Friday, March 12, 2010

Cherry picking season or Chinese whispers: Was Chinese Climate official mis-quoted?

UPDATE 15/3/2010: The Australian's Cut and paste notice a problem-See HERE

ABC HEADLINE: "Climate change is a fact says China" News Online 11 March 2010. Associated reports on AM "China takes swipe at climate deniers" and on Radio Australia "Top Chinese official says climate change is fact"

ABC REPORTED: The ABC News Online report is a condensed version of a report on AM by reporter Stephen McDonell who interviewed Xie Zhenhua, deputy director, National Development and Reform Commission in the course of a group press conference held during the National People's Congress.
Reporting by the ABC appears to contradict coverage of the same event by Reuters in this piece: "China unsure on warming cause, to stick with CO2 cuts". A key statement by Xie Zhenhua is reported differently between the two news services, and questions arise as to whether the statement has been deliberately cherry picked or manipulated to skew the story in a particular direction.

The facts
In the AM report we hear a translation of Xie Zhenhua's answer to a question from AM's Stephen McDonell. The question was framed thus in the AM report:
"I asked the panel what they thought of the view that climate change had nothing to do with human activity and was in fact a natural phenomenon."

In the AM report Xie Zhenhua's answer to this question is preceded by the following statement: "Deputy director Xie answered that he believed that manmade climate change denial is, at best, a very marginal view."

In the AM report Xie Zhenhua is reported as saying the following in answer to McDonell (translated - by the ABC or Chinese officials?): "Climate change is a fact based on long-time observations by countries around the world. The mainstream view is that climate change is caused by burning of fossil fuel in the course of industrialisation. And there's a more extreme view which holds that human activity has only an imperceptible impact on the natural system."

The Reuters report however attributes the following statement to Xie Zhenhua (translated - by Reuters or other Chinese officials?): "There are still two different viewpoints in the scientific field about the cause of warming," Xie told a news conference on the sidelines of the annual session of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament. "At present, many people, or the most mainstream view, is that the combustion of large amounts of fossil fuel over the process of industrialisation caused an increase in greenhouse gases, which caused climate warming." "Another point of view holds that the main reason is changes in sunspots, or natural changes in the environment. There is an even more extreme point of view, that human influence on changes in nature can only be miniscule," he added.""

In addition to the apparent mis-quote, we note that Xie Zhenhua did not use the term "denial". This term appears to have been introduced into the report by the ABC reporter Stephen McDonell, or at a later stage by ABC editorial staff.

In the ABC ONLINE report the opening paragraph states:
"A deputy director of China's most powerful economic ministry has come out swinging against climate change denial."

THE COMPLAINT:Based on a comparison with the Reuter's report, these three ABC articles apparently  misrepresent the comments by Xie Zhenhua. Questions: 
1Can ABC please explain the apparent difference in reporting this press conference between the two news agencies, Reuters and ABC? 
2. Did the ABC correctly report statements by Xie Zhenhua? 
3. Did ABC reporter Stephen McDonell selectively quote the reply to his question, or was he privy to a response not provided to the Reuters correspondent? 
4. Why did the ABC omit the following statements attributed to Xie Zhenhua from its coverage: "There are still two different viewpoints in the scientific field about the cause of warming" and "Another point of view holds that the main reason is changes in sunspots, or natural changes in the environment." 
5. If the Reuters report is correct can the ABC amend its articles to include the complete quotation?
If the Reuters report is correct, ABC's various headlines and lead in sentences (such as "A deputy director of China's most powerful economic ministry has come out swinging against climate change denial.") are completely misleading. To further complicate matters at no time did Xie Zhenhua use the term "denial". It appears this is the ABC reporter's interpretation of Xie Zhenhua's comments.  Xie Zhenhua's comments are quite clear and there was no need to editorialise on the part of the ABC. 
6. Please amend all the articles to remove ABC's interpretation of Xie Zhenhua's comments, and correct headlines and lead in sentences.

ABC Ed Pol 5.2.2 (c)  Accuracy
ABC Ed Pol 5.2.2 (d) editorialising-misrepresents comments by Xie Zhenhua;
ABC Ed Pol 5.2.2 (e)  Balance
It is interesting that no other news report of this press conference has taken the same angle as the ABC:
The Atlantic
The Times of India
Wall Street Journal

OUTCOME: Pending

COMMENT: If this complaint is upheld we believe a deeper investigation, perhaps a Parliamentary Inquiry,  into ABC news coverage on climate change is more than warranted.
If readers can get more accurate coverage of news for free on the internet why do we need the ABC's news service?


  1. Nice work - you've got a new reader.

  2. I have relied on ABC for my news several times a day since 1958, including periods spent overseas through Radio Australia. I have been almost an unquestioning listener... until recently when the bias on the climate issue has become overwhelming. That bias has now become a cancer, spreading throughout all ABC media and programs. What a bloody shame!

  3. What a load of rubbish. It is clear what the Chinese guy believed. He only included the denialist appeasing qualification so as to appear "balanced".

  4. Great idea. I've been getting very concerned about the increasing bias.

  5. I thank the heavens that someone is doing this. Keep up the good work - it is important work.

  6. Thanks for the feedback. The amazing thing is that we only started the auditing in January. We now have many outstanding complaints waiting for a formal response from ABC audience and consumer affairs.

    If you see an error with ABC news please lodge a complaint through the ABC complaints page-

    Let us know how you go!

  7. Marc, there seems to be no way to send any information to you. Am I missing something?

  8. ABC News Watch: I have some Chinese friends who could translate the mandarin. Do you have a link to the original chinese Youtube?

  9. Allan,
    I don't have a link to an original on Youtube. It would certainly be interesting to have an independent translation.

    Contact at:
    littleskepticspress (at) gmail dot com

    Now updated in the profile


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