TGGWS again: oh lordy

Prefix: you may have read the leaks about this in the Grauniad: “Channel 4 to be censured over controversial climate film” seems a fair comment on the fairness ruling. But are they right about the accuracy aspect? That will need another post. Meanwhile, thanks to Dave Rado for pushing all this, and have a look at http://www.ofcomswindlecomplaint.net/. Ofcom officially available from http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/obb/prog_cb/obb114/issue114.pdf.

If you have any sense, you’ve probably forgotten the late and unlamented The Great Global Warming Swindle (and many other points in the blogosphere). But people complained to OfCom about how cr*p the prog was, and the long slow OfCom process has now produced some rulings. To me the process seems rather like the Scott report: designed to bury the interesting information as deep as possible in mounds of verbiage. But reading through, we get…


There are three “fairness” reports, and one “accuracy”. The fairness ends up with: David King: upheld. IPCC: partially. Wunsch: partially. So lets have a look:

The King one is based around Singer saying the chief scientist of the UK telling people that by the end of the century the only habitable place on the earth will be the Antarctic. This is a simple cock-up: the text is close to something said by Lovelock in one of his madder moments, though Lovelock said the Arctic. Thats about it really; you can read the ruling for a whole pile of unedifying wriggling by C4 about who might be considered the “chief scientist”, and that they had only bothered to read newspaper reports of what he had said rather than the things themselves. C4 should just have admitted they, or Singer, had got confused and not troubled to do their research properly.

Wunsch: three parts: that he was mislead about the nature of the prog he was contributing to (upheld); that his comments had been edited to make it sound like he agreed (upheld); and that his comments about CO2 had been misinterpreted (not). My recollection is that his comments had had to be so strongly edited to fit the progs framework that they were largely incomprehensible. The core of the finding is then The Committee did not consider that the editing of the programme presented Professor Wunsch as denying that global warming is taking place. However it noted that the programme included his edited interview in the context of a range of scientists who denied the scientific consensus about the anthropogenic causes of global warming. In the Committee’s view Professor Wunsch made clear in his full unedited interview that he largely accepted this consensus and the seriousness of the threat of global warming (albeit with caveats about proof) and therefore found that the presentation of Professor Wunsch’s views, within the wider context of the programme, resulted in unfairness to him. Just as before, C4 wriggles about this and has no shame. As for the CO2 bit, I think the committee got it wrong, because they have confused reservoirs and sources. If you’re paying close attention, Wunsch is made to look like he is agreeing with But the biggest source of CO2 by far is the oceans. when he doesn’t.

IPCC. Many bits: that IPCC was politically driven was found to be unfair. So thats nice. That the IPCC ’90 had predicted “climate disaster” was found not to be unfair, on the grounds that a speech by Thatcher (that may have been vetted by Houghton) might be regarded as predicting disaster, by some lose definitions of the terms. Thats not good, but does show the rather high barrier to getting a complaint accepted. All the qualifying language used by ’90 is ignored, and IPCC is judged by a politicians speech. Malaria (upheld): not my thing. Reiter (upheld): more interesting, from a muck-raking perspective, and it casts some light on his famous “resignation”: there was no written documentation to confirm that Professor Reiter had resigned from the IPCC or that it had been necessary for him to threaten legal action to have his name removed from the IPCC’s list. C4′s defence on this point appears to be that no-one in fact had been able to disprove the claims that Professor Reiter made in the programme. – which is obviously meaningless. Seitz in the WSJ. Again, upheld.

Overall: C4 gets stuffed on this one, with most of the complaints upheld. The broadcaster has been directed to broadcast a summary of this Adjudication which will be an interesting trick to pull off fairly, not that they are likely to try. I guess “summary” is best interpreted as page 1 of the three adjudications.

BTW, its worth noting that It made significant allegations about XXX but failed to offer XXX a timely and appropriate opportunity to respond. means rather more than it appears to say. A literal reading gives the impression that the only flaw was the failure to give any chance or reply. But what it actually means is that they have found that the allegations were invalid.

Postfix: JA comments much the same but with different emphasis. His point that its 0-1 against the code is one I agree with.

Comments

  1. #1 Dean Morrison
    2008/07/21

    Much of the media is reporting this as victory for Channel 4 in that it did not ‘materially mislead’ the public.

