(Beware, this is a fairly long post.) In July ABC's Wendy Carlisle made a number of factual errors in a report
on Lord Christopher Monckton. We raised a complaint with the ABC over these. We also suggested that Ms Carlisle's objectivity was severely compromised due to her emotional entanglement with her subject, and as a result the report lacked balance. The following is a summary of our complaint and ABC's reply. Oddly it seems ABC's managing director has become directly involved and has chosen to employ "director's privilege" to avoid dealing with the factual errors in the broadcast. We are somewhat mystified that this matter required his attention, and it seems ABC have taken unusual steps to avoid admitting they are wrong. In owning up to their mistakes it seems ABC people will need to grow thicker skins.
In the broadcast we hear two claims made by Lord Monckton about aspects of climate science, about polar bears and about sea level rise. In attempting to refute these claims Ms Carlisle misrepresents the facts in both cases. As the claims made by Ms Carlisle are incorrect we expect ABC will apologise for the following statement made by Ms Carlisle in the report: "And the show continued like this for another 50 minutes, with Lord Monckton repeatedly misconstruing the scientific evidence."
Based on Ms Carlisle's errors it appears the opposite is true, and it is Ms Carlisle and the ABC who are guilty of misconstruing the scientific evidence.
ABC's editorial policy
in regard to accuracy and factual information is quite clear, factual errors require correction.
In regard to accuracy ABC states:
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
In regard to making corrections:
A commitment to accuracy includes a willingness to correct errors and clarify ambiguous or otherwise misleading information. Swift correction can reduce harmful reliance on inaccurate information, especially given content can be quickly, widely and permanently disseminated.
Corrections and clarifications can contribute to achieving fairness and impartiality.
3.1 Acknowledge and correct or clarify, in an appropriate manner as soon as reasonably practicable:
a). significant material errors that are readily apparent or have been demonstrated; or
b). information that is likely to significantly and materially mislead.
We have now passed this on to the ACMA for further action.
The complaint (sent 18/7/2011)
#1 Four Polar Bears drowned due to Global Warming
In the program Wendy Carlisle states:
The scientific paper Lord Monckton cites does not say that the polar bears drowned because of a big storm. The paper suggests that the polar bears most likely drowned because there was less sea ice for them to seek refuge on because of climate change, and that the drowned polar bears could be statistically significant.
This is what the paper in question states about the polar bear deaths in relation to climate change:Monnett, C., and J. S. Gleason, 2006. Observations of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. Polar Biology, 29, 681-687.
Although a number of published papers have discussed implications of climate change on polar bears (e.g., Stirling and Derocher 1993; Stirling et al. 1999;Norris et al. 2002; Stirling 2002; Derocher et al. 2004), to date, mortality due to swimming has not been identified as an associated risk. Evaluations of future population dynamics and the significance of sources of human-related and natural mortality in polar bears may need to consider this previously unidentified source of natural mortality which may be significant in some years (e.g., mild-ice or late-ice) and may become important in the future if Arctic pack ice continues to regress. from page 686.
While future deaths may be possible it is clear the paper does not claim the deaths in question were due to climate change but instead due to storms: Our observations suggest that polar bears swimming in open water near Kaktovik drowned during a period of high winds and correspondingly rough sea conditions between 10 and 13 September 2004. No other deleterious environmental conditions were present that might have led to the deaths of those polar bears. P.684
There is also the decision by a Justice of the UK High Court on this specific issue.
In a 2007 UK High Court case brought by Stuart Dimmock against the accuracy of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, Justice Burton concluded, after examining the film and scientific literature, that Gore committed nine counts of scientific inaccuracy.
On Polar bears he concludes:
Justice Burton: Mr Gore says: "A new scientific study shows that for the first time they are finding polar bears that have actually drowned swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find the ice. They did not find that before.” The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm. That is not to say that there may not in the future be drowning-related deaths of polar bears if the trend continues.
Factual error #2 Melting Greenland raising sea levels
Lord Monckton: “As Al Gore says in his movie that because of the melting of two ice sheets Greenland and the West Antarctic, sea level will rise by 20 feet imminently. But in fact, the IPCC says that because of those two ice fields the amount of contribution to sea level rise will be over the whole of the next 100 years 6 cm which is 2.5 inches, not 610 cm which is 20 feet. So there is a 100 fold exaggeration.”
