the wane. Whilst that may be true you invite criticism with your comments because the public's opinion is shaped by media organisations such as yourselves. I put it to you that this survey shows that the BBC is biased towards confusing the public's understanding of the scientific concensus on climate change ."

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Here's Tom with the weather

Weather forecasting has always been an inexact science but tolerated just the same. Climate science though is afforded no such leniency. Every time the IPCC updates us on it's latest projection the media is turned over to denialists and sceptics to pick out the differences from previous missives and present them as inconsistencies ad nauseum.

I'm sorry to say that BBC Radio 4 journalist Tom Feilden has found himself deserving of my ire once again for this piece.  But it's his double act with John Humphreys that really rattles my cage ( click on the player). If one ever needed proof that the media intends to spin the climate change story in an incredulous manner this is it. So a short term fall in temperatures is predicted before a relentless rise. Rather than present this as a fact they pretend that this will undermine the case for change and dwell on how sceptics might seize on it to say climate science is flawed. Indeed they might. But only because the BBC is not an impartial observer and does not approach climate change in an even handed manner.

Postscript: The title to this piece is with apologies to the great Bill Hicks, listen to this piece if you need more explanation.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

BBC Exxon Archives: The best and the worst

Exxon is to Climate change what baked beans are to flatulence so Google will give you 796 000 results to the search term exxon climate change, but the BBC website search engine just thirty. Yes there are 30 references in the BBC archives linking these words, even though Exxon has spent millions denying climate change. So let's take a peek at some of those 30 contributions the BBC offers humanity in it's understanding of climate change and it's nexus with the world's largest oil company.  The best article is a point of view from that old stalwart Harold Evans . Harold takes on denialist has-been conspiracy theory writer Michael Crichton and Exxon and gets it through the censors at the Beeb. Here's Harold:

"Just bend an ear for a moment for the names of a few organizations very much concerned with global warming.

Advancement of Sound Science Centre Inc
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
Heartland Institute
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Annapolis Center for Science-based Public Policy

You wouldn't guess it but all these highfalutin bodies are dedicated to undermining the science of global warming and preventing America signing something like the Kyoto Treaty. And again, you wouldn't guess it, but they take thousands of dollars from Exxon Mobil. It's the world's largest oil company and a high profile opponent of Kyoto for imposing too many costs on the developed world."

For once and once only Exxon Junk Science Funding gets a mention on the BBC.  Harold , you da man.

And the worst , step forward Tom Feilden of Radio 4 Today programme for this piece . Tom's day job is at the BBC but there can be little doubt his real master is the fossil fuel lobby as he sums up with this news straight from Exxon -

"For their part Exxon Mobil say there are big holes in our understanding of climate change, and that time may be on our side. It may be 80 to 120 years before the real impact of global warming is felt, and by then technology will have come to the rescue."

The BBC like other broadcast media parrots this bollocks unquestioningly. If  Messrs Benson and Hedges were to say "keep smoking our cigarettes, it'll be years before you get cancer and by then the doctors'll find a cure, probably ",  the BBC would rightly ridicule it .  But Exxon can say whatever nonsense it likes confident double standards in BBC journalism will let them get away with it.  With a BBC mouthpiece like Tom Feilden doing the talking for them Exxon hardly need to fund their dodgy scientific bodies  . Here's how Tom introduces the conflict in his piece

"Exxon's "crime" has been to question received wisdom about the impact of climate change".

No Tom, they haven't questioned the recieved wisdom they provide a slush fund for front organizations to campaign against the scientific concensus on their behalf.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Auntie and Exxon in bed together

So the debate on climate change is wholly skewed in favour of Big Oil, due to illicit funding of academic institutions,and oil company execs in the Bush era White House amongst other things. The effects will be ecological disaster, and the democratic mechanisms to prevent this have been and are being undermined by a the world's biggest corporation . Sounds like a scoop. Lets see what the BBC website has to say and do a boolean search for exxon climate change - just thirty results  the same search on google will get you over 796 000 results. It seems that Newsnight ran a piece in September 2006 which refers to the funding as 'accusations', but that is largely it. The BBC would claim they have covered this story, they did it in a late night news show four years back. No transcript has been made available but one has to raise an eyebrow at the timing, The Royal Society no less was publicly writing to Exxon trying to hold them to an earlier promise to halt the funding at this time. So these were more than accusations.

September '06 was a busy time for the scandal, there was a Panorama documentary on 4th September called Climate Chaos although it mentions Exxon only twice and doesn't mention the Exxon junk science funding at all. 

