Saturday, March 27, 2010

UPDATE: ABC scratch the surface of AGU censorship story

COMMENT: ABC appear to have listened to our request for coverage of allegations of censorship and scientific malfeasance levied against the American Geophysical Union by a group of authors whose paper was rejected by editors of the AGU journal, Geophysical Research Letters. Their reports on News online "Climate 'deniers' accuse journal of censorship" and PM "Censorship or professional publication? Another round in climate science wars"were by environment reporter Sarah Clarke.

The reports provided both sides with an opportunity to air their views, but unfortunately they barely scratch the surface, leaving many questions unanswered.We assume for instance that an attempt was made to solicit comment from the editors of the Journal in question but no mention of this is made in the reports. Similarly Sarah Clark appears to have missed the opportunity to question researcher Kevin Trenberth about his statement:
"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." that appeared in emails allegedly leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Reporter Clark could have also further explored Trenberth's claims of 'Denialism' that feature prominently, providing a headline for the ABC online report. Is Trenberth suggesting authors Mclean et al are denying climate change? (The journal article at the centre of the debate appears to agree that the climate is changing.) Or are they simply disagreeing with Trenberth's views on the significance and main cause of warming? Or is this simply evidence of petty namecalling on the part of Trenberth? If so it is sad to see the story focus so heavily on this attack, rather than explore the scientific claims in more detail.

News reporting is more than simple superficial broadcasting of a conversation. It's about asking the tough questions, about investigation, about  research about lifting the lid. In a piece for Sunday Profile in 2006 investigative journalist Chris Masters was asked if ABC still have the money, the freedom and the guts to undertaken investigative journalism. He responded "I don't think so". It seems nothing has changed since 2006.

Chris Masters In Private publication 
In the foreword to your book Inside Story 15 years ago, your then Executive Producer, Jonathan Holmes wrote, “It would be nice to think that young men and women could aspire to a career in the ABC which will take them to the heights of investigative journalism. I only wish I could be certain that in 20 years or 10 the ABC will still have the money, the freedom and the guts to let them do it.” This was a somewhat gloomy assessment of the future but somewhere between 10 and 20 years have now passed, does the ABC still have the money, the freedom and the guts to let them do it?

I don’t think so.

Why, what’s happened?

But I mean, I hope I’m wrong. I think a lot of this is organic. No matter how hard you might try to pressure the ABC there’ll be good people that will manage to do a good job as long as they see what the stories are and it’s not actually all about money as well we know at the ABC where in news and current affairs our budgets are a lot smaller than they are with our commercial competitors. So I absolutely hope I’m wrong about that and I also recognise that we’re just so naturally pessimistic in news and current affairs. We always think that it was better yesterday and we sometimes forget that there are lots of things that are far more better and I think that even when Four Corners was doing much bigger programs in the 1980’s it’s a smarter sharper program now than it ever was in the 1980’s.

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