Then Ms Carlisle comments:
Ms Carlisle: “On this occasion, …..Lord Monckton’s assertion that the UN’s Climate Change panel that the sea will rise by 6 cm this century is pure fiction, According to Chapter 5 of its report on sea levels the sea is expected to rise by between 20 and 50 cm this century”.
Al Gore alleged a sea level rise of 7 meters due just to the melting of Greenland and West Antarctic sheet. Lord Monckton’s retorts that from IPCC data, the expected contribution of sea level rise from melting of Greenland and West Antarctic sheet alone, works out to be only 6cm, therefore a 100 fold exaggeration. Ms Carlisle claims the IPCC AR4 report states a much higher sea level rise of 20 to 50cm, yes, but this figure is from all causes of sea level rise, namely thermal expansion (17-28 cm), the melting of glaciers and ice caps (10-12 cm), in addition to the loss of ice from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.
Climatology at University of Winnipeg
In discussion with Tim Ball Reporter Wendy Carlisle states: No, Background Briefing received that information from the university itself. In email correspondence, which we'll post on our website, the university says, 'there is not and never has been a department of climatology'
In fact the correspondence
spoke of a "program
" rather than a department. Ms Carlisle has misrepresented what was stated in the correspondence, we repeat below.
"Wendy. Dr. Ball was a Professor in our Geography Department until 1996. We have never had a Climatology program. Any correspondence the University may have had with Dr. Ball is confidential.
I trust this responds to your query. "
A search of the web archives reveals that U. Winnipeg Department of geography indeed offered the following "climatology" courses in 1999 which seems to contradict statements received from the University. Perhaps the ABC could have spent a little more time investigating this to clarify the facts to its audience.
PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY COURSES
2205/6 CLIMATOLOGY (Le3,La2) The course expands upon the information introduced in the climate half of Physical Geography 1200/6. The first half of the course will review and elaborate upon the global pattern and fundamental mechanisms of climate. The second half will examine meso- and microclimates, including topics such as bioclimatology, agroclimatology, urban climatology, and applied climatology. Students with standing in 2205/3 cannot receive credit for 2205/6. Prerequisite: 1200/6 or 1201/3 and 1202/3. Corequisite: Introductory Statistics advisable.
2206/3 WORLD CLIMATOLOGY (Le3) This course examines the fundamental mechanisms of macro-scale climates and surveys the distribution of climates across the surface of the Earth. Issues related to global climate change and modelling will be introduced. Prerequisite: 1200/6, or 23:1201/3 and 23:1202/3. Restrictions: Students with standing in 2205/6 cannot receive credit for 2206/3.
2207/3 PHYSICAL CLIMATOLOGY (Le3,La2) This course examines the micro-scale and meso-scale processes by which energy and mass are transferred between the Earth and the atmosphere. The spatio-temporal characteristics of these processes are used to study climates and climate variability. Applications in bioclimatology, agroclimatology, and urban climatology will be discussed. The labs provide an introduction to the use of computers in the analyses of climatological data and the modelling of climatic processes. Prerequisite: 23:2206/3. Restrictions: Students with standing in 2201/6 cannot receive credit for 2207/3
3206/3 SYNOPTIC CLIMATOLOGY (Le3) This course examines the relationship between atmospheric circulation systems (at the surface and in the upper atmosphere) and weather and climate at the surface. The nature of atmospheric circulation variability and teleconnections is discussed and used to explain climatic anomalies such as El Ninos, droughts, and floods. Prerequisite: 2210/3.
In the course of the program it was clear that reporter Wendy Carlisle felt she was being intimidated by crowds attending Lord Monckton's talks and protest rally's the resulting broadcast is hopelessly compromised as a result of Wendy Carlisle's emotional entanglement with her subject and as a result lacked balance and objectivity.
ABC's reply: 8/9/2011 (with some comments by me in bold )
Thank you for your emails regarding the edition of Background Briefing broadcast on Radio National on 17 and 19 July 2011. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.
