This is an interesting analysis of the laws and behind the scenes posturing related to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and broadcasting rules. Lest anyone ever think that Wikipedian William Connolley limited his political activism to hacking climate related Wikipedia pages, this should dispell that idea. – Anthony
This story begins with Ofcom, the public authority that enforces broadcasting legislation in the UK, telling me that Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) is not a ‘factual documentary’, and ends with them deciding that climate change – the subject of the film – is not a matter relating to current public policy. You may well wonder how this could have happened, and it will take some time to explain.
To start with, we need to go back to March 2007, when Channel 4 broadcast a film called The Great Global Warming Swindle (GGWS). This was Martin Durkin’s take on the arguments underlying global warming scepticism and it caused a furore in the environmental movement. In response, a group of warmist scientists and activists, including Sir John Houghton, William Connolly, Joe Smith, and Bob Ward, lodged a 176 page complaint with Ofcom. After sixteen months of deliberation, the regulator published a decision that made a couple of token criticisms of the film, but threw out most of the grounds for complaint. The warmists were very disappointed, but the decision made sense.
There were two sections of the Broadcasting Code, that GGWS risked falling foul of:
Section 2: Harm and Offence
2.2 Factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience.Section 5: Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions:
5.11 In addition to the rules above, due impartiality must be preserved on matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy by the person providing a service (listed above) in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes. (emphasis added)
5.12 In dealing with matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy an appropriately wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes. Views and facts must not be misrepresented. (emphasis added)
Although Ofcom identified a minor error in one of the graphs used in the film – which was immediately corrected by the filmmakers before future distribution – they had no quarrel where Section 2.2 of the Code was concerned.
Concerning Section 5.11 and 5.12, Ofcom decided that, as it was clear to the audience that the opinions on climate change expressed in the film were those of a minority who took issue with mainstream, viewers had not been misled. They did find that the final section of the film, which explored the policy implications of assuming that anthropogenic global warming is taking place, had breached the Code to the extent of not providing ‘an appropriately wide range of significant views’.
The warmist media and blogoshere were horrified by Ofcom’s failure to slate The Great Global Warming Swindle, but Channel 4 was obviously relieved and launched a damage limitation exercise. In an interview soon after the decision was published, Hamish Mykura of Channel 4 announced that they would broadcast Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth as soon as it became available for television. That really interested me.
If the complaint against The Great Global Warming Swindle was rather flimsy, in spite of it’s great length and the vast team that had been put together to draft it, a devastating indictment of AIT already existed from a quite unimpeachable source; a judgement in the High Court. This established that AIT appeared to present the mainstream views on climate change accurately and impartially, but did not in fact do so, a very different matter from GGWS made no secret of where it stood in the climate debate.
If the film was broadcast without either substantial editing or providing additional output that would balance its propagandist content, then there would be a gross breach of the Broadcasting Code that Ofcom would be unable to ignore. Or so I thought.
Usually, when members of the public complain about a broadcast, they are relying on their interpretation of the programme’s content. In their view the broadcast was misleading, biased, inaccurate, unfair, obscene or offensive in some way, to the extent that it infringed the Broadcasting Code. On the other hand, the broadcaster is likely to argue that their programme was none of these things. Ofcom’s duty, as set out in legislation, is to reach an impartial and objective view of the programme content based on the available evidence, and then decide whether the Broadcasting Code has been complied with. No one would suggest that this is always an easy task, but in the case of AIT it should have been, for the following reason.
In early 2007, when hysteria surrounding the findings of the IPPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report on climate change was at it’s height, the Department of Education and Skills and DEFRA jointly issued a press release announcing that AIT was to be sent to every secondary school in England for use as a teaching aid. Subsequently, a school governor called Stuart Dimmock applied for Judicial Review of this decision in the High Court as he was concerned that the film contravened the terms of the Education Acts 1986 and 1996 (the Education Acts) which quite rightly ban the ‘promotion of partisan political views’ in schools, and also requires that when ‘political issues are brought to the attention of pupils’ then, so far as possible, they must ‘be offered a balanced presentation of opposing views’.
No one who has seen AIT could seriously suggest that it is anything other than a ‘partisan’ film, and that it does not even attempt to offer ‘a balanced presentation of opposing views’. So to this extent, the judgement handed down by Mr Justice Burton in October 2007 was not surprising. He found that showing the film in schools must be a breach of the Education Acts unless Guidance Notes were issued to teachers to ensured that pupils were made aware of the purpose of the film, and that it contained misleading information about the scientific evidence for man-made global warming. In reaching this decision it was necessary for Mr Justice Burton to consider the film’s content in some detail, and his findings were clearly set out in his judgement. These were unambiguous and damning.
Read the rest at Harmless Sky: