Press and Blog Coverage
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The Guardian – Channel 4 ruled ‘unjust and unfair’ in climate change documentary / Watchdog’s verdict on Channel 4 climate film angers scientists / The public has been swindled / Why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens?
The Independent – C4’s climate change documentary ‘was unfair but not misleading’ / Ofcom’s judgement failed to address the key question … was this programme accurate? / Don’t silence those who challenge consensus
Broadcast Magazine (UK): Climate change TV is risky / Irish Times: Burying our heads in the sand won’t work / The Guardian (UK): The great lunar rockism con / The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): Lonely voice of dissent declared valid
Climate Audit (Steve McIntyre) – Ofcom Decision: A Humiliating Defeat for Bob Ward and the Myles Allen 37 / David King: Hot Girls and Cold Continents / The Carl Wunsch Complaint / Ofcom: The IPCC Complaint
Whether through laziness, prejudice or the perceived need to simplify, most of the press coverage missed the nuances of Ofcom’s ruling, which was full of contradictions – for example, Ofcom’s statement that global warming science is simultaneously controversial (pages 13 and 15) and not controversial (page 20); and which relied to a large extent on Ofcom’s opinion that “the science is already settled”.
Most media reports implied (and some explicitly stated) that Ofcom had ruled that the film did not mislead viewers (it had not); and with respect to the Fairness ruling, almost none picked up on the fact that before deciding whether or not the complainants were offered a “appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”, Ofcom first had to consider whether a right of reply was required at all. Ofcom did not consider a right to reply was required unless, in its opinion, the allegations complained of were not only serious but also unsubstantiated – not only in the film itself but also in the subsequent Channel 4 correspondence, comprising two 70+ page documents plus an appeal written by a Channel 4 lawyer.
Several media reports misrepresented the complainants as wishing to stifle free speech as opposed to wishing to uphold journalistic standards and the public’s right to receive accurate information. Using this logic, the legal requirement for companies to produce accurate accounts could also be classified as an attempt to stifle free speech.
With only a few exceptions, those news reports that quoted any responses to the ruling only quoted Hamish Mykura of Channel 4 and did not quote any of the complainants, which seems to indicate a certain bias.
Interestingly, none of the media reports picked up on the fact that in the light of the ruling, the only UK broadcaster which has a regulatory obligation for its non-news factual programming to be factually accurate is the BBC.
The Guardian: Channel 4 to be censured over
controversial climate film
Owen Gibson, media correspondent
The Guardian published a leaked story covering some of the details of Ofcom’s ruling two days before the ruling itself was published. Significantly, this article included details of parts of the Standards ruling, which only Ofcom and Channel 4 had access to at that time. The article also reads as if it were an attempt by Channel 4 to “spin” the story in terms favourable to them, and to set the media agenda in advance of the ruling. In particular, there was no mention of the “harm or offence” test, as a result of which the false impression was given that Ofcom had ruled that the film was not misleading (it had not); and there was no mention of Ofcom’s ruling that the film had breached its rules on impartiality. In addition, the journalist seemed to have considerable insight into what Channel 4’s position on the ruling was going to be.
The leak was a serious breach of Ofcom’s procedures and the regulator is currently investigating it.
The Guardian’s leaked story was picked up the same day and repeated almost verbatim by the online versions of The Times, The Telegraph (UK) and The Press Association (the last of these is no longer available online).
(Online versions – print versions of the following articles appeared on the following day. Interestingly, The Times did not cover the story at all)
Channel 4 News covered the Fairness ruling reasonably accurately, but misrepresented the Standards ruling by claiming wrongly that Ofcom had ruled that: “the audience watching the Channel 4 programme was not ‘materially misled’”, without mentioning the “harm test” (In fact Ofcom made no judgement on whether the film misled the audience as such, but only on whether, in its opinion, it caused “harm or offence”). In addition, Channel 4 News interviewed the film’s commissioning editor Hamish Mykura, who put a misleading gloss on the ruling; but it failed to interview any of the complainants. As a result, the viewer was given a very one-sided impression.
Climate documentary ‘broke rules’
Richard Black, Environment correspondent
Perhaps the most accurate and nuanced summary of the Ofcom ruling.
A reluctant whistle-blower
Dave Rado (opinion piece)
One of the lead authors of this complaint explains why he felt compelled to challenge the programme’s contents.