Under section 2.2 of the ABC Complaints Handling Procedures the Managing Director, who is also Editor-in-Chief, can determine matters as he thinks fit (Ed. Why would the MD waste his time getting personally involved in a complaint???)
. In the case of the Background Briefing program to which you refer, the Managing Director took the view that the program was not an occasion for detailed enquiry into the science of climate change. (Ed Ms Carlisle, who is not a climate scientist, makes some specific claims about the science that are shown to be false, clearly it forms an important part of the report, and reflects on the lack of scientific credibility Ms Carlisle implies of Lord Monckton.)
It follows that it would be disproportionate for the handling of complaints received about the program to become such an occasion. (Ed there were two specific items raised, that ABC require to correct, hardly requires a "detailed enquiry".)
The program established that the current debate in Australia over a proposed carbon tax was the context for its look at the style of debating used by some opponents of the proposed tax. Lord Monckton's style was examined in conjunction with his then current speaking tour of Australia. Others whose approaches were referred to included the Galileo movement patron Alan Jones, David Archibald, Professor Timothy Ball, Dr Wes Allen and Professor Fred Singer. Criticisms by Lord Monckton of the film 'An Inconvenient Truth' by former US Vice President Al Gore were referred to in the course of examining Lord Monckton's technique (Ed. I can find only one very mild criticism of Al Gore made by the reporter " Yes, Al Gore did overstate his case")
. The program was not an assessment of the science of climate change, and it would be inappropriate for this response to embark on one. Nor was it appropriate to assess the program by reference to what it had omitted from amongst the many reactions to Al Gore's film. Those reactions have generated a vast amount of material. The program had a more specific focus than climate change per se.
You have criticised the Background Briefing reporter, Wendy Carlisle. The Managing Director concluded that she had not been unduly aggressive or hostile towards Lord Monckton (Ed. this was not suggested in the complaint)
. Her questioning of him had been persistent and firm, but it had also been civil. She had not described Lord Monckton in terms as robust as his description of her to a crowd as an 'appalling woman'. (Ed. and being described as an 'appalling woman' would not have influenced her report and affected her objectivity???)
The Managing Director considered that some of the language used in the program would not have been understood by the audience as being literally applicable, much in the same way that Lord Monckton's presentation style employs techniques which a reasonable person would not take literally. For example, when Lord Monckton ridicules Al Gore's Tennessean accent Lord Monckton is not to be taken literally as suggesting that a person's accent affects the merit of what they are arguing. When Lord Monckton's asserts, as he did to at least one crowd, that the ABC now represents hallmarks of fascism exhibited in Germany in the 1930s, reasonable people do not take him literally. (It is noted, however, that the ABC reported this harsh criticism, both in its news coverage and in Background Briefing.) (Ed this is not relevant the complaint)
The ABC does not have concerns about the fact that Background Briefing applied scrutiny to the styles of debate of those examined in the program. As a seasoned media performer, Lord Monckton would reasonably expect media scrutiny. He also received opportunities to put his perspective on various ABC platforms during his recent Australian visit, as he did on his 2010 visit. On ABC television on 30 June Lateline covered the beginning of his tour. Lord Monckton's debate with Richard Dennis at the National Press Club was broadcast by ABC TV on 19 July. Lord Monckton appeared on ABC local radio in at least Sydney, Brisbane and in the Riverina, and there was considerable coverage online.(Ed this is not relevant the complaint)
In relation to the various references by Al Gore, Lord Monckton and Background Briefing to the issue of drowned polar bears, the Managing Director did not regard it as proportionate in the circumstances to go into the detail. Noting that specialist literature is open to varying interpretations by specialists and non-specialists, and that - both in public presentations such as Lord Monckton's and in journalism such as Background Briefing - specialist literature must necessarily be tightly compressed, the Managing Director concluded that the program did not breach the accuracy standard in the ABC Code of Practice (http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/documents/codeofpractice2011.pdf
). (Ed See above, the specific commentary by Ms Carlisle is demonstrably false-it appears ABC just can't stand admitting they are wrong!)
