Thursday, July 29, 2010

ABC "screams" sensationalism in climate report coverage

Tea kettle with boiling water on black background Royalty Free Stock Photo
ABC HEADLINE: "Climate check-up 'screams world is warming'" by Lisa Millar posted News Online 29 July 2010. Based on the AM report 2009 one of the hottest years in Australia's history broadcast the same day. Also discussed on AM Breakfast under the banner "Global warming 'undeniable': US government report
Update-also covered on The World Today with the added gloss of "survey results"...Survey Says act now on emissions. Hmmm "survey results, Hmmm "Survey
AM, Radio national Breakfast, News Online, the World Today...almost a full house and not one  alternative view point on the significance of the rise!

ABC REPORTED: ABC covered the release of a recent US based report from the
US National Oceani
and Atmospheric Association that indicates the world has warmed. The ABC report(s) include the following statements:
"The list of last year's extreme weather events includes a flood in Brazil that left 376,000 people homeless, heavy rainfall in England that damaged 1,500 properties and three intense heat waves in Australia, one of them coinciding with the Victorian bushfires that killed 173 people." News Online
The scientists say the warming is due to greenhouse gases and while there were signs of human fingerprints, the report was not designed to attribute blame. AM
Maximum temperatures were generally above normal throughout Australia, adding up to the second hottest year since temperature started being record in 1910. News Online
It added up to the second hottest year since temperature started being record in 1910. AM

THE COMPLAINT: The signs of warming are undeniable, the world is warming. But so what, it has warmed by similar amounts in the recent past and at similar rates. Take the Medieval Warm Period as an example, or even the warm period in the 1930-1940s. There is no wonder that weather records are being broken when more and more weather stations are being affected by siting issues such as the Urban Heat Island effect or regional land use changes. 
This complaint has two parts, the first deals with a factual error,  the second with a lack of inquiry by ABC reporters. 

Factual Error-Section 5.2.2 (c): ABC state that temperature records started being recorded in 1910. This is incorrect the earliest weather observations date back the First Fleet and Australian Colonies maintained their own weather stations until the Bureau of Meteorology was established in 1908-refer to ABC report  BOM celebrates 100 years. Readings up to 1905 include Victoria's highest record temperature at Mildura in January 1906.
Lack of inquiry- section 5.2.2 (f) :
Once again ABC journalists show a lack of scepticism in dealing with climate news and ABC News has failed in its duty under section 5.2.2 (f) of its editorial policies, in not serving the public by throughly questioning information provided. Here are a few questions ABC reporters could have asked:

1. The list of extreme events looks quite devastating but what of earlier weather based catastrophes. What about the 1887 flood of the Huang He (Yellow) River in China that killed between 900,000 to 2,000,000, or the 1931 Huang He flood that killed an estimated 1,000,000 to 4,000,000?  What about droughts in India in 1900 that killed between 250,000 and 3.25 million, droughts in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s in which over 5 million perished from starvation? What about the 1936 heatwave to in the USA that killed 4000, or the remarkable storms that caused severe damage in Perth in 1905? Is the NOAA mixing up weather and climate? 
2. Global Ice:The NOAA's report states: During June 2010, the Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent reached its largest extent on record for June, 8.3 percent above the 1979–2000 average. This is the eighth consecutive June with above-average Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent. Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent for June has increased at an average rate of 1.4 percent per decade. Why is the extent of Antarctic sea ice at record levels when the world is at its warmest in 150 years?
3.  You say that warming is due to greenhouse gases but provide no evidence that this is the case. An alternate theory suggests the natural flux of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation may the cause of the recent warming. Would you care to explain why NOAA rule out the PDO and other natural factors to explain recent warming and why you focus on CO2?

OUTCOME: ABC reply received 22 September

Thank you for your email of 29 July.
In keeping with ABC complaint handling provisions, your concerns have been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the Corporation. Audience & Consumer Affairs has assessed the ABC News Online report “Climate check-up ‘screams world is warming’” and the AM report on which it was based, “2009 one of the hottest years in Australia’s History”, published and broadcast respectively on 29 July,  against the accuracy provisions for news and current affairs content outlined in Section 3.2 of the Code of Practice, which is available online at:
During the AM report, Lisa Millar reported that increasing maximum temperatures in Australian states and regions, “added up to the second hottest year since temperatures started being recorded in 1910”. Similarly, ABC Online stated that “Maximum temperatures were generally above normal throughout Australia, adding up to the second hottest year since temperature started being recorded in 1910”.
In the context of the reports, the statement regarding the date at which temperatures were first recorded was made with reference to maximum temperature increases. It was not intended to indicate the point at which ALL weather observations were first made in Australia, but rather to establish a frame of reference for its comparison of annual maximum temperatures in Australia. ABC News has confirmed that, according to the US National Climatic Data Centre’s representative, Deke Arndt,  “Dates such as this are more associated with the date at which temperature observing stations became widespread enough so that a meaningful national temperature could be constructed. Temperatures were certainly observed prior to this date, but too sparsely for nationwide value”. Further reference to widespread temperature observation from 1910 can be found on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s website at: 
Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the statement “... since temperature started being recorded in 1910” was accurate within the immediate context of maximum temperature recordings, and in keeping with the ABC’s standards for accuracy. In respect of your second complaint that ABC journalists failed to comply with Section 5.2.2(f) of the Editorial Policies, and with reference to the lines of inquiry suggested by you in your complaint, ABC News advises that “while there are scientists and other organisations who do not accept that man-made climate change is occurring, this story was not about that debate, but about the release of new research”. Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the decision to report these findings was based on news values, and that the coverage of these findings served the public interest.

Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been brought to the attention of News Management.

Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

COMMENT: The opposite of sceptic is unsceptic, or gullible. How can the public be confident in news reports provided by unsceptical journalists.


  1. Thanks for this. I heard it this morning on the radio and it really annoyed me. They think we are so gullible. Another example of an extreme weather event they could have included but of course didn't becuase it wouldn't fir their narrative: the extreme winter suffered by the northern hemisphere in December last year?

  2. Well done Marc. We've had a deluge of misinformation from Auntie today, almost impossible to keep up!


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