Friday, June 4, 2010

Mt Everest melting! But who says it's so?

Updated 2/8/2010- see outcome below
ABC HEADLINE: "Melting ice making Everest climbs dangerous" posted online 2 June 2010
ABC REPORTED: ABC condensed a BBC news report (Sherpas warn ice melt is making Everest 'dangerous') that suggested that "a rise in the rate of snow and ice melt on Mount Everest has exposed bare rock faces and made it dangerous to climb." Both the ABC and BBC stories reported that "Studies show temperatures are rising faster at Mount Everest than in the rest of South Asia." No details of which "studies" demonstrated this was provided in either report.
THE COMPLAINT: ABC (and BBC) fail to indicate a crucial part of the story: the source of the studies that demonstrate "temperatures are rising faster at Mount Everest than in the rest of South Asia." Without credible, checkable source this story amounts to unsubstantiated rumour. Can ABC please provide a reference to the study quoted?
Received 2 August, 2010-see update posted in early August
Thank you for your email of 3 June concerning the ABC News Online article “Melting ice making Everest climbs dangerous”, published the previous day. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.

In keeping with ABC complaint handling procedures, your concerns have been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit separate to and independent from ABC program areas. In light of your concerns, we have assessed the sentence of the article to which you refer against the ABC’s editorial requirement for accuracy in news and current affairs content, as outlined in section 5.2.2(c) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.

ABC News have advised that the story in question was taken from BBC copy and was written with radio news bulletins in mind. ABC News Online uses copy from radio news bulletins as a key source which explains why some stories, such as this one, are quite short and report only the key points of the story. It is also important to note that news stories differ in content and style from academic publications which use references and footnotes, and we do not agree a story must necessarily mention the details on which statements are based or that the absence of such information renders the story an “unsubstantiated rumour”.

The ABC’s editorial provision for accuracy requires “every reasonable effort, in the circumstances” must be made to ensure accuracy of factual content. In this case, the story was sourced from the BBC, which we regard as a reputable source of news material. The only changes made to the story by the ABC were editing for length given, as noted above, it was being written for radio news bulletins. Having considered the focus, length and source of the story in question, Audience and Consumer Affairs believe no further efforts were required at the time of publication to meet section 5.2.2(c)(i) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. 

On receipt of your complaint, we have investigated whether it could be established that a significant error had been made that warranted correction, as required by section 5.2.2(c)(ii) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. Audience and Consumer Affairs note that studies do appear to show temperatures are rising faster at Mount Everest than in the rest of South Asia, as illustrated in Table 10.2 of the Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 In view of this, we are unable to conclude that a significant error has been made which warrants correction. However, should you have specific further information which you feel is relevant to our decision on this point, we would be happy to consider it.

Accordingly, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the story was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial requirement for accuracy in news and current affairs content. Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been brought to the attention of ABC News management.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with us, and for your interest in the ABC. For your reference, a copy of the ABC Code of Practice is available at:

Yours sincerely
Head, Audience & Consumer Affairs
COMMENT:We have also written to the BBC with a request for the details of this study. 

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