Tuesday, April 3, 2012

ACMA finding on the Lord Monckton Roadshow

ACMA have (finally) sent us their report into our complaint about ABC's broadcast The Lord Monckton Roadshow. The full report should be available soon from the ACMA website (probably HERE). I'll update the link when it appears.
Report now up...download from HERE.
Here's the summary:

In relation to the broadcast of Background Briefing - The Lord Monckton Roadshow on 17 July 2011, the ABC: 
~ did not breach Standards 2.1 and 2.2 of the ABC Code of Practice 2011; and 
did not breach Standards 4.1 of the ABC Code of Practice 2011.

The first section of the report to page 8 (out of 22) dealing with Polar Bear issues is provided below, cut and pasted from the PDF-(there may be a few transcription errors). We note there is no mention or comment by ACMA whatsoever of the findings we raised of 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.

Seems that we are all climate scientists now, judges, former politicians, journalists and arbitrators of the media included. Post modernism rules supreme. I'll endeavour to provide a more detailed commentary in the next few days.  I'm so looking forward to Background Briefing's broadcast of the "The Al Gore Roadshow" next time he pays a visit.

The complaint

On 8 September 2011, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the  ACMA) received a complaint concerning the program, Background Briefing - The Lord Monckton Roadshow broadcast on 17 July 2011 on radio station 2RN - ABC Radio National.
The complainant alleged that the broadcast made inaccurate allegations relating to Lord Monckton and other climate change sceptics; and ‘lacked balance and objectivity’.
The complainant was not satisfied with the response received from the ABC and referred the matter to the ACMA for consideration.
The Complaint; the ABC's response; and the complainants referral to the ACMA, are set out at Attachment A.
The complaint has been investigated in accordance with standards 2.1 (factual accuracy), 2.2 (misleading factual content), 4.1 (impartial presentation of news and information) of the ABC Code of Practice 2011 (the Code).

The program 

Background Briefing is a 1 hour current affairs program broadcast on Sundays at 8 am on ABC Radio National (2RN). The program is described on the station website as follows:

Radio National's agenda-setting current affairs radio documentary program. It varies from 
week to week in style and content, sometimes doing straight investigative journalism, 
sometimes exploring important ideas or social issues in on-the-road documentary style. 
You will  profiles of politicians, analysis of behind-the-scenes issues that shape 
society, and sometimes an exploration of an idea - or perhaps a murder. Many 
Background Briefing program makers are senior journalists, several of whom have won 
major awards. Many others come through the unit to make just one or two programs. 

The Lord Monckton Roadshow broadcast on 17 July reported on the Australian tour of well-known climate change sceptìc Lord Monckton between 4 and 22 July 2011, in the wake of the Australian Federal Government’s announcement of details of the proposed carbon tax. The broadcast was reported by ABC reporter Wendy Carlisle, and largely dealt with the debating tactics of Lord Monckton in delivering a series of talks on climate change issues including an address to an anti carbon tax rally.

The station website contains the following description:
The Scottish peer Lord Monckton has been raising hell against the carbon tax in barnstorming rallies and public meetings around the country. But just who is Lord Monckton and who are the forces behind him? Chief amongst them a mysterious group called the Galileo Movement and mining magnate and now media player Gina Rinehart. 
Reporter Wendy Carlisle.

The broadcast included the viewpoints from the following speakers:
Lord Christopher Monckton - British politician and climate change sceptic.
Mr Case Smit- Galileo Movement co-founder, introduced in the program as ‘the Noosa retiree who organised the first [Lord Monckton Australian] tour.
Professor Naomi Oreskes - introduced in the program as a ‘former exploration geologist with Western Mining Corporation'.
Mr Alan Jones [Archival]  2GB Radio talkback presenter.
Ms Joanne Nova - Australian science presenter, writer, speaker, and author of The Skeptic’s Handbook.
Mr Malcolm Roberts - Engineer- Introduces Lord Monckton at the rally.
Mr David Archibald - Australian based scientist and climate change sceptic.
Professor Timothy Ball [archival in interview with Alan Jones] - Climate scientist
Mr Wes Allen - introduced in the program as a ‘GP from the Tweed Shire’ and ‘climate change sceptic' referred to the ABC for interview by a representative of the Galileo movement.
Ms Wendy Carlisle - ABC Journalist.
Comments from the crowd at the anti carbon tax rally
A full transcript of the 50 minute broadcast can be found at:  http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/the-lord-monckton-roadshow/2923400 , extracts of which are referred to in the report where relevant.


