The BBC has revealed the cost to the licence-fee payer of its surreal legal fight to keep a publicly available list from the public. Or at least a small part of the cost we all paid in the affair which became known as “28Gate”.
Regular readers will no doubt recall that 28Gate saw the Beeb attempt to keep secret the names of 28 people whom – it said – had convinced Auntie corporately that there was no longer any need to include sceptical viewpoints in its coverage of climate change. These folk were said to include “some of the best scientific experts”.
A hefty legal team was deployed to keep the “experts”‘ identities secret in the face of FOIA requests from blogger Tony Newbery (who represented himself) but in the end the names were discovered on the Wayback Machine, which had archived a webpage listing them all before their names and affiliations could be erased. (Curiously enough, the names had disappeared from the current version of that page – on the website of a green advocacy organisation – shortly after the FOI requests were received by the BBC.) As had been expected the secret 28 included few scientists of any repute, and plenty of green lobbyists and activists.
In response to two further FOI requests, the Corporation has now disclosed that the cost of hiring external help for the one-and-a-half day Information Tribunal hearing last October came to £22,746 including VAT. This breaks down to Kate Gallafent, of Blackstone Chambers who cost £13,875 (plus VAT) and Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, of One Brick Court who cost a paltry £4,780 (plus VAT).
Special report Regardless of your opinion of the BBC today, the loss of an independent Beeb would be a loss to British public life.
It's the BBC's independence that makes it unique - not, as it likes to insist, its funding from TV licence fees. Many countries have public-funded broadcasters that are bankrolled through a compulsory tax or levy, and they are given a long list of worthy duties to perform.
Beeb spent a mint to suppress list on Wayback Machine (includes Greenpeacers)
A list of attendees at a climate-change seminar the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds trying to keep secret has been unearthed on an internet archive. The listed names emerged after the publicly-funded broadcaster fought off requests for the list under freedom of information (FOI) laws.
This surreal story is only tangentially about climate change: the disclosure raises questions about the evidence submitted to the information tribunal by the BBC and Helen Boaden - its director of news who "stepped aside" this week.
The case also highlights once again the BBC's corporate strategy of using an FOI derogation, or legal "opt-out" clause, to withhold a wide range of material from citizens who wish to know whether the BBC is fulfilling its statutory obligations under its royal charter.
And it raises further questions about the effectiveness of the BBC Trust. The trust, which replaced the Board of Governors, was created with a mission: an "unprecedented obligation to openness and transparency". It has yet to enquire into the corporation's use of FOI derogation to withhold data such as the BBC's US tax contributions, website statistics, and strategic policy-making decisions.
Maurizio Morabito has obtained the details of the BBC climate 28. It had been published by the International Broadcasting Trust.
Greenpeace, Tearfund, Television for the Environment (one of the companies involved in the BBC free programming scandal), Stop Climate Chaos, Npower Renewables, E3G, and dear old Mike Hulme from UEA. Just the group you’d want guiding climate change coverage. Read the whole thing.
[For those who don't know what this is about, read the back story here.]
“Broadcasters play a vital role by informing and educating the public about the realities of climate change and the costs of inaction. Armed with information, citizens are better equipped to push for meaningful and responsible follow-through from their elected representatives. This is all the more essential in the final days before Copenhagen.”
Statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for UNESCO’s International Conference on Broadcast Media and Climate Change
Lay beaks have interesting histories on FOI, 'deniers'
As expected, the BBC has won its legal battle against blogger Tony Newbery.
Newbery wanted the list of "scientific experts" who attended a BBC seminar at which, according to the BBC Trust, they convinced the broadcaster to abandon impartiality and take a firmly warmist position when reporting climate change. When the Beeb refused to divulge who these people were and who they worked for, Newbery took the corporation to an information tribunal. Now the names and affiliations of the 28 people who decided the Beeb climate stance - acknowledged by the Corporation to include various non-scientists such as NGO people, activists etc - will remain a secret.
The case was heard on Monday and Tuesday last week; the BBC was represented by a team of five, at times six, lawyers, including lead counsel Kate Gallafent, a barrister at Blackstone Chambers. Newbery, who represented himself, was accompanied by his wife. The hearing included cross-examination of the BBC's director of news Helen Boaden.
Newbery had asked for the attendance list in a freedom-of-information request to the BBC some 18 months after the seminar took place in early 2006. He had been struck by a disparity between the BBC Trust's description of the event - "a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts" - and subsequent accounts of the confab, which suggested the 28 invitees included a number of environmental activists and ideologues. Newbery wanted to know how many scientists were there, and what they said that had been so convincing.
Analysis BBC lawyers are insisting the law treats the public-funded broadcaster as a private body in a battle to resist a Freedom of Information request.
At the heart of the six-year case lies the question of whether or not the public is entitled to ask the Beeb questions and have them answered using FOI legislation. It will test the broadcaster's obligation to meet high standards of openness and transparency as required by its charter. Success for the BBC would mean no one outside of a parliamentary committee can scrutinise the corporation's journalism.
The history of the Beeb
The BBC began life in 1922 as a private consortium of what would now be referred to as telecoms companies and the state postal service. Five years later the British Broadcasting Corporation was established under a royal charter, and enjoyed a monopoly on TV broadcasting that continued into the 1950s and on radio broadcasting into the 1970s. Funding was through a hypothecated tax, first on radio sets, then on TV sets, and now on real-time reception of a TV signal.
The public-funded broadcaster appeared in court this week to defend its decision to conceal the names of "scientific experts" that attended a BBC climate change seminar in 2006
A six-year Freedom of Information battle between a North Wales pensioner and the BBC’s Director of news, Helen Boaden has revealed the lengths to which the BBC will go to to conceal information that is in the public interest.
The BBC is refusing to disclose the names of ‘scientific experts’ who attended a BBC formal seminar in 2006 titled – ‘Climate Change - the Change to Broadcasting’. In 2007, the BBC Trust, the public-funded broadcaster’s governor, published an 80 page report – 'From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel' which revealed some details as to the nature of the seminar.
The report hinted at the corporation’s tendency to institutional bias and the problem of editorial policy reflecting particular views and not those of the wider public.
“The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change]”.
'Campaigners, NGOs, communications types - and scientists'
Far from the Jimmy Savile scandal, the director of BBC News Helen Boaden took the witness stand in London today.
A squad of Beeb legal staff, including two barristers, crammed into a small court room to support the £354,000-a-year news chief against her opponent, a North Wales pensioner who was accompanied only by his wife. The case is a six-year freedom of information battle in which the BBC is refusing to disclose who attended a seminar it held in 2006.
This seminar is historically significant. The BBC's global reputation for news reporting stems from its unshakable impartiality; even in wartime its commitment to maintaining evenhandedness has occasionally enraged British politicians (and sometimes servicemen). Following that 2006 seminar, however, the corporation made a decision to abandon impartiality when covering climate change - and that's according to the BBC Trust. This was an unprecedented decision for the BBC in peacetime.
Listeners to Radio 4's Today programme - and this includes much of the political elite - will have been alarmed to be told that "the Arctic could be ice-free on a summer’s day by the end of the decade".
Yet the evidence for this "trend" turns out to be drawn from less than two years worth of data.
Dr Seymour Laxon of University College London raised the alarm using radar altimeter observations made by the European-funded Cryosat-2 satellite, a project he helped devise. This allows scientists to gain more accurate mapping of the sea floor and also sea ice extent and thickness.
Cryosat-2 began observing the Arctic ice cap in October 2010, and has been acquiring data since. So scientists have two winter seasons and one summer season on which to base any claims.