UK Broadcaster Scolded for Film on Global Warming ‘Swindle’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 22, 2008 | 4:47 AM EDT

Britain’s media regulator ruled that a documentary skeptical of global warming claims broke some broadcasting rules, but did not mislead or cause harm.

(CNSNews.com) – Britain’s media regulator has ruled that a documentary skeptical of global warming claims broke some broadcasting rules, but did not mislead or cause harm. The finding will do nothing to quell the controversy, however.
 
The independent television watchdog known as Ofcom scolded Channel 4, a public service broadcaster, for elements of the film, which it said had treated the U.N.’s climate change body and several scientists unfairly, in violation of the country’s Broadcasting Code.
 
At the same time Ofcom, which said it could not judge the accuracy of the program’s contents, ruled that the documentary did not mislead viewers.
 
“The Great Global Warming Swindle,” broadcast in March 2007 and since then distributed on DVD in more than 20 countries, presents the views of scientists who challenge the “consensus” on human-induced climate change – that rises in atmospheric temperatures are the result of “greenhouse gas” emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and pose grave dangers to the planet.
 
Filmmaker Martin Durkin describes it as “The definitive response to Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’”  The former vice-president’s award-winning climate change documentary has been incorporated into the school curriculum for 11-14-year-olds in Britain.
 
Channel 4 defended its decision to air Durkin’s film, saying it was intended to show that the debate on climate change was not settled.
 
“Everywhere you are told that man-made climate change is proved beyond doubt,” the narration says at one point. “But you are being told lies.”
 
“This is a story of how a theory about climate turned into a political ideology ... it is the story of the distortion of a whole area of science.”
 
Elsewhere it asserts, “as the frenzy over man-made global warming grows shriller, many senior scientists say the actual scientific basis for the theory is crumbling.”
 
Contributors to the program suggest that left-wingers have used the global warming issue to drive an anti-capitalist agenda.
 
The film accuses Westerners of “invoking the threat of climatic disaster to hinder vital industrial progress in the developing world.” It notes that environmental groups are encouraging developing countries to adopt sustainable energy sources rather than conventional, fossil fuel-based ones. A consequence of this, it says, is a lack of electricity in parts of the developing world.
 

‘Challenge current orthodoxy’

 
Ofcom said it received 265 complaints – including one 176-page document that alleged 137 breaches – variously claiming that the film had been factually misleading, one-sided, and had omitted alternative views.
 
The watchdog ruled that some of the comments, such as those suggesting people were being willfully misled and lied to about climate change, were “sweeping and intemperate.”
 
But in a judgment disappointing to global warming proponents, it said the program, clearly polemical in nature, “did not materially mislead the audience so as to cause harm or offense,” and it upheld Channel 4’s right to have broadcast it.
 
“Ofcom considers that it is important, in line with freedom of expression, that broadcasters are able to challenge current orthodoxy.”
 
The Broadcasting Code requires “due impartiality” on subjects of major controversy, and Ofcom found that a segment of the program dealing specifically with the politics of climate change broke that obligation by not giving alternative views on the issue.
 
Other complaints came from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the former British government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, and MIT oceanographer Prof. Carl Wunsch.
 
Wunsch said he originally understood the film “would discuss in a balanced way the complicated elements of understanding of climate change,” but later found out that it was “one-sided, anti-educational, and misleading.” Ofcom upheld his complaint that his comments used in the film had been taken out of context.
 
Ofcom also agreed that King had been unfairly treated, in that he had not been given the opportunity to respond to statements that “amounted to a significant allegation about his scientific views and credibility.”
 
And it partially upheld the IPCC’s complaint that it had not been given the proper chance to respond to serious allegations, including charges of political agendas, alarmism, and corruption in the scientific peer review process.
 

‘Silencing dissent’

 
Channel 4 is required to broadcast the findings, but no fine was levied (Ofcom is empowered to fine violators up to 10 percent of their annual relevant turnover.)
 
The broadcaster’s documentary division head Hamish Mykura said after the ruling was released that the film had “made a valid contribution to the debate.”
 
“Ofcom’s ruling explicitly recognizes Channel 4’s right to show the program and the paramount importance of broadcasters being able to challenge orthodoxies and explore controversial subjects,” he said.
 
Other reaction reflected the depth of differences over the global warming issue.
 
“Climate change protagonists would carry more conviction if they encouraged free debate on this issue, rather than trying to silence dissenting voices,” said David Hughes, chief leader writer of the conservative London Daily Telegraph.
 
Hughes said he did not recall “An Inconvenient Truth” being impartial or providing a range of viewpoints.
 
“It was polemic, and highly effective polemic at that. So was ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle.’”
 
In the left-wing Guardian, Robert Watson, a former chairman of the IPCC, welcomed Ofcom’s ruling about Durkin’s documentary having been unfair to the U.N. body and to King and Wunsch, but he expressed disappointment that it had not found the film to have misled viewers.
 
“In my opinion, [the film] did a major disservice to the public at large and tried to undermine the scientific basis which governments and the private sector are using to address cost effectively one of the greatest challenges the human race has ever faced.”
 
Skeptics who say there is no need to address the issue, Watson said, were “placing the planet at risk.”
 
“By broadcasting programs that appear to manipulate and even fabricate evidence, [Channel 4] has impeded efforts to forestall the 21st century’s greatest threat,” environmental activist George Monbiot argued in the same paper. “For how much longer will this be allowed to continue?”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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