Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Update:A climate time lie: the saga continues

 COMMENT: We have received a reply from the ABC's Complaints Review Executive regarding our complaint about ABC's 'A journey through climate change history’ (see below0 . Not surprisingly the CRE have not upheld our complaint stating "Having reviewed the content, the complaint and the responses from A&CA, I consider that ABC editorial requirements were met." The review rested on use of section 7.4.1 that relies on a diversity of views across a platform, allowing single programs or articles to be as biased or unbalanced. It remains our contention that it is unfair to expect that readers of ‘A journey through climate change history’ would be familiar with the discussion that has taken place about Climate Change on the ABC. The presentation is a stand alone site. People new to the site would be significantly misled if the web presentation is not altered as it provides an un-balanced representation of the debate. Continued linkage to the ABC News page provides justification to consider the site under provision of Section 5-news content. CRE didn't address our complaint in detail, passing over the specific points raised. These included:

4. I understand 'A Journey through Climate History' is not intended as an exhaustive timeline of every single climatic event in Earth's history. I am advised that the Ordovician ice age was not included in the timeline due to its relative brevity, and not because of any 'inconvenient truth', as you suggest. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the omission of this ice age from the timeline was inconsistent with the ABC's editorial standards.

While “brief” the Ordovician Ice Age is of great significance in the current debate as the Ice Age is thought to have occurred at a time when CO2 levels were as high 4000 ppm. Its "relative brevity" is irrelevant and it should be included in the timeline to provide readers with a more balanced picture of the role of CO2 on climate. 

5b. Once again, as with point 4, it is relevant to note that it is not the intention of the website to provide an exhaustive timeline of all historical climatic events. I understand ABC Innovation considers that it was acceptable to include the most recent warm period, the Medieval Warm Period, and not include the Roman Warm Period. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe this omission was inconsistent with relevant editorial standards.

Roman Warm Period coincided with the height of the Roman Empire. This is as relevant than other historical events in the timeline.

6. We acknowledge that the placement of the Medieval Warm Period at 700 AD in the timeline was inaccurate and inconsistent with the event description, which refers to the period "between AD 800 1300". It has been moved to 800.

We also acknowledge that the statement in the entry, "the idea that it was a global phenomenon is now discredited and it is suspected that the average global temperature could have been slightly cooler than in the early 20th century" overstated the certainty of the current understanding of the Medieval Warm Period. The entry has been amended to reflect the current level of uncertainty as to whether the phenomenon was global, based on IPCC reports.

The timeline continues to promote references that bias one side of the debate of the extent of the Medieval Warm Period. Where are references that highlight the broad nature of warming during the Medieval Warm Period such as reference to CO2science's  Medieval Warm Period Project?

10. We do not believe it was necessary for the timeline entry on An Inconvenient Truth to mention the errors found in the Dimmock case in the UK. The entry described the film as "controversial", ensuring that users are aware that it was subject to controversy. It is relevant to note that a link was provided to the Wikipedia page about the film, which discusses the Dimmock case at some length. On review, we are satisfied that the entry was consistent with the editorial standard for accuracy.

Note the way The Great Global Warming Swindle is treated for comparison. ABC do not stop at merely mentioning it was controversial but go into great detail about the subsequent Ofcom inquiry. Any reasonable consideration of these two popular documentaries would treat them equally.

11. Once again, the timeline is not intended to be exhaustive and does not contain every climate-related event in human history. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the omission of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report to which you refer was inconsistent with relevant editorial standards.

Omissions are just as significant as inclusions. The overall impression is that the producers of the timeline are biased by not including mention of the NIPCC report. In the context of the history of Climate Change it is a significant development.

Significantly no one in the ABC has investigated the correspondence leading to the production of the presentation in the first place. Our own attempts to source these documents were prevented by draconian FOI legislation that exempts ABC from FOI requests for production material.  Still wondering if there is a brave whistle blower in ABC innovation willing to reveal the details of what went on.

We now explore the next avenue available to us the ABC Independent Complaints Review Panel (ICRP).  appointed by the ABC Board to review written complaints which relate to allegations of serious cases of factual inaccuracy, bias, lack of balance or unfair treatment arising from ABC content. We will let you the outcome.