    However what the ruling actually says is this:

    In dealing with these complaints therefore Ofcom had to ascertain – not whether the programme was accurate – but whether it materially misled the audience with the result that harm and/or offence was likely to be caused. It is not within Ofcom’s remit or ability in this case as the regulator of the ‘communications industry’ to establish or seek to adjudicate on ‘facts’ such as whether global warming is a man-made phenomenon, nor is Ofcom able to reach conclusions about the validity of any particular scientific theories.

    They reach no conclusion about whether the viewers were misled or not – just whether any misleading was intended to cause ‘harm or offence’.

    Given Durkin’s track record of causing harm and offence – which Ofcom ought to have been able to check by a look at their own records – then I would have thought that would have been an easy one to sort out.

  2. #2 Dean Morrison
    2008/07/21

    Channel 4 seem to be in overdrive to try to claim victory from this wreckage – even suggesting that OFCOM ruled that the factual charges against them were groundless (OFCOM simply decided not to rule on such matters).

    Most ‘spin free’ reporting I’ve seen so far has been from the BBC:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7517509.stm

  3. #3 Douglas Coker
    2008/07/21

    I’ve obviously got no sense but am incensed that the OFCOM investigation can be represented as saying that TGGWS “did not mislead viewers”.

    The BBC’s Radio 4 World at One had Brian Hanrahan conducting a pretty soft interview with Hamish Mykura, Head of Documentaries at C4, who commissioned TGGWS. He was able to take the opportunity to say the programme “didn’t mislead” was “not factually inaccurate” and C4 were “right to broadcast” more than once. He sounded delighted.

    Listen again here http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/wato/

    Oh dear.

    Douglas Coker
    Enfield Green Party

  4. #4 CobblyWorlds
    2008/07/21

    And the moral of the story is: Don’t trust Channel 4 documentaries, unless you already know the subject inside and out (in which case a TV documentary won’t teach you anything), you won’t know if they’re distorting the facts.

    Mmmm, actually, that probably applies to much of the media.

    Channel 4 News might be worth a watch tonight.

    Dave Rado’s piece at the BBC is well worth reading: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7517444.stm

  5. #5 Dean Morrison
    2008/07/21

    I’ve written to OFCOM today about Mykura’s misrepresentation of their ruling, and also provided evidence that the ‘leak’ of the ruling over the weekend came from Channel 4 as an attempt to frame the debate. Actually it’s not too hard to pinpoint the source – several people may have had access to the ruling – but who else knows what Channel 4 executives are thinking? :

    “But it is understood that Channel 4 will still claim victory because the ultimate verdict on a separate complaint about accuracy, which contained 131 specific points and ran to 270 pages, will find that it did not breach the regulator’s broadcasting code and did not materially mislead viewers.

    The detail of the ruling is expected to criticise Channel 4 over some aspects of the controversial programme, made by the director Martin Durkin, but executives will argue that the key test of whether or not it was right to broadcast the programme has been passed.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jul/19/channel4.climatechange

    Since complainants were under strict embargo, this was very naughty of them indeed.

  6. #6 Hugh
    2008/07/21

    Hmmm…

    I’m not sure if I should admit this but I wrote to Ofcom last week to complain about a certain popular motoring programme (which is currently broadcast on BBC2 on a Sunday evening).

    To give them their due they did turn the complaint around within 5 days (which did impress me). However, it was pretty clear that although the signature on the polite letter was genuine, they were pretty used to dealing with complaints about that particular “established specialist programme catering for car enthusiasts”. The notice that my complaint had not been upheld was clearly a template as contrary to what the letter says…I was not complaining that the prog “irresponsibly advocated speeding”

    You don’t actually need to drive fast to drive dangerously and I never mentioned the ‘S’ word once.

    Probably sounding like an old fart I thought my complaint fitted perfectly into the definition of ‘a breach’ in the broadcasting code. The ‘piece’ ‘apparently’ (repeatedly) showed an example of driving on the public road that was nothing other than ‘dangerous’. However, just dangerous isn’t enough. The content must also be likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour.