On the issue of sea level rise, the Managing Director concluded that the difference between Lord Monckton's account of Al Gore's treatment of the matter and the program's account was one of degree. Both thought Al Gore had overstated his case. Their different calculations of the degree to which he had done so were based on different readings of work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in 2007. The Managing Director concluded that the program acted reasonably in citing the IPCC in the way it did. The program and responses to it were not the occasion for an enquiry into the detail of varying interpretations of predictions about sea level rises over the next 100 years and it would be disproportionate to embark on such an enquiry in this context. (Ed what utter rubbish. Ms Carlisle asserts that Lord Monckton's interpretation is "pure fiction", when the opposite is true. )
The Managing Director concluded that there was, in the context of this matter, little to be gained from attempting to distinguish shades of meaning between the terms climatology 'department' and climatology 'program' in relation to the uses of those terms by the program, Dr Timothy Ball and the University of Winnipeg. The program acted reasonably in checking directly with the University of Winnipeg. (Ed. The facts are that climatology was taught by Prof Bell at the University of Winnipeg, a fact that is not made clear in the ABC report, which then unduly discredits Prof. Ball's reputation. In this context there is little doubt he would have been regarded at least informally as the Professor of Climatology.)
Your related email of 23 July asks for an explanation as to why one of the comments you posted to the Background Briefing message board was not published. This matter has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs and in doing so we sought feedback from Radio.
I note that the comment in question was as follows:
'Jo Nova, deconstructs Wendy Carlisle amateur journalism...see http://joannenova.com.au/2011/07/this-is-not-journalism-wendy-carlisle/
"It's not reporting. It's disguised PR. When Carlisle had evidence the skeptics have no financial interest and that this is a genuine grassroots movement she withheld it. When she had the chance to add in spurious slurs against distantly connected people she took every opportunity. She could have written about the science, but chose not too. The devastating missing hot spot argument was put to her five times, and the list of peer reviewed papers was sent to her (at her request), but at the end of it all she said "you don't use much peer reviewed science".
Radio advise that '...the moderator made a judgement on the run about repetition on a comments board that was swelling fast with submissions, as she's perfectly entitled to do'. In the words of the moderator: 'Four days after the program went to air, we had had many criticising Wendy along these lines (and many praising her) and they were starting to get repetitive'.
The ABC's Conditions of Use (http://www.abc.net.au/conditions.htm
) state that a contribution may be rejected on this basis. They state:
'4.3 All material published on the ABC's interactive services is at the ABC's sole discretion.
4.4 Your contribution may be edited, removed or not published if the ABC considers it to be: [...]
4.4.5 inappropriate, off topic, repetitive or vexatious. For example the ABC reserves the right to reject contributions that have been widely canvassed in the forum. It also reserves the right to reject contributions from participants who seek to dominate the discussion;'
By way of background, the moderation of message boards must comply with the principles and standards for editorial practice set out in the ABC's Editorial Policies. Of particular relevance, Section 9 of the Policies covers public access and participation and it is outlined in the principles for this section that:
"The ABC may establish conditions for participation with which participants are expected to comply, such as the ABC's Conditions of Use relating to users' interactivity on abc.net.au
. The ABC will exercise appropriate oversight over participants' contributions, for example through appropriate moderation of its interactive services."
On review of the message board, we note that there were a significant number of posts to the board prior to 20 July which were critical of the program and of the reporter, Wendy Carlisle's approach. A number of posts by that time had also been in support of Jo Nova and had included links to Jo Nova's website, albeit not to the particular page that you submitted. (Ed. So it was not a repetition, it was an important link to criticism of the program from someone featured on it. I would have thought ABC's audience would have benefited from such inside knowledge, and alternate viewpoints...apparently not).
In any event I am of the view that it was acceptable for the moderator to reject your post in this instance under the Conditions of Use for the reason she offered. (Ed. No fresh air allowed in ABC's Groupthink echo chamber)
Furthermore on review of the message board, and for the reasons outlined above, I am satisfied that the moderation complied with other relevant editorial requirements as follows.
"4.5 Do not unduly favour one perspective over another."
"9.2 Opportunities to participate must be administered fairly and respectfully."
Should you be dissatisfied with the ABC's response to those elements of your complaint which related to the broadcast of Background Briefing and its compliance with the ABC Code of Practice, you may be able to refer your complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority - www.acma.gov.au
. (Ed and we have done so)
Head, Audience and Consumer Affairs