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 AITwas 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 thatit 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.
[The film] … is built round the charismatic presence of the ex-Vice-President, Al Gore, whose crusade it now is to persuade the world of the dangers of climate change caused by global warming. It is now common ground that it is not simply a science film - although it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion - but that it is a political film, albeit of course not party political. Its theme is not merely the fact that there is global warming, and that there is a powerful case that such global warming is caused by man, but that urgent, and if necessary expensive and inconvenient, steps must be taken to counter it, many of which are spelt out. (Judgement Sec 3)
Paul Downes [for the claimant], using persuasive force almost equivalent to that of Mr Gore, has established his case that the views in the film are political by submitting that Mr Gore promotes an apocalyptic vision, which would be used to influence a vast array of political policies, which he illustrates in paragraph 30 of his skeleton argument:
(i) Fiscal policy and the way that a whole variety of activities are taxed, including fuel consumption, travel and manufacturing …
(ii) Investment policy and the way that governments encourage directly and indirectly various forms of activity.
(iii) Energy policy and the fuels (in particular nuclear) employed for the future.
(iv) Foreign policy and the relationship held with nations that consume and/or produce carbon-based fuels.”
‘There are errors and omissions in the film, to which I shall refer, and respects in which the film, while purporting to set out the mainstream view (and to belittle opposing views), does in fact itself depart from that mainstream, in the sense of the “consensus” expressed in the IPCC reports.’ (Judgement Sec 17 iii)
‘[There are] … 9 ‘errors’, the first two of which are, at any rate apparently based on non-existent or misunderstood evidence, and the balance of which are or may be based upon lack of knowledge or appreciation of the scientific position, and all of which are significant planks in Mr Gores’s ‘political’ argumentation.’(Judgement Sec 34)
‘… some of the errors, or departures from the mainstream, by Mr Gore in AIT in the course of his dynamic exposition, do arise in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of his political thesis.’ (Judgement Sec 19)
Of course Ofcom is not in any way concerned with the Education Acts, but only theBroadcasting Code and the legislation on which this is based. However in the event of Channel 4 screening AIT, and if they received complaints that the film was misleading and anything but impartial about a major matter clearly ‘relating to current public policy’, then Ofcom would be in the unassailable position of being able to rely on no less than a High Court judge’s analysis of the film’s content when they came to a decision about compliance with the Broadcasting Code.
Furthermore, if Ofcom found against the broadcaster then this breach of the Code would be a particularly flagrant one, as the Dimmock Case had been widely reported in the media and Channel 4 could not have been unaware of the High Courts assessment of the film’s purpose and content. Indeed their news service had reported the case prominently.
Click source to read FULL report from Tony Newbery