    It seems the slipperiness of Ofcom’s decision parameters leave a little to be desired in the ‘entertainment’ categories as well as in documentaries

    Sorry, just wanted to get that off my chest

  7. #7 Nathan Rive
    2008/07/21

    The remarkable thing about the Ofcom decision is their convenient use of loophole tactics. First, they say they only need to judge whether the programme was “harmful or offensive”, not actually misleading. This is not according to the Broadcasting Code itself, but in some guidance material. Secondly, they seem to focus on things the programme didn’t do (i.e. “it did not advise people to use energy unwisely or inefficiently”), rather than the consquent impacts of its message (i.e. resistance to GHG-related legislation).

    Both of these leave loopholes you could drive a truck through, and absolving Ofcom of any responsibility to actually make a tough decision. I doubt it’s the first time this has been the case for them.

    As for C4 leaking the decision to The Guardian – is anyone surprised? It’s a media company, with media types working in it. I’m more interested in knowing why they were allowed to see it to begin with. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to have impacted the public discussion much.

  8. #8 Phil
    2008/07/21

    On BBC2′s Newsnight tonight:

    “A Great Channel 4 Swindle?

    An extraordinary ruling from the media watchdog OFCOM about a Channel 4 documentary on climate change, entitled, The Great Global Warming Swindle. After complaints from viewers and contributors, Ofcom found the film broke broadcasting rules. Tonight, with the Channel 4 commissioner and the government’s chief scientific advisor, Professor David King, who believes he was misrepresented in the piece, we debate what place polemic has on our screens, and how much damage inaccurate science can do.”

  9. #9 MikeB
    2008/07/21

    I complained to Ofcom after the programme, and after the initial form letter, waited to find out what they were going to finally say, only to discover that C4 leaked it to my morning paper and tried to bullshit the reports conclusions.

    Ofcom seems to have decided to take a very strange line on what constitues ‘facts’. Apparently its fine to lie on a programme, as long as you don’t actually ‘mislead …to cause harm’. Thats good to know, that no matter what rubbish you may broadcast, you will not actually have to use real proven facts, thanks to a friendly regulator.

    C4 and Ofcom both need a good bollocking for this, so lets all start kicking…

  10. #10 Steve Bloom
    2008/07/21

    While amounting to a mild wrist slap for Channel 4, it seems possible that this will have rendered Durkin and his production company radioactive. It will be interesting to see if Channel 4 hires them again.

  11. #11 Steve Bloom
    2008/07/21

    I notice that the other two large customers for WAG are “Five” (is that a BBC channel?) and the Discovery Channel. A lobbying campaign focused on the latter might be effective.

  12. #12 Babakathy
    2008/07/21

    Nathan Rive (above) seems to capture what is to me a most significant issue: why do Ofcom guidelines only deal with “harmful or offensive” material in documentaries and ignore misleading (or nonfactual) material. Surely if (any) documentary is misleading the broadcaster in question must retract, the same as with news. The whole point of distinguishing documentaries from fiction is on the basis of whether the content is (believed to be) true?

    [This is indeed an interesting point. I haven't had time to fully read the accuracy ruling, but I hope to get back to it -W]

  13. #13 Luke Silburn
    2008/07/22

    The Newsnight piece was very disappointing I thought. Hamish Mykora had his talking points which he proceeded to hammer home and he was helped in this by the fact that he was in the studio, whilst David King was on a video feed.

    The interviewer really didn’t have much grip on the proceedings, letting Mykora talk over David King’s points and giving C4 both the first and the last word. A very poor showing in all.

    Regards
    Luke

  14. #14 Luke Silburn
    2008/07/22

    @Steve
    As to Durkin being rendered radioactive, I’d like to think so but I doubt it will happen. Durkin had plenty of form before he pitched tGGWS but it still got picked up.

    He’ll probably have to lie low for a while but I wouldn’t be at all suprised to see his name on projects in the future. You have to be *seriously* corrupt before you get drummed out of the documentary production game.

    Regards
    Luke

  15. #15 mugwump
    2008/07/22

    Hmmm…

    I’m not sure if I should admit this but I wrote to Ofcom last week to complain about a certain popular motoring programme

    You’re right: you shouldn’t admit it Hugh. It says an awful lot more about you than it does about Top Gear.

    However, I take comfort in the growing anti-green backlash. A few more years of global cooling and we’ll be wiping the floor with you lot.

