Responses to some of the inaccurate claims
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“The Great Global Warming did not mislead viewers”, says Ofcom / The IPCC’s Fairness Ruling was Just a Technicality, Based Only on the Right of Reply / The IPCC “Refused to Cooperate” with the Programme Makers / WagTV and Channel 4 Say the International (DVD) Version of the Film has been “Corrected and Edited” / Al Gore’s Film was also Censured by a UK Court
Many media reports, such as one from the Daily Mail at http://tinyurl.com/5ectwe, suggest a partial victory for Channel 4 on the basis that ruling says the “documentary did not mislead viewers”.
Hamish Mykura of Channel 4 has been quoted as follows:
“We are pleased that Ofcom has ruled the film did not materially mislead the audience,” said Hamish Mykura, the Channel 4 head of documentaries. (http://tinyurl.com/6fw7ex).
Many media reports have also made this claim; but it is incorrect.
The ruling goes to some length to explain that Ofcom does not consider it to be their role to rule on matters of scientific fact, and that it can only rule on whether a programme has been misleading so as to ‘cause harm and/or offence’.
Page 14 of the ruling states:
The accompanying Ofcom guidance to the Code explains that “Ofcom is required to guard against harmful or offensive material, and it is possible that actual or potential harm and/or offence may be the result of misleading material in relation to the representation of factual issues. This rule is therefore designed to deal with content which materially misleads the audience so as to cause harm or offence.” (Emphasis in original). Ofcom therefore only regulates misleading material where that material is likely to cause harm or offence. As a consequence, the requirement that content must not materially mislead the audience is necessarily a high test. In dealing with these complaints therefore Ofcom had to ascertain – not whether the programme was accurate – but whether it materially misled the audience with the result that harm and/or offence was likely to be caused.
Page 15 of the ruling states:
In summary, in relation to the manner in which facts in the programme were presented, Ofcom is of the view that the audience of this programme was not materially misled in a manner that would have led to actual or potential harm.
So the media reports are incorrect – Ofcom decided that it was not their role to rule on whether the documentary was misleading. Ofcom restricted itself to ruling on whether, in its opinion, there was a likelihood that the film had caused harm or offence. This is far from the endorsement that Hamish Mykura and Channel 4 have claimed it to be.
Ofcom also states on page 14 of its ruling:
However, whilst Ofcom is required by the 2003 Act to set standards to ensure that news programmes are reported with “due accuracy” there is no such requirement for other types of programming, including factual programmes of this type.
The complainants found this statement surprising, because section 5.7 of the Broadcasting Code, relating to views and facts not being misrepresented, seems to apply to “news and other programmes, including matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy” (see http://tinyurl.com/35xfpz).
See also The New Scientist at http://tinyurl.com/6kph5y.
In addition, one of the key reasons that Ofcom gave for their decision was that in its opinion, the science is already “settled”:
In this respect it could be said that the discussion about the causes of global warming was to a very great extent settled by the date of broadcast … For example, while the link between HIV and AIDS was once questioned and could have been considered a matter of political controversy or relating to current public policy, the link is now generally accepted and in most circles is no longer a matter of debate that could be regarded as a matter of political or industrial controversy. In Ofcom’s view the link between human activity and global warming also became similarly settled before March 2007 … Therefore, in this case, Ofcom considers that the subject matter of Parts One to Four of the programme (i.e. the scientific theory of man-made global warming) was not a matter political or industrial controversy or a matter relating to current public policy.
Ofcom ruling, pages 20-21
That is clearly not the impression that Channel 4 or the film maker would like you to have, and yet Channel 4 was happy to welcome the ruling, which was made to a large extent on the basis that in Ofcom’s opinion the science is already settled!
See also Alex Lockwood at http://tinyurl.com/5ucr4s.
Some media reports have implied that the Fairness ruling on the IPCC said nothing about the film itself but only about the fact that the IPCC was not given a proper right of reply
Before deciding whether or not the IPCC was offered a “appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”, Ofcom first had to consider whether a right of reply was required. A careful reading of the ruling shows that the barrier for this is very high – if one makes an allegation that in Ofcom’s opinion one can substantiate, Ofcom does not consider that a right of reply is required.
As an example, Ofcom rejected our complaint that the film had claimed erroneously that the IPCC’s First Assessment Report (or FAR) had “predicted climate disaster”. This was despite the facts that: the FAR had never used any emotive words such as “disaster”; that it hadn’t made predictions but gave a “best guess” projection of a 3°C rise by 2100; that it had stressed, both in the main report and in the Summary for Policy Makers, that there were great uncertainties about its projections, and had used very cautious language; and that it had made that 3°C projection only on the basis of “business as usual”, which Working Group III (dealing with Mitigation of Climate Change) was specifically intended to help prevent – Ofcom still rejected our complaint.