The CRE reply is posted in full below:

A request for review was received on 18 February 2010 from a New South Wales user of abc.net.au who was dissatisfied with responses from Audience and Consumer Affairs (A&CA). It was acknowledged on 19 February with advice that the review would be completed by 18 March. This was delayed slightly as further correspondence occurred between the complainant and A&CA arising from his letter to this office.
‘A Journey through Climate History’ is produced by ABC Innovation and was first published on 8 December 2009 as part of a new environment portal. It is also linked to the ABC News site.
The complainant wrote on 16 December 2009 that the timeline was ‘riddled with errors’. He sent other emails on 10 January adding to the list of what he considered errors and on 24 January asking for the cost of producing the website. In summary the complainant raised 13 concerns about the content. A&CA completed their investigation and responded on 15 February with advice that the content was assessed against section 7 of ABC Editorial Policies applicable to topical and factual content. In part this requires that every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context. The response from A&CA confirmed seven inaccuracies and several spelling mistakes. The complainant was also advised that the ‘Journey’ was not intended to be an exhaustive timeline so it did not include every aspect of climate change.
In response to the complainant’s request for information on the cost of producing the website A&CA advised that they were not in a position to provide that information and pointed to the ABC’s Annual Report which
includes general expenditure details.

On 15 February the complainant wrote to this office seeking a review. As his letter also raised claims of bias that had not been included in the initial complaints about the website, the letter were referred back to A&CA which is standard practice.
A&CA then investigated the claims of bias and wrote on 18 March that requirements of Editorial Policy 7.4.1 were met. A&CA pointed out that a range of views on the topic had been presented by ABC Online. On 18 March the complainant advised that he also wanted his claims of bias reviewed. On 19 March the complainant wrote to this office basically repeating five points that he had made earlier to A&CA. He concluded:
In summary it is unfair to expect the users of ‘A journey through climate change history’ would be familiar with the wide ranging discussion that has taken place about Climate Change on the ABC. People new to the debate would be significantly misled if the web presentation is not altered . . .
Basis of Assessment
The ‘Journey through Climate History’ website is categorised by ABC Innovation as topical and factual content and required to meet standards set out in section 7 of ABC Editorial Policies. Given the complainant’s concerns about accuracy I have considered the matter against 7.4.2:
(a) Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context.
(b) The ABC will not hesitate to admit and correct a significant error when it is established that one has been made. When a correction is necessary, it will be made in an appropriate manner as soon as reasonably practicable.
As the complainant has also sought review of the A&CA response to his later claims of bias, I have considered this against 7.4.1.
The ABC is committed to impartiality: where topical and factual content deals with a matter of contention or public debate, a diversity of principal relevant perspectives should be demonstrated across a network or platform in an appropriate timeframe.
Through its topical and factual content the ABC reflects a wide range of audience interests and deals with specialist topics like science in a range of formats such as websites. In this case the content was produced by ABC Innovation, and although the website is linked to the ABC News site, the editorial standards for news and current affairs content do not apply.

I note that the response from A&CA, dated 15 February, acknowledged several inaccuracies and spelling mistakes on the website. Therefore there is no need for me to reconsider all the claims of inaccuracy. The response also explained that amendments had been made. ABC Innovation management
has confirmed that corrections to the website were made on 12 and 15 February.
I consider that the A&CA investigation of the content leading to the written confirmation of inaccuracies, and the modifications made to the website made by ABC Innovation, meet the requirements to admit errors and make corrections as detailed in 7.4.2(b).
I note the complainant’s argument that more material should have been included in the timeline. As mentioned earlier, the current ABC Editorial Policies approved by the ABC Board do not require balance in topical and
factual content. Rather the focus is on impartiality. As explained in 7.4.1 impartiality is demonstrated by the provision of a diversity of principal relevant perspectives about contentious matters across a platform in an
appropriate timeframe. However there is no requirement to present every viewpoint or treat them in the same way.
In this case the issue of climate change is clearly a matter of contention and public debate and the platform in question is abc.net.au. My research has found that the ABC’s website does present a diversity of principal relevant perspectives on climate history and therefore meets the requirement of 7.4.1.
I also note the complainant’s view that ‘omissions are just as significant a inclusions’ and his concern that some climate events were not included on the timeline. The introduction page on the website states:
‘The events that appear throughout the timeline are intended to introduce you to the greater scope of research and context that exists outside this summary. Please follow the links that are provided in the short descriptions of events, for further information. Whilst the ABC cannot guarantee the accuracy of information external to the timeline, we have endeavoured to provide accurate and relevant links wherever possible.
In my view the introduction makes it clear to the average reader that the timeline does not include every aspect of climate through history. It actually encourages users of ABC Online to do more research and read more widely.
In my view this is appropriate recognition that an expansive issue like the history of climate cannot be addressed in a single website.

Given the amount of material about climate available on the ABC website, I do not consider that readers are being misled, as argued by the complainant.
Having reviewed the content, the complaint and the responses from A&CA, I consider that ABC editorial requirements were met. Noting the findings of inaccuracy already advised by A&CA, this review does not find other aspects of the complaint to be upheld.

25 March 2010

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I like the concept, but there needs to be more temperature (and CO2) data on the timeline further back. And there needs to be more detail around the warming period in the last 10,000 years. It looks like it hasnt been added for some reason, and skeptics will grab onto that.


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