Thursday, May 24, 2012

Death threat back story

This blog gets a mention in a report in today's Australian (The Science is in: we were right on death threat emails)  that follows up on Media Watch's misleading broadcast on Monday. The Oz's Chris Merritt outlines point by point where Media Watch failed to accurately report on the media's coverage of so called ANU "Death Threat" emails, and where it misrepresented the Australian's reporting. The emails were released following an FOI request to ANU by Simon Turnill and a decision by the Privacy Commissioner. These emails demonstrate that ABC's reporting of June last year and last week was hopelessly in error. Of those emails the Privacy Commissioner (and not "climate change sceptics"-see below)  found that 10 of 11 documents, all emails, "do not contain threats to kill" and the other "could be regarded as intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat". The "threat" described in the 11th email has since been shown to have been a mis-understanding and over reaction to the production of a shooting licence at an ANU hosted event. See John Coochey's explanation to Media Watch (that was also misrepresented by Jonathan Holmes).

Chris Merritt covers our request for ABC to update its June 2011 story given the appearance of new facts, namely the Privacy Commissioners report and coverage by The Australian. Following The Australian's report of the 3 May I was keeping an eye on ABC News to see whether they would report on it. After nothing appeared after more than a week, I sent this simple question to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs (sent 10/05/12 @ 21:21).

Subject: correct an old story
Comments: Last year ABC reported on death threats made to scientists. It now seems these were false. When can we expect a correction or story update?

Here's the reply from the so called "independent" ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs division, who it now seems are now attempting to determine what constitutes news at our ABC (Ed. is that a case of the wag tailing the dog?)

Received Fri, May 11, 2012 at 10:39 AM
RE: correct an old story 
Thank you for your email of 11 May concerning the story “Death threats sent to top climate scientists”.
As your correspondence raised concerns of a lack of accuracy, your email was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC's editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the story and assessed them against the ABC’s editorial requirements for accuracy, as outlined in section 2 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies:  In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.

In relation to the allegations that climate scientists at the ANU were subject to threats, the Privacy Commissioner made a finding in relation to the material he was presented with, he did not make, and could not make, a finding about whether there were threats made. The ANU maintains that most of the emails were discarded and of course there is no record of the phone calls or threats that were made in person. As the Commissioner specifically noted:  “Correspondence from the ANU to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner indicates that emails and records of calls containing abuse were not generally retained before the FOI request”. 
Neither the ANU, the scientists concerned nor scientists from other institutions who reported similar threats, have withdrawn the claims. The implication of your email is that a large number of very reputable scientists fabricated these threats; there is no reason to conclude that that is the case on the basis of the Privacy Commissioner’s finding. Audience and Consumer Affairs does not consider there is a case to correct the stories.
Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated.
For your reference, the ABC Editorial Policies are available online at   

Yours sincerely
Mark Maley
Audience & Consumer Affairs

The time on ABC's report on May 11 is First posted May 11, 2012 09:06:07. It seems ABC NEWS decided the story worth covering after all despite considerations from Mr Maley. Its reporting so bad however that the following editorial explanation was required. The explanation and the story still omits to mention what the independent findings of the Privacy Commissioner about the emails actually were. That is that none of the 11 emails were death threats. Instead the ABC suggests it was  based on the opinion of Climate change sceptics. And just think our taxes paid for this woeful reporting and the subsequent hopelessly inaccurate and misleading  MediaWatch report.

UPDATE (May 21): The release of these emails under Freedom of Information followed reports last year (see related stories above) that ANU scientists had received death threats. Climate change sceptics have claimed that the released emails contradict suggestions that any death threats were received, but a spokesperson for the ANU says the university is standing by its claims that death threats were received. Questions have also been raised about whether one of the released emails did, in fact, constitute a threat to use a gun, with a person involved in the kangaroo culling program claiming the comments were made by him, and were in no way intended as a threat.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how you bear it. It is all so mind numbingly skewed. But thank you for keeping at them.


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