But crucially , the story of fossil fuel funded climate denial has not been allowed to enter the news narrative , that can only be because of an editorial agenda slanted against environmentalists. If anything the news narrative slips back to questioning whether climate change is happening. Asking the same question that is already settled.

So there you have it.  Over the past five years global warming has been mentioned quite a bit but the number of times the BBC has mentioned Exxon's junk science funding amounts to a handful. And on each occasion the story is qualified .  On Newnight it is 'accusations' , when Harold Evans' writes it is point of view, Tom Feilden's effort describes Exxon's policy as to question recieved wisdom. Never does the BBC come out and say Exxon Funds Junk Science - Fact .

Exxon's massaging of public opinion and consequent undermining of public policy is no secret , the information is out there it just isn't widely known and that's exactly how the Oil industry want it. The extent of the Establishment's complicity in this scandal depends on your point of view. With the public largely relying on the BBC to inform them Exxon's dirty little secrets will surely stay secret a while longer yet.

Exxon's Junk Science funding - A bluffers guide

A pretty central contention of mine is that the energy industry is funding climate change denial. Well actually I can't claim that as an original thought. Much wiser heads than mine have been saying it for years. My contention is that many journalistic institutions whom we would like to consider impartial buy into the denialist lies whilst ignoring the fact that the oil and coal lobby is generating disinformation for public consumption.  This propaganda is then recycled by reputable sources such as the BBC.

The proof is too deep and too wide to go into here, but this is a quick incomplete list of resources supporting the fact that the fossil fuel industry has for many years been manipulating public opinion on climate change. You could start with exxon-secrets . Or there's this piece by Monbiot , or the film The Denial Machine ; a recent piece from The Independent , another piece by Monbiot , something else from The Guardian or this from the trade press. Is that enough ? No ? Try this or this blog or if you're gonna insist on something sciencey try this PDF from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even Newsweek have picked it up. Still not convinced ? Try this excellent documentary Out of Balance. Let's not forget the excellent Naomi Oreskes , or DeSmogblog

Notice a pattern here? The story originates from activists and pressure groups and is mostly picked up by the more liberal print media, from there the story withers on the vine. It does not get onto the broadcast media where most people get their news from. Junk science funding immensely influences the debate on TV and radio, but you wouldn't know it, they aren't credited . The oil industry sponsor the arguments of the denialists but that is not allowed to be mentioned on TV or radio . Exxon are like a master of the dark arts, a largely unseen influence.

The Oil Dollar and climate change denial are joined at the hip, and evidence for that is available by the yard. Although it usually passes those folks at the BBC by.  Oil companies playing fast and loose with the facts is nothing new but the even bigger scandal here is the media whose job it is to spot the slant in the story and present an impartial viewpoint have not just sorely failed in that task, they have relied on their reputations to tip the slant in the climate change story even more in Big Oil's way.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

BBC uses the P word

A quarter of a century ago this writer was an intern at an advertising agency and I asked the creative director about the research that was going to be used to judge a campaign I had been working on. "Research is like a lamppost " he said "you can lean on it or you can use it to illuminate your way"*

Within days of the original broadcast of the infamous Analysis documentary that has spawned this blog the BBC published a poll suggesting a rise in climate scepticism. In it's report the BBC warms to the theme that this could be down to the CRU hack or the himalayan glacier story or the unusually cold winter here in Britain or even 'science flaws'. However the BBC is careful not to suggest climate scepticism could be manipulated by propaganda put out by the fossil fuel lobby and their cohorts.

There are two main reasons why this is at odds with the BBC's own editorial guidelines which state "we will be objective and even handed in our approach to a subject". Firstly the fossil fuel industry has for many years been manipulating public discourse on climate change. I hope that is a given, if not read this blogpost here.
The second reason can be found in the survey itself. In answer to the question "which of these statements is closest to your view" respondents are offered three scientific propositions - climate change is man made, climate change is not man made or climate change is not happening ; and one proposition about the media - "Climate change is happening but it is environmentalist propaganda that it is man made"

So the BBC clearly proposes that propaganda is made by environmentalists, but does not ask if propaganda could be made by the energy industry. There is no corresponding proposition that propaganda is made by industry or that public opinion is massaged or that public discourse is managed to prevent action taking place. Quite how the BBC will maintain that this approach is even handed is a mystery to this writer.

No light is shed on climate science by this research. Public opinion makes no difference to the science anyhow. Climate science stands or falls on whether it is proved over time, not by public opinion which may be informed or misinformed or manipulated or disinterested or just plain wrong.

Environmentalists would like to hope that a national broadcasting network with the pedigree of the BBC would be above that. This poll though begs the question to what purpose was it commissioned? The BBC would like you to take it at face value with the results showing fewer people believe in the global warming phenomenon than did a couple of months ago . But to an inquiring mind this suggests something much darker - the BBC is part of the disinformation campaign too.