No right of reply had been offered to the IPCC regarding this allegation, but Ofcom did not consider whether one had been offered, because they believed that in the correspondence following our complaint, Channel 4 had substantiated the film’s allegation. In this correspondence, Channel 4 had argued that a speech by Mrs Thatcher in the early 1990s, which it said had been approved by Sir John Houghton, had suggested that the consequences of a 3°C rise would include floods, famines and droughts. Channel 4 had argued that these consequences would be disastrous, and Ofcom had accepted Channel 4’s argument, and that was the reason they gave for not upholding this complaint. (see pages 60-61 of the ruling).
Thus there is a very high barrier indeed to be overcome in assessing whether or not a right of reply is required, and the allegation in question has to be both very serious and also unsubstantiated – not only in the film itself but also in the subsequent correspondence – to qualify.
In addition it should be noted that the right of reply is a fundamental and extremely important standard in broadcasting, and one which Channel 4 manifestly and systematically failed to comply with. It ensures that the public is allowed to see both sides of a question and that people against whom serious allegations are made are given an opportunity to defend themselves. The public would clearly have had a very different impression indeed of the film had the IPCC’s position regarding the allegations made against it been included in the film, as was required by the Broadcasting Code.
Media reports have stated that “Channel 4 has argued that the [IPCC] had refused to cooperate with the programme-makers.”
During a ten month process during which Channel 4 submitted two very long documents in their defence and also submitted an appeal written by a lawyer, they were unable to convince Ofcom that the IPCC had been given a timely or appropriate opportunity to respond to the allegations the film made against them. Ofcom ruled that the IPCC had in fact only been given one day’s notice in which to respond to the allegations; and although Channel 4 tried to argue that they had been given 10 days, Ofcom rejected their arguments.
Channel 4’s Hamish Mykura has also stated in some interviews that Ofcom ruled that the “10 days notice” given to the IPCC to respond to the allegations against them was “not long enough”.
Directly contradicting Mykura, the film maker Martin Durkin has stated in The Independent on Sunday (see http://tinyurl.com/582wsr) that:
We gave the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) nine working days to respond to our allegations; apparently we should have given it 10.
Both Mykura and Durkin are playing fast and loose with the facts. In fact Channel 4 had claimed in its correspondence with Ofcom that WagTV did give the IPCC 10 working days notice, by using the rather strange logic that the IPCC should have realised that the deadline they were given by WagTV was not a deadline at all and that the real deadline was the date the film was broadcast, even though the IPCC was not informed of the broadcast date!
Ofcom rejected that “argument” and not only ruled that the IPCC was only given four working days in total in which to reply (as opposed to nine or ten), but more importantly that the IPCC was only given one days’ notice of the deadline The relevant section of the ruling (page 60) reads as follows:
As mentioned above, it was significant that the programme maker’s email of 26 February 2007 gave the IPCC no indication of when its response was required and the follow-up email of 1 March 2007 (sent at 7.33pm) subsequently gave a deadline of the following day. Neither of these emails indicated the date of broadcast.
Taking into account all the above factors, the Committee considered that it was unreasonable for the programme makers to have expected the IPCC to understand that its response was required in a matter of days, and that it was not reasonable to expect the IPCC to be able to provide a response within the one day of being advised of the deadline. The Committee therefore found that the opportunity to respond had not been offered in a timely way. [Emphasis added]
While the international version doesn’t contain oceanographer Carl Wunsch’s interview (he demanded that it be removed); and a small number of the more obvious mistakes have been corrected (such as partially correcting some but not all of the graphs, and changing the title of one of the interviewees, Tim Ball, who was never a “professor of climatology”), the vast majority of the errors and misleading claims made in the film still remain.
Bob Ward peer reviewed one section of our complaint and also submitted a complaint of his own (see http://tinyurl.com/2n6j3n). He points out that five out of the seven major inaccuracies that he originally reported to Ofcom still remain in the international DVD version – see http://tinyurl.com/6k3q3g [climateofdenial.net].
In his ruling at http://tinyurl.com/2a47dd, Justice Burton commended the film An Inconvenient Truth, stating that “Al Gore’s presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate.”
Contrary to the misleading impression given in some reports at the time, Justice Burton turned down the application to stop the film from being distributed in schools and instead recommended that the film be accompanied by teaching aids for clarification of nine different points made in the film, which he said were either errors, or omissions, or departures from the mainstream (he did not state which he thought was which).
Here is the full quote:
There are errors and omissions in the film, to which I shall refer, and respects in which the film, while purporting to set out the mainstream view (and to belittle opposing views), does in fact itself depart from that mainstream, in the sense of the “consensus” expressed in the IPCC reports.