Channel 4’s Great Global Warming Swindle ‘misrepresented’ scientists, says Ofcom
Nicole Martin, Digital and Media Correspondent
A reasonably accurate news report and headline, although, while the article did mention the “harm test” (unlike many other reports), it not explain what the test meant, and it contentiously portrayed the Standards ruling as a “victory for Channel 4”. In addition, it included an interview with the film’s commissioning editor Hamish Mykura, who put a misleading gloss on the ruling; while failing to interview any of the complainants, so giving the reader a one-sided impression.
Ofcom can’t take the heat of climate debate
David Hughes (opinion piece)
Opinion piece that misrepresented the ruling and the Broadcasting Code, and claimed wrongly that Ofcom had ruled that the film did not mislead viewers (it had not).
Channel 4 ruled ‘unjust and unfair’ in climate change documentary
Mark Sweney, Digital and Media Correspondent
A straight and reasonably and accurate news report.
Watchdog’s verdict on Channel 4 climate film angers
Owen Gibson (media correspondent) and David Adam (environment correspondent)
A straight and mostly accurate news report which, almost uniquely, includes responses to the ruling from some of the complainants as well as from Hamish Mykura of Channel 4.
The public has been swindled
Robert Watson (opinion piece)
The former chair of the IPCC and currently chief scientific advisor to DEFRA argues that The Great Global Warming Swindle did a major disservice to the public at large, and that Ofcom failed to take this properly into account.
Global warming is a brutal truth
George Monbiot (opinion piece)
Monbiot argues that the popularity of The Great Global Warming Swindle is due to people wanting its message to be true.
Why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against
George Monbiot (opinion piece)
Monbiot argues that The Great Global Warming Swindle is part of a pattern of Channel 4 broadcasts. He also analyses some of the more obvious distortions in the film and contrasts the apparent lack of any editorial fact-checking applied to it with the rigorous editorial fact checking that he says was applied by Channel 4 to his Despatches film Greenwash (which related to climate change policy, rather than to the science underpinning it).
The rise and rise of Climate Blasphemy
Brendan O’Neill (opinion piece)
O’Neil wrongly claims that the “Ofcom rejected complaints that Durkin’s film was factually inaccurate” (it did not) and misrepresents the complainants as wishing to suppress dissent from orthodoxy, whereas the objection was to its misrepresentations of views and facts. The article also misrepresents the Fairness ruling.
C4’s climate change documentary ‘was unfair but not
Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Despite its unfortunate and inaccurate headline, the article itself is fairly balanced and accurate – although it doesn’t make clear that Ofcom found part of the film in breach of the impartiality section of the Broadcasting Code.
Ofcom’s judgement failed to address the key
question … was this programme accurate?
Michael McCarthy (opinion piece)
One of the few press articles that mentioned the fact that Ofcom didn’t address this.
Don’t silence those who challenge consensus
Mary Dejevsky (opinion piece)
Dejevsky covers the ruling accurately, but misrepresents the complainants as wishing to suppress dissent from orthodoxy. One can dispute a mainstream theory without resorting to fabrication, and at no stage did the complainants object to the film’s disputing of mainstream theory.
It’s not we who make the public sceptical on climate
Hamish Mykura (opinion piece)
A response by Mykura (who commissioned the film for Channel 4) to George Monbiot’s article Why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens. Misrepresents the ruling by implying that the film was cleared of being misleading, without mentioning the “harm test”. Dr Michael Bunter responded to his article with a letter to The Guardian.
The disbenefit of the doubt
Leo Hickman (opinion piece)
Hickman argues that “Ofcom’s mixed verdict on The Great Global Warming Swindle will only fuel the conspiracy theorists’ climate change fantasies”.
Why ‘climate swindle’ film is dangerous, despite
Michael Le Page (opinion piece)
Controversially worded criticism of Ofcom’s ruling, but one of the few articles that picked up on the fact that Ofcom ruled that fact-based programmes other than news programmes do not have to be factually accurate.
An inconvenient ruling
Melanie Phillips (opinion piece)
Strongly worded piece by the well known polemicist. Phillips’ article majors on some inaccurate claims made by a non-climate scientist (and non rocket scientist!) Dr David Evans.
Climate Film Draws a Rebuke
Andrew Revkin, Science Correspondent
Short article that only covers parts of the ruling.
Climate program swindled viewers
Ben Cubby, Environment Reporter
Largely accurate if controversially worded coverage of the Fairness ruling. Does not cover the Standards ruling.
Broadcast Magazine (UK): Climate change TV is risky
Joe Smith, July 23, 2008
Thoughtful analysis, by one of the peer reviewers of the Group Complaint, of the implications of the film and ruling for media commissioners; and of their responsibility to equip society for a long and difficult conversation about climate change.