The assessment is based on:
Audio recording of the broadcast of 17 July 2011 provided by the ABC;
Submissions provided by the ABC and the complainant;
Article entitled Observation of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea - Charles Monnett - Jeffrey S. Gleason - Provided to the ACMA by the Complainant on 6 l\/larch 2012; and
The publication /PCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis - Chapter 5 page 409 (available at

Other sources consulted are identified where relevant.

‘Ordinary, reasonable’ listener test

In assessing content against the Code, the ACMA considers the meaning conveyed by the relevant material. This is assessed according to the understanding of an ‘ordinary, reasonable' listener.  Australian Courts have considered an ‘ordinary, reasonable’ reader (or listener or viewer) to be:
A person of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. That person does not live in an ivory tower, but can and does read between the lines in the light of that person’s general knowledge and experience of worldly affairs“.

The ACMA considers the natural, ordinary meaning of the language, context, tenor, tone, inferences that may be drawn, and in the case of factual material, relevant omissions (if any).

Once this test has been applied to ascertain the meaning of the broadcast material, it is for the ACMA to determine whether there has been a breach of the Code.

Issue 1: Accuracy 

Relevant provision
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.

ABC submission 

In addition to the correspondence between the ABC and the complainant, the ABC made further submissions received by the ACMA on 14 November 201  These are set out at Attachment B.


The ABC did not breach standards 2.1 and 2.2 of the Code.


In determining whether or not a statement or material complained of was compliant with the ABC’s obligations under Standards 2.1 and 2.2 ofthe Code, the ACMA generally has regard to the considerations set out at Attachment C.

The broadcast was about Lord Monckton’s tour of Australia in 2011 and the key focus of it (as described on the ABC website) was how ‘he is raising hell against the carbon tax in barnstorming rallies and public meetings around the country’.
The ABC in its submissions (refer Attachment B) described the program’s context to be ‘the debating style used by some opponents of the Federal Governments proposed carbon tax, in particular Lord Monckton’s style’. It added:
The substance [of the program] was not the science of climate change per se. Having regard to the criteria (listed in section 2.6 of the Procedures), the Managing Director took the view that neither this particular Background Briefing program nor complaints arising from it were occasions for detailed enquiry into the science of climate change.
Although the context of the program was the debating style of Lord Monckton, it contained a number of factual assertions about his and others’ approach to climate science and the carbon tax.
The complainant alleges that the following statements were incorrect:

Statement 1 

The first factual error alleged by the complainant was the statement:
The scientific paper Lord Monckton cites does not say that the polar bears drowned because of a big storm. 
The segment replayed a part of Lord Monckton’s speech at the rally during which he referred to a film made by Al Gore entitled ‘An inconvenient Truth’. Lord Monckton alleged that Al Gore, during that film, wrongly cited a particular scientific paper:
Well here are the polar bears we mentioned earlier, and Gore for once actually cites a scientific paper. He cites it wrong, of course, but he does cite it. And what he says is a scientific study shows for the first time they’re finding polar bears that have drowned swimming long distances to  the ice. And so here is the actual map from the paper.
Four dead polar bears,... And what have we got, in fact? Four dead polar bears. Did any of these polar bears, according to the paper he was quoting, die because they were trying to find the ice...’? No. They died because there was a big storm with high winds and high waves, and they got swamped.

The reporter then said:
The scientitic 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. The paper goes on to say ‘We further suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack-ice and/or longer open water periods continues’.

The complaint, as the ACMA understands it, is that Lord Monckton correctly cited that paper
In the ABC’s response to the complainant (refer Attachment A), it argued:
ln 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 non­specia|ists, and that both in public presentations such as Lord Monckton’s and in journalism such as Background briefing - specialist literature must necessarily by tightly compressed, the Managing Director
concluded that the program did not breach the accuracy standard in the ABC Code of Practice.