Apart from in the above statement, he always encloses the word ‘errors’ in quotation marks to indicate that they were alleged errors – alleged by the plaintiff – rather than errors in the opinion of the court.
In his description of these 9 alleged ‘errors’, it seems clear from his text that Justice Burton considers most of them to be relatively minor departures from the mainstream rather than major errors or omissions, but he never explicitly classifies which of the 9 points he considers to be errors, which omissions, and which he regards as departure from the mainstream. Moreover, in several cases his own judgement on these issues has since been questioned by climate scientists and other academics.
By contrast, Ofcom specifically states in its ruling that The Great Global Warming Swindle is in its entirety a substantial departure from the mainstream:
In summary, Ofcom considered most viewers would have been aware that the views expressed in the programme went against the scientific consensus about the causes of global warming and were only espoused by a small minority.
Ofcom decided not to consider the issue of whether or not it contained errors, although the ruling does state on page 17 that Channel 4 has admitted that the film did contain some factual errors. Ofcom’s failure to consider this important issue means that its lack of criticism in respect of errors cannot be taken as evidence that such errors were not made.
In addition, An Inconvenient Truth is clearly labelled as a personal view programme – Gore fronts it, and there is no mistaking him for anything other than a politician/lawyer who has tried to do his homework and drawn some troubling conclusions. The narration does not take the form of an anonymous and authoritative sounding voiceover as The Great Global Warming Swindle’s does. By contrast, Durkin was not listed anywhere as the narrator, did not appear at any stage in the programme, and it was labelled as a science documentary by Channel 4, not as an expression of Martin Durkin’s personal views. In The Great Global Warming Swindle, a number of people who have never written a paper on the subject of climate change were depicted as though they are experts, while others who are or have been in the past genuine experts in their own fields of study, but who would not now be considered experts in the specific fields they discussed in the film, also claimed to speak authoritatively about this complicated problem. It is unreasonable to expect most of the public to be able to distinguish between levels of scientific expertise. (See Appendix C of the complaint for details.)
Gore may be criticized for taking a partisan approach, but he nevertheless makes a considerable effort to communicate accurately what is known about climate science and draws very largely from mainstream science views to do so. So, while some may view An Inconvenient Truth as less than objective, the judge, in considering the case against the film, explicitly recognised its relationship to the science and commended the film for that.
This is in stark contrast to the approach taken in The Great Global Warming Swindle. One can dispute a scientific theory without resorting to devices such as fabricating data, mislabelling graphs and film footage, inventing histories (such as claiming that the IPCC was formed at the request of Mrs Thatcher in order to break the UK’s miners unions), recycling long-discredited urban myths, or frequent use of logical non-sequiturs and straw man arguments. The Great Global Warming Swindle does all of that, and attempts to create a grand conspiracy theory through ad hominem attacks that misrepresent individuals and aim to discredit international organizations. In effect it accuses the mainstream scientific community of being liars rather than addressing the basis for their results.
Ofcom’s ruling on the group complaint clearly recognizes the very different nature of The Great Global Warming Swindle – in particular that it does not represent available science. It is also very revealing that Channel 4 has sought to justify the film retrospectively by claiming that it is a “polemic” – even though it was advertised as a documentary. So the two films are simply not comparable. One is a largely accurate attempt to describe the available science, albeit in a partisan way. The other is inherently inaccurate, and pretends to be a science documentary while it is now admitted to be an argumentative and extreme view.
Gore’s misrepresentation of Hurricane Katrina has often been brought up as evidence for bias. However, Gore’s film did not state that global warming was directly responsible for Katrina: it said that hurricanes of that severity would become more frequent in the future as a result of global warming. This is consistent with the available science, although admittedly significant uncertainties still remain. Some may feel that this is a semantic point and that the film implied, even if it did not state, that Katrina occurred as a result of global warming. Undoubtedly more could have been done to make it clear that no single weather event such as Katrina can ever be directly attributed to global warming (just as no individual death from cancer can ever be directly attributed to smoking) and for not mentioning the considerable uncertainties – but this is a minor criticism relative to the systematic misrepresentation of science occurring in The Great Global Warming Swindle.
To put this into perspective, many public information films have wrongly claimed or implied that an individual person’s death from cancer could be directly attributed to the fact that the person smoked, and there has been no comparable outcry over any of those films. The real point of the Katrina catastrophe, now increasingly recognized by governments and the insurance industry alike, is that there is a high risk from underlying trends in extreme weather events; and that even highly developed countries are not well equipped to deal with them.
It may well have been better if An Inconvenient Truth had undergone some form of peer review before being released. Climate change is a complex issue in which no individual or small group has all the answers. It is an area where collective views established through rigorous review and objective discussion are essential. That has been the approach we have taken here in formulating the complaint represented on this website.