* The agency was Grandfield Rork Collins and the creative director was Andy Rork

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ethical Man's Faustian Subtext (revised)

The subtext of propaganda is often the ruling class's way of saying this is how it's gonna be  - the way it is. It's a very dark way of looking at it but the democracy we live in works from the top down. The plebians have their say but the rulers always get the casting vote.  Nothing ever gets decided by the public we are simply misled to believe that we do. Public opinion is simply 'managed' to get the answer that the oligarchy really want. And with climate change they dont want to take any serious action, but they want to make it look like they tried and the public rejected serious action . So that when history comes to be written global warming is everyone's fault, not the ruling classes. Carbon trading is the big sell in this documentary , could that be the only solution we get? Am starting to research the question of carbon trading and found an interesting website Carbon Trade Watch .  There's a fundamental fallacy in the notion that anyone is going to get rich by emissions trading because it is not a method of creating wealth. Watch this superb little vid The Story of Cap and Trade.

Revised 13/3/10

Yes, the soup is poisoned but try the main course

Here is the reply to my third email, they agree that her opinion was not challenged then go off at a tangent. Must appeal this one .

Dear Mr McStone

Thanks for your e-mail regarding 'Analysis' broadcast on 25 January.

I understand you feel broadcasting Solitaire Townsend'sopinion on her poll was contrary to Ofcom regulations as it wasn't challenged at any stage.

I can see from our records that one of my colleagues responded to your concerns on this issue recently and there's little I can usefully add to his response other than to confirm that climate change and global warming are amongst the most high profile news stories of recent years and while we're fully committed to balanced and impartial coverage of the issue, the overwhelming scientific opinion is that human activity is increasing the rate at which earth's global temperature is rising by.

As a public service broadcaster we've an obligation to reflect this broad scientific agreement on climate change and we reflect this accordingly; however, we do aim to ensure that we also offer time to the dissenting voices.

While it mightn't always be possible to reflect all opinions in one programme we charge our editors with ensuring that all relevant voices are heard over a reasonable period of time across our programming output, and this has included our main news broadcasts and flagship programmes such as 'Newsnight' and 'Today'.

I'd like to take this opportunity to assure you that I've recorded your comments onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and channel controllers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for contacting us.


Ciaran McConnell

BBC Complaints

Have you ever complained of being poisoned by the starter in a restaurant? No, neither have I. But if I did and the Maitre D's response was to reccomend something else on the menu, I'd .... I don't know what I'd do. But after reading this, I know how I'd feel about it.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Ethical Man's foodie canards

 Will it be food for thought or a steaming
pile of bullshit from the BBC's Ethical Man?

One man's meat is another man's poison, they say. Food, it's one of my favourite subjects and here is the summing up to an excellent webpage by Caroline Stacey of the BBC , no less; which talks about what kind of food will have the lowest envronmental impact.

"Only when several similar foods have their carbon footprint measured can shoppers choose their foods accordingly. Until then, shopping locally for what's grown locally (and, preferably, organically) and in season, may be the only guarantee that the food we buy is doing the least possible damage to our environment."

It's informative it's balanced , it's to the point journalism  . Unlike the efforts of Justin Rowlatt who has this to say :

"Organic food, for example, is often more carbon intensive to produce than super-efficient industrial agriculture; locally produced goods can sometimes have a higher carbon foot print than imported goods."

His statements may well be factual , but they are highly misleading because the big picture (as evidenced by Caroline Stacey's excellent article ) is the opposite of the facts presented by Rowlatt. He is essentially relying on anecdotal evidence to put his point across. And a highly partisan point it is too - here's his lead in :
"I noticed early on in my year of living ethically that all sorts of the advice you get from greens has little if anything to do with tackling global warming. "
So Justin has found a couple of paradoxes in the real world which he puts to use as a propagandist for industry to suggest environmentalist advice is misguided. And he calls that living ethically. Some might consider it to be less than charitable to point out to the BBC's Ethical Man that quoting out of context is not normally considered ethical journalism.  But Hengist McStone thinks not. Justin Rowlatt , BBC's so called ethical man you are the energy industry's shill !