Irish Times: Burying our heads in the sand won’t
John Gibbons, July 24, 2008
Thoughtful and well researched analysis of the concept that “Durkin’s documentary struck gold by using the timeless ploy of telling us precisely what we want to hear.”
The Guardian (UK): The great lunar rockism con
George Monbiot, July 24, 2008
Tongue in cheek pitch (based on Hamish Mykura’s celebration of Ofcom’s ruling that only news programmes have to be factually accurate) to make a programme for Channel 4 that claims the moon is made of blue cheese.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): Lonely voice of
dissent declared valid
Miranda Devinet, July 26, 2008
Devinet misrepresents the complainants as wishing to suppress dissent from orthodoxy (as opposed to wishing to uphold journalistic standards). The article contains a number of additional factual inaccuracies that are covered on this website’s Q&A page.
Broadcast Magazine: Durkin defends Great Global
Martin Durkin, 06 August, 2008
Martin Durkin, 10 August, 2008
In two articles written after his return from holiday, the film maker, in defending the film, seriously misrepresented Ofcom’s ruling and the group complaint (as well as the court ruling on An Inconvenient Truth). Most of his inaccuracies are covered on this website’s Q&A page.
What follows is a representative sample although far from exhaustive. It includes all of the more interesting and most widely read analyses from both sides of the “debate”. It only includes one example of a political rant because although there were several more in similar vein, once you’ve read one you’ve read them all.
TGGWS again: oh lordy
July 21, 2008
Covers the Fairness ruling accurately and in depth. Does not cover the Standards ruling.
The Great OFCOM Swindle
July 22, 2008
Succinct summary of the entire ruling.
More on the OFCOM swindle
July 23, 2008
Queries Ofcom’s decision not to consider the group complaint under rule 5.7 of the Broadcasting Code (which it was mostly submitted under, and which states that facts must not be misrepresented),
Steve McIntyre (a mathematician best known for his criticisms of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions and for his persona attacks on the integrity of some of the scientists responsible for them) puts heavy spin on the ruling, seriously misrepresenting it in the process; while attempting to ridicule the complainants (starting with the headline), One sentence, for example, commences with: “Even though complainant Rado said that his complaint had been ‘peer reviewed’ by William Connolley …”. Had he looked at the cover sheet or Appendix J at of the complaint, or at the peer reviewers’ sign-off emails, he would have seen that there were twelve peer reviewers rather than one, all undoubted experts in the fields they were reviewing, and including former IPCC Chairs and Co-chairs and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He would also have seen that there were eight authors, not one, and that it was a group complaint (as is also made clear in the ruling itself).
He also writes: “Ofcom did not uphold any of the misrepresentation complaints against Swindle. Not one.” And later writes: “None of the complaints alleging lack of due impartiality in the science portion (sections 1-4) was upheld. Not one.” [Emphasis in original.] In both cases, the implication of his use of the words “not one” was that each complaint was individually assessed by Ofcom and then rejected, whereas in fact Ofcom simply decided that it was not in its remit to investigate them.
McIntyre does make some interesting comments about the difficult position Ofcom found itself in, as they presumably did not want to set a precedent that would force them to investigate in detail the accuracy or otherwise of all future documentaries, including An Inconvenient Truth, which Channel 4 says it is planning to broadcast at some point. However, this ignores the fact that in the specific case of An Inconvenient Truth, this problem could be avoided if Channel 4 were to precede or follow its screening with a detailed and balanced discussion of the nine “errors, omissions or departure from the mainstream” that Judge Barton said it contained; and also ignores the fact that the allegation (which Ofcom decided not to investigate) in the case of The Great Global Warming Swindle was that almost every statement in the film was either inaccurate or misleading – it was not that it contained a small number of relatively minor errors. This unprecedented context means it could have been investigated without setting such a precedent.
David King: Hot Girls and Cold Continents
July 22, 2008
Another exercise in spin and of McIntyre resorting to childish ridicule.
The Carl Wunsch Complaint
July 22, 2008
Generally sympathetic to Wunsch, Does not mention, though, that Wunsch also contributed to the Group Complaint on this site and that he has read it in full and believes it to be an accurate analysis of the inaccuracies and distortions in The Great Global Warming Swindle. McIntyre also makes the unsupported claim that “I’m sure that Wunsch was bullied by climate scientists of all stripes after the fact”. Wunsch is clearly a man who can stand up for himself and is not someone who can be bullied – and in any case has made clear in many interviews that no one tried to bully him – and McIntyre’s unsupported and baseless accusation of bullying is another example of his penchant for making personal attacks on people.