  16. #16 mugwump
    2008/07/22

    BTW, the most impartial commentary on the decision is over at climateaudit. He correctly concludes this to be a great embarrassment for the complainants.

  17. #17 MikeB
    2008/07/22

    I think Luke has it right – Durkin had plenty of form, including a massive censure from the ITC (which became part of Ofcom) after a programme he made for C4 in 1997, as well as other programmes using similar tactics to TGGWS.

    George Monbiot has an article today in the Guardian’s G2 section (as well as something in the main paper) where he accusses C4 of actually inviting people to pitch stuff like this. He admits that there will probably be no more work for him on C4, so its brave of him.

    C4 has wiped out its reputation on this one, but that hasn’t stopped it defending the programme, and won’t stop it putting out more misleading and alarming rubbish disguised as ‘science’.

    Mugwump – the fact that you pointed to climateaudit as ‘the most impartial commentary on the decision’ speaks volumes about you (as does the fact that you seem to like Top Gear).

  18. #18 guthrie
    2008/07/22

    Mugwump displays some interesting delusions, inasmuch as he (she?) can claim that the OFCOM decision is an embarassment for the complainants.

  19. #19 mugwump
    2008/07/22

    Sure guthrie. Read it and weep.

  20. #20 Ade
    2008/07/24

    A number of people – both here & elsewhere – seem to be making a common mistake about OfCom. It is a broadcasting regulator, NOT a scentific vetting agency, and thus it CANNOT make any kind of scientific judgements.

    Thus, certain commentators on both sides of this argument who are claiming “victory” over either Durkin/C4 or the IPCC/AGW-fraternity are ALL wrong…

    As the OfCom ruling clearly states, they are not a scientific organisation, and it’s clearly beyound their remit (and ability) to make a judgement on what is – or is not – an accurate fact WRT global warming theories. What it CAN do (and has done) is determined whether C4 and/or Durkin treated some of the people and organisations named (or participating in) the documentary fairly.

    I’ve not read the Wunsch or King rulings, but I have read the “accuracy complaint” and the IPPC ruling.

    IMHO, I’m a bit surprised that the IPCC got as many rulings in its favour as it did. Yes, the comments about IPCC were telling, and IPCC should have been given right-of-reply. In fact, it was, but (and this is the KEY bit), Durkin/C4 failed to give them a deadline to respond…. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Now, had I been that OfCom committee, I’d have bounced the complaint right out, because an earlier e-mail to the same IPCC employee had been answered on the same day – thus proving that the IPCC CAN move quickly if it wants to.

    As for the accuracy or otherwise of Swindle, I am making no comment.

  21. #21 steven mosher
    2008/07/24

    I was pleased to that the filmakers actually kept good records of their emails and their raw footage. I was also pleased to see that they supplied this material when asked. It’s a standard that we should hold climate science to.

    imagine that. science held to the same standards as schlock documentary makers.

  22. #22 pough
    2008/07/24

    Keep in mind that the retention of records may be a sign of laziness rather than high standards. I’ve got thousands of emails still on our email servers, much to our network admin’s chagrin. I really should delete them, but I’m lazy. Imagine that. Scientists may be less lazy than me and that Durkin fellow.

  23. #23 Dave Rado
    2008/07/24

    Ade, you (and to some extent Ofcom) seem to be confusing theories with facts. AGW is a theory with a high probability associated with it, but it is not a fact in the “100% certainty” sense of the word. The complainants did not ask Ofcom to rule on anything other than on facts (defined as something that can be objectively demonstrated with 100% certainty).

    Dave

  24. #24 Paul
    2008/07/25

    What is wrong with your English comprehension. Just for one:

    “Many bits: that IPCC was politically driven was found to be unfair. So thats nice. That the IPCC ’90 had predicted “climate disaster” was found not to be unfair, on the grounds that a speech by Thatcher (that may have been vetted by Houghton) might be regarded as predicting disaster, by some lose definitions of the terms”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    It was found to be unfair that the IPCC was given insufficent opportunity to respond to the “politically driven” statements – because these were of a contentious nature that needed balance. it was NOT found that the statements were unfair.

    Add to that King’s complaint. A lucky escape for a man on publiic record for saying only the Antarctice would be habital and without any offsetting record of denying such a statement.