Postscript: I am putting together a complaint on these lines which will go out as soon as the BBC respond to some of my as yet unanswered correspondence

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Complaint Number 7

Unhappy with the nimble footwork displayed by the good people at the BBC Complaints Department I have sent complaint Number 7 out. It refers to the same issues raised in 3,4 and 4a

Thank you for your email. I have to say I am disappointed that you have sidestepped the point of this complaint. Perhaps I have not explained myself very well. Sec 7.9 states “Before broadcasting a factual programme, including programmes examining past events, broadcasters should take reasonable care to satisfy themselves that [..]anyone whose omission could be unfair to an individual or organisation has been offered an opportunity to contribute. ” This begs the question: did the makers of this programme offer the 200 or so environmentalists[at 02.05] (whose views or motivations Ms Townsend purports to convey) an opportunity to contribute to this programme? Please could you answer that question. I do not see that the BBC can acquit itself without such an examination.


Hengist McStone

Complaint 4 and 4a

Here is complaint number 4 .  The BBC's  response is equivocal and does not address the key questions put forward by Sections 7.9 and 7.13

I have to suggest that Ms Townsend's extrapolation of what the
environmentalists wanted is contrary to Sec 7.9 of the OFCOM broadcasting code.
Her poll could have demonstrated a number of things . I would say that it was unscientific. I am not quibbling that she holds this opinion (if indeed you are of the view this was opinion and not fact)- she is entitled to but Mr Rowlatt was unfair / biased by reinforcing her opinion and not challenging the rationale.

Complaint 4a is an addendum to 4 citing section 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code also.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Complaint Number 6

Breach of Editorial Guidelines – Impartiality

I am writing to contend that this programme breached the BBC's Editorial Guidelines on impartiality. In particular the Guidelines state: “We will be objective and even handed in our approach to a subject.” and “we will never promote a particular view on controversial matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy”.
In this programme you repeatedly imply that the environmental movement has unsavoury parallels with religion. That contrasts very poorly with “We will be objective and even handed in our approach to a subject.”
You also clearly promoted the view that there is a hidden agenda in environmentalism. In contravention of the second stated objective.

Complaint Number 5

Breach of Editorial Guidelines – Personal View

This programme was a personal view. Mr Rowlatt opens with his specialist credentials as the BBC's Ethical Man. At key points his argument is delivered in the first person; hence:

“But I can’t but help feel that the identity campaign that he champions carries a whiff of social engineering”
[23.45] “What I find even more worrying is that
often the almost evangelical nature of some green
campaigning is justified...”
Presenters summing up in the final paragraph.
These views are delivered in the first person clearly indicating that they are personal views and they set the direction for the programme's inquiry and conclusion, such as it is. This programme was not signalled to be a Personal View . According to BBC Editorial Guidelines it should have been clearly signalled as such to the audience in advance .

Complaints 2 and 3

My second complaint was about the transcript inaccuracies, just a technical quibble and it's been dealt with. My third was on the subject of Solitaire Townsend's opinion which was unchallenged and presented as fact , ok here's what she says that makes my hackles rise:

I was making a speech to nearly 200
really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played
a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the
carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid
of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to
two hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure
with my little magic wand that we do not go above
two degrees of global warming. However, by waving
my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of
physics not with people – they will be as selfish, they
will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger,
the houses will get bigger, the planes will fly all over
the place but there will be no climate change. And I
asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave its
magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised
their hands... I was angry. I wasn’t shocked. I was
angry because it really showed that they wanted
more. They didn’t just want to prevent climate
change. They wanted to somehow change people, or
at very least for people to know that they had to

Condescending, tick; misrepresentation,tick; unscientific polling, tick. You name it I could not let this go unchallenged so I emailed the BBC Complaints people with this :

She gets a roughly 1% agreeing with her proposition, however
given the information to hand there is 99% abstention and no votes against.
So the quorum agrees with her proposition. She then goes on to say what she
thinks this shows about what the environmentalists wanted . But it doesnt
show anything of the kind. Her proposition is a hypothetical question and
her conclusion that they wanted more cannot be arrived at solely from that
poll. Her opinion is unchallenged.

and got this back:

Dear Mr McStone

Thanks for your e-mail regarding 'Analysis' broadcast on 25 January.

I understand you had concerns with Solitaire Townsend's contribution on the programme.

Our aim is to remain impartial on all topics such as climate change and to provide only the facts to our listening audience who can make up their own minds on issues. We also aim to invite a wide range of people from different perspectives on to our programmes to express their point of view.

With your complaint in mind I can assure you that I've registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for taking the time to e-mail us.


Ross Montgomery
BBC Complaints

Now because the documentary conflated fact with opinion throughout I ticked the box 'factual inaccuracy' , so I'll let them have that. Complaint Number 4 is on the same point anyhow, but on opinion, by then I was getting into my stride and alleged Section 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code had been broken, later that evening I issued an addendum (we'll call it Complaint Number 4a) citing Section 7.13