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

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Complaint number 1

I rattled off my first complaint about the programme by post . It rambles a bit, but the gist of it is that the title of the programme is not addressed by content. Since many people wont bother to listen to the programme they will only see the listings, there is a misrepresentation here that there is a fundamental scientific flaw to environmentalism. That is not what the programme concludes or even examines. Damage done. Here's the letter, no response from the BBC yet.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to complain about the programme Analysis: Are Environmentalists Bad For The Planet? broadcast on Radio 4.

When I first heard the broadcast I was incensed by the reporter's assumptions that environmentalism necessarily encompasses anti-capitalism and a host of other agendas. I think you have to define what you mean by environmentalists. An environmentalist can be somebody simply attempting to live a low impact lifestyle for themselves, or it can mean an environmental activist who campaigns for environmental values. That distinction is conflated throughout the programme.

I listened to Feedback on Radio 4 today when it was discussed and at times wondered whether the Series Editor was talking about the same programme. Her defence could be summarized I think that this was somehow encapsulating an internecine debate.

This brings me to the nub of my complaint. Are Environmentalists Bad For The Planet? This was a question, a suggestion. However it was not the issue dealt with by the programme. Mr Rowlatt makes clear in his summing up and in his blog that his real suggestion is that the urgent question of climate change might be used to bring in an agenda of other political issues.

Many people wont have listened to the programme, they would get no further than the title in the listings and conclude that there is some case that environmentalists and environmentalism are bad for the planet, that there is some fundamental fallacy in all environmentalism that makes it a worthless self-defeating set of values.

I have to put it to you that this is hugely biased reporting. The suggestion encompassed by the title is defamatory.

The issue of nuclear power was touched on and I suspect that you will try to use that platform to dismiss my complaint. However there are environmentalists who (albeit reluctantly and with some caveats) support nuclear. Most notably George Monbiot who wasn't mentioned. The question of whether nuclear power is a net solution or not is as your reporter discovered thorny and unresolved.

The programme touched on a number of contextual issues, such as our economic society's dependence on energy, and growth , in that light environmentalism cannot offer all the answers. Indeed challenging the necessity for economic growth would have to be considered a political and economic question, and would by necessity have to involve other issues, issues that Mr Rowlatt accuses environmentalists of “smuggling in”. It it is dishonest (particularly a few months before a general election) to then pretend as the programme does, that environmentalism is akin to millenarianism or some kind of apocalyptic prophesy.

Thanks to BBC iPlayer I have now listened to the programme twice and viewed the (somewhat inaccurate) transcript. I suggest the BBC , in the interests of restoring impartiality broadcast a programme entitled “Why environmentalists are good for the Planet”

Yours Sincerely

Hengist McStone

The mysterious lost 45 seconds

The BBC helpfully provided a transcript which can be viewed at

Now there were a number of inaccuracies but I noticed that something was missing . A Forty-five second piece of commentary that opens up his religious argument. I pointed this out to the BBC and they have amended the transcript, putting it down to a transcription error. Now who am I to take issue with that? So thanks BBC for dealing with that complaint so promptly and in my favour. However since the programme is making an allegation of a hidden agenda in environmentalism I couldn't help wondering if there was some hidden agenda at the BBC in the making of this programme. Was it cut or was the BBC's so called ethical man ad libbing the script. So just for the record, here is the lost 45 seconds which the BBC put down to a transcription error.

[22.50] Rowlatt: It makes me feel rather uncomfortable and Im not alone

[23.45]Rowlatt: What I find even more worrying is that often the almost evangelical nature of some green campaigning is justified or perhaps even disguised by the urgency of the climate issue. Environmentalists campaign on the basis that theyre backed by peer reviewed science as if that validates whatever solution they are proposing.Indeed the debate about how to tackle global warming can feel as if its being conducted against the background of a relentless doomsday clock ticking down the minutes and seconds until were engulfed in some burning hell. Its almost as if climate change is some kind of planetary retribution forcing humanity to pay the price for its greed

[24.40] Millenarian claims that the end of the world is nigh.

Just to be clear folks, these words were broadcast they just did not appear on the ORIGINAL transcript. Due to a transcription error. I hope that is clear.


So what are you so hot under the collar about Hengist ?
On the 25th Jan 2010 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a documentary entitled Analysis: Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet? The programme was repeated on 31st Jan.

And ?
IMHO it was an egregious piece of propaganda dissing environmentalists and environmetalism. It set a new high-water mark in dumbing down. Opinions were presented as facts and anti-environmentalist opinions were not challenged, contrasted with the opinions of Jonathon Porrit and John Sauven who were challenged. The title (which part of the BBC has admitted was provocative) was not addressed by the content. The presenter's thesis was a personal view and a misrepresentation of environmetalism as well as a serious allegation which unfounded.

But the BBC has to live by certain rules on bias, doesn't it?
The BBC makes much of it's claims of impartiality and fairness and for the most part live up to them. But when it comes to news, current affairs and documentaries - the serious stuff in other words - the BBC is simply broadcasting what the elite want the proletariat to hear and to think.

Now just hang on a minute, Hengist. The BBC has a fine record of airing all sorts of news stories which embarrass the powerful.
Yes, but the BBC is still the broadcaster of the State. And there is always a bias towards the Establishment's way of looking at things. This programme puts it all to the test. If my complaints fail this should reveal something about the BBC's own attitude to complainants and whether complaints are dealt with fairly. First thing to note is that the BBC is it's own governor on matters of impartiality and bias.

But what about OFCOM ?
Yes OFCOM , this will only judge the BBC on Fairness (under section 7 of the Broadcasting Code) Bias or impartiality is covered by section 5 of the Broadcasting Code. The BBC is exempt from Section 5. Sad isn't it?

So who decides if the BBC is impartial or biased?
The BBC does of course. Or rather something called The BBC Trust, which I suspect to all intents and purposes is another layer of the BBC. But I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise by the BBC Trust, let's wait and see.

OK let's cut to the chase, what are you trying to say?
Sadly, it is the contention of this blog that the BBC is following an anti-environmentalist agenda and that the BBC is not able to govern itself on bias in coverage of environmental matters.

Ok, if I want to hold my nose and find out what the BBC have to say where do I go ? The BBC's own webpage to the programme can be viewed at where there is a link to the iPlayer version