The ACMA considers that the ordinary, reasonable listener would have understood the relevant statement as a statement of fact - it was an inference of a factual nature, reasoned from observed facts. The language, tenor and tone used are unequivocal and conclusive.

Although climate change is a contentious subject, the clear message was that Lord Monckton isrepresented, or inaccurately cited, a published scientific finding.

The ACMA has assessed the statement against standard 2.1 of the Code, taking into account the relevant article.

The context of the article is clear from the Abstract which refers to the polar bears having ‘presumably’ rowned and speculates that mortalities were due to off-shore swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years, given the energetic demand placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming. It also suggests that drowning related deaths may increase if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or
longer open water periods continues.

Under the heading ‘Discussion’ the paper contains the following [Emphasis added by the  ACMA]
To our knowledge we report here the first observations of polar bears floating dead offshore and presumed drowned while making apparent long-distance movements in open water. Polar bears are considered strong swimmers but they have rarely been observed swimming far from ice or land.

The discussion continues with: Our observations suggest that polar bears swimming in open water near Kaktovik drowned during a period of high winds and correspondingly rough sea conditions ...no other deleterious environmental conditions were present that might have led to the deaths of those polar bears.

It noted that ‘if data [the four deaths] are simply spatially extrapolated, bear deaths during a period of high winds in 2004 may have been significant’.
And then it stated:
High mortality in 2004 was more likely related to extreme and metabolically demanding conditions, such as high sea states associated with stormy weather. As previously discussed, there is some indication that such conditions may become more common in the future Open water conditions where ice is virtually absent in August and September are expected to increase if Arctic air temperatures continue to rise... and thus swimming polar bears would be more at risk of encountering unfavourable conditions (i.e. high sea states and increased winds). Presumably, in the future, more time and energy will be allocated to swimming due to increased distances among floes... 
Our count of dead polar bears related to the 2004 windstorm almost certainly represents an underestimate of the actual number of the polar bears affected. Swimming and floating polar bears are difficult to see from the survey’s standard 457 m altitude even under ideal conditions. Also, some bears that drowned may have sunk or drifted outside the study area. 

Other bears may have suffered sublethal effects and later succumbed due to exhaustion or inspiration of sea water as a result of swimming long distances in rough seas.

It concludes:
Minimizing and discouraging anthropogenic effects that encourage bears to remain or aggregate on shore as annual shorefast ice melts and pack ice recedes could ultimately reduce the risk of drowning. 

The content of the article was scientific in nature using detail and terms that would not easily be absorbed by a reader with no scientific background. Without adjudicating on the science and the conclusions of the study, in the  view, the relevant paper contained findings that could have led to either of the interpretations at dispute. The ABC itself submitted ‘specialist literature is open to varying interpretations by specialists
and non-specialists...’

The article does discuss the storms referred to by Lord l\/lonckton, which is consistent with some of his remarks but it does not suggest that the bears drowned because they ‘got swamped’, or were overwhelmed by storm water, as he inferred. Rather they died from exhaustion due to the extra exertion of swimming in turbulent seas and for longer distances.

However, consistent with Al Gore and the reporter’s statements, the article notes that such deaths will be likely to increase in the future due to the regression of ice.

ln light of this, and given the ABC was aware of the possibility of varying interpretations, it was not accurate to state, unequivocally, that the ‘paper did not say that the polar bears died because of a storm’. lt might have been more accurate for the reporter to have said that the paper did not say the polar bears died because they got swamped in a storm.

However, given that the article was, on the Whole, concerned with the likely increase of polar bear deaths because of the impact of receding ice caused by global Warming, the  ACMA is satisfied that the material facts were accurate and presented in context.

As outlined abovelv the context of the program is the debating style of Climate change sceptics, and the ordinary, reasonable listener would have understood the message of the statement to be that Lord Monckton misrepresented, or inaccurately cited, a published scientific finding. Contextually, it would have been apparent to the ordinary, reasonable listener that part of the nature of Lord Monckton’s debating style was to use the ambiguity of the literature to his benefit so as to discredit Al Gore, and create doubt.

ln all the circumstances, the ACMA is not satisfied that the fact was material in this context or would have been materially misleading.
Accordingly, the ABC did not breach standards 2.1 and 2.2 of the Code in relation to this statement.

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