    [As yousay: wrong, wrong. King didn't say it, and expecting him to correct all the rubbish the papers print is unreasonable. And while the process is designed to give people like you a chance to interpret it the way you have done, as I said in the post: not-given-a-chance-to-reply means the unfairness was found. If they hadn't found unfairness, they wouldn't have needed to rule on the right to reply -W]

  25. #25 Paul
    2008/07/25

    And a follow up point.

    How exactly is C4 or the producers of this program “stuffed”, when the ruling in its entirity has clear TGGWS for a repeat screening with only the most minor adjustments?

  26. #26 Paul
    2008/07/25

    Was King quoted in the Independent on Sunday, May 2 2004 saying:

    “[60 million years ago] No ice was left on earth. Antarctica was the best place for mammals to live, and the rest of the world would not sustain human life.”

    and

    “[if we do not curtail carbon emission] will reach that level by the end of the century”

    Plus this repsonse from you just repeats you strange reading of the ruling on the IPCC

    “If they hadn’t found unfairness, they wouldn’t have needed to rule on the right to reply ”

    Yes they would. By this ruling, Ofcom are more than happy to have the comments regarding the IPCC sreened again, so long as IPCC get to say “no we aren’t”, or refuse a reasonable chance to do so.

    So the comments themselves aren’t unfair. They will appear wherever this documentary is screened again, with the approval of Ofcom.

  27. #27 Dave Rado
    2008/07/25

    Paul, you haven’t read the full ruling properly, see:
    http://www.ofcomswindlecomplaint.net/About/QAndA.htm#IPCCTechnicality

  28. #28 Paul
    2008/07/25

    Dave,

    I have read the full ruling. And properly:

    http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/obb/prog_cb/obb114/issue114.pdf

    See what I did there. I read the actual source – I have no idea what you are linking to there.

    I think the following is written in English that a primary school student could understand:

    “The Committee found that the IPCC had not been provided with a proper opportunity to respond to these allegations. Therefore, the broadcast of the allegations had been unfair.”

    For those who don’t have English as a first language, let me provide the pointers:

    “IPCC had not been provided with an opportunity to respond.”

    “THEREFORE, the BROADCAST of the allegations had been unfair”

    You see, reading this blog I might have been left with the impression that that the the allegations were unfair in the sense that they were not true.

    Now they may be true, they not be. But don’t claim this Ofcom result has adjudicated on it.

  29. #29 Dave Rado
    2008/07/25

    Yes you read that bit, Paul, well done, but there’s a lot more – try reading the rest of the ruling, and try reading:
    http://www.ofcomswindlecomplaint.net/About/QAndA.htm#IPCCTechnicality
    which was written by me.

    it really isn’t that hard.

  30. #30 steven mosher
    2008/07/25

    Pough,

    Retaining records is a sign of being lazy?? This is one of the deadly seven, sloth. And so, if your mortgage company puts your records in the trash because retaining them would be lazy and sinful you would have no objection. and if your pension company trashbinned your records because keeping records was a sign of being lazy, you would have no objection. and if..
    Well.. you get the idea. There is no excuse and there will be no excuse for the lack of openness in todays climate science. It doesnt make the science wrong it just makes it sloppy and irresponsible.

    The excuses to date.

    1. we dont have to share our data and you cant make us.
    2. Trust us.
    3. It’s intellectual property.
    4. You’ll just use our data to prove us wrong. So no!
    5. The dog ate it.
    6. We were not lazy, we got rid of it.

    thank you for #6. It made my day

  31. #31 Adam
    2008/07/25

    I’m looking forward to Durkin & C4′s next programme.

  32. #32 Dave Rado
    2008/08/04

    I’ve posted the full adjudication summary formatted in Ofcom’s style, here
    Dave

  33. #33 Hank Roberts
    2008/08/08

    Another argument against recordkeeping made recently over at Tamino’s blog:
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/04/28/central-england-temperature/#comment-20785

    “… Sorry, but if you tell most English people that England is getting warmer they’ll just laugh. I realise that this is totally unscientific and I’ll attract arrows for it, but we here, actually living in England, (for decades!) simply don’t recognise the CET at all. And by that, I mean we don’t feel it any warmer….”

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