Ofcom: The IPCC Complaint
July 23, 2008
Another major exercise in spin. The article concludes: “Did Ofcom opine on whether IPCC was giving good or bad reports? Nope. It stuck to knitting and rendered carefully reasoned decisions on whether the producers gave adequate notice to someone being criticized, as required under the Broadcasting Code.” In fact the complainants did not ask Ofcom to “opine on whether IPCC was giving good or bad reports”; and McIntyre glosses over the fact that before deciding whether or not the IPCC was offered an “appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”, Ofcom first had to consider whether a right of reply was required at all. Ofcom did not consider that one was required unless the allegations complained of were, in its opinion, not only serious but also unsubstantiated – not only in the film itself but also in the subsequent Channel 4 correspondence, comprising two 70+ page documents plus an appeal written by a lawyer. (McIntyre’s follow-up claims about “vindication” should also be seen in the light of the above).
Looks at some of the deceitful arguments Channel 4 had used to try to justify the film, as described in Ofcom’s ruling; and points out that the film was not scrutinised under section 5 of the Broadcasting Code only because Ofcom considered that “the science is already settled”. Compares the leaked Guardian article with the ruling and concludes that the leak was by Channel 4.
Ofcom round up
July 22, 2008
Analyses Ofcom’s decision not to consider the group complaint under rule 5.7 of the Broadcasting Code (which it was mostly submitted under, and which states that facts must not be misrepresented), Also links to some of the other coverage of the ruling, including that on Climate Audit, and points out that “McIntyre doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the complaint”.
What materially matters: Ofcom and climate
July 21, 2008
Alex Lockwood discusses the question of how Ofcom can reach a judgment on whether disinformation has caused material harm to the public; and points out the interesting issue that news programmes do not have to meet this “harm” test, but all other supposedly fact-based programmes seemingly do.
Like everyone else, his article misses the fact that in the light of the ruling, the BBC is the only UK broadcaster whose factual programmes have to be factually accurate (under the BBC Trust guidelines).
C4 Mykura’s half-right contradiction on climate
July 21, 2008
Thoughtful analysis of Channel 4 commissioning editor Hamish Mykura’s claim that “it is arguable that it is not the Great Global Warming Swindle that has bred public scepticism, but the desire of some environmentalists – evidenced by the identikit complaints orchestrated against the film – to stamp out dissenting voices.”
In fact, as Lockwood points out, “strong polemic on either side offends, isolates and reinforces the prejudices of each opposite side, driving polarisation, as per the Krosnick et al. research.” (Unfortunately, Channel 4 appears to consider its primary role as being the making of polemics).
Also discusses the paradox of Channel 4 welcoming a ruling that was based largely on the premise that in Ofcom’s opinion, “the science is already settled”.
A political rant typical of a number of extreme anti-global warming blogs.
Pielke seriously and disingenuously misrepresents the Group Complaint by pretending it was an attempt to limit freedom of expression, rather than to uphold journalistic standards. Using his logic, the legal requirement for companies to produce accurate accounts could also be classed as an attempt to limit freedom of expression, Pielke’s article also misquotes and misrepresents James Hansen, whom he claims falsely has “called for trials of those who have provided support for the dissemination of skeptical perspectives on climate change” – despite the fact that Pielke links to an article (see http://tinyurl.com/4juqq3) about what Hansen actually said which makes it clear that it is not “dissemination of skeptical perspectives” that Hansen objects to, but the knowing dissemination (see http://tinyurl.com/v8u2d) of disinformation (see http://tinyurl.com/69ta9v).
Freedom is a responsibility
July 23, 2008
Beck points out the logical flaws in Roger Pielke, Jr.’s blog article above. (In addition to the points he makes, Beck misses the fact that the Group Complaint was not submitted under section 2.2 of the Broadcasting Code, which requires that the “harm test” must be met; but was mostly submitted under Section 5.7 of the Code, which states that facts must not be misrepresented; but was not considered under this section because Ofcom decided that in its opinion, “the science is already settled”.)
“Great global warming swindle”
– Ofcom’s ruling
July 25, 2008
Majors on the paradox that the reason Ofcom gave for not considering parts 1 to 4 of the film under Section 5 of the Broadcasting Code was that, in Ofcom’s opinion, “the science is already settled”.