The BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds over six years trying to keep secret an extraordinary ‘eco’ conference which has shaped its coverage of global warming, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The controversial seminar was run by a body set up by the BBC’s own environment analyst Roger Harrabin and funded via a £67,000 grant from the then Labour government, which hoped to see its ‘line’ on climate change and other Third World issues promoted in BBC reporting.
At the event, in 2006, green activists and scientists – one of whom believes climate change is a bigger danger than global nuclear war – lectured 28 of the Corporation’s most senior executives.
Then director of television Jana Bennett opened the seminar by telling the executives to ask themselves: ‘How do you plan and run a city that is going to be submerged?’ And she asked them to consider if climate change laboratories might offer material for a thriller.
A lobby group with close links to green campaigners, the International Broadcasting Trust (IBT), helped to arrange government funding for both the climate seminar and other BBC seminars run by Mr Harrabin – one of which was attended by then Labour Cabinet Minister Hilary Benn.
Applying for money from Mr Benn’s Department for International Development (DFID), the IBT promised Ministers the seminars would influence programme content for years to come.
Cover-up: Former head of news Helen Boaden said the 2006 seminar affected a ‘broad range of output’, but that its attendees should be kept from the public
The BBC began its long legal battle to keep details of the conference secret after an amateur climate blogger spotted a passing reference to it in an official report.
Tony Newbery, 69, from North Wales, asked for further disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The BBC’s resistance to revealing anything about its funding and the names of those present led to a protracted struggle in the Information Tribunal. The BBC has admitted it has spent more than £20,000 on barristers’ fees. However, the full cost of their legal battle is understood to be much higher.
In a written statement opposing disclosure in 2012, former BBC news chief and current director of BBC radio Helen Boaden, who attended the event, admitted: ‘In my view, the seminar had an impact on a broad range of BBC output.’
Plea: Part of Helen Boaden’s statement opposing disclosure in 2012. She also said the seminar had sought to ‘identify where the main areas of debate lie’. She is now the director of BBC radio
She said this included news reports by Mr Harrabin, and a three-part BBC 2 series presented by geologist Iain Stewart, who told viewers global warming was ‘truly scary’. According to Ms Boaden, ‘Editors and executives who attended were inspired to be more ambitious and creative in their editorial coverage of this slow-moving and complex issue.’ She claimed the seminar sought to ‘identify where the main areas of debate lie’. However, there were no expert climate sceptics present.
In an internal report, the IBT boasted that the seminars organised with Mr Harrabin had had ‘a significant impact on the BBC’s output’.
Blogger: Tony Newbery, who went to an information tribunal, said the seminar was ‘propaganda’
Mr Newbery, who finally won his battle last month, said: ‘It is very disappointing that the BBC tried so hard to cover this up. It seems clear that this seminar was a means of exposing executives to green propaganda.’ The freshly disclosed documents show that a number of BBC attendees still occupy senior roles at the Corporation.
All four scientists present were strong advocates of the dangers posed by global warming. They were led by Lord May, former president of the Royal Society, who, though not a climate expert, has argued that warming is a greater threat than nuclear war. Other non-BBC staff who attended included Blake Lee-Harwood, head of campaigns at Greenpeace, John Ashton from the powerful green lobby group E3G, Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation, who argued there were only 100 months left to save the planet through radical emissions cuts, and Ashok Sinha of Stop Climate Chaos.
The BBC contingent included future director-general George Entwistle, Peter Horrocks, head of TV news, Stephen Mitchell, head of radio news, Francesca Unsworth, head of newsgathering, and Peter Rippon, editor of Radio 4’s PM.
Mr Harrabin was the seminar’s principal organiser. He ran it through the Cambridge Media Environment Programme, an outfit he set up with Open University lecturer Joe Smith. Mr Harrabin and Mr Smith did not derive personal financial benefit from the seminar.
But by teaming up with the IBT, an avowed lobby group trying to influence coverage, and accepting government funds when Labour was advocating radical policies to combat global warming, Mr Harrabin exposed himself to the charge he could be compromising the Corporation’s impartiality.
During the legal battle, the BBC tried to airbrush both the IBT and its approach to the Government for funding from the record. Submissions and witness statements made no mention of it.
Mr Harrabin formed a partnership with the IBT in 2004. According to the newly-disclosed funding application to DFID, drawn up by IBT director Mark Galloway, it helped organise two BBC seminars on Third World themes with Mr Harrabin that year. These, Mr Galloway wrote, ‘had clearly influenced editorial staff and resulted in several new commissions’.
DFID’s budget is supposed to be devoted to overseas aid projects. But Mr Galloway asked for £115,305 for the two years from March 2005, adding: ‘We have a firm commitment from the BBC to take part in seminars in 2005 and 2006 and to give all the support they can to this project.’
The DFID did not meet the IBT’s full bid. But the documents show it paid £67,404 over two years.
A BBC spokesman said yesterday the seminar had ‘no agenda’, and that the organisers recognised BBC rules on impartiality, while the IBT’s funding application was a ‘matter for them’.
… and how the Corporation’s lessons are still paying off
COMMENT by DAVID ROSE
Last week was a big one for weather news: the storms and floods in Britain, and the end of the bizarre saga which saw the Akademik Shokalskiy, the ship carrying climate scientists, tourists and a BBC reporter to inspect the ravages of global warming, trapped in Antarctic ice.
In both cases, the BBC stuck closely to its skewed, climate alarmist agenda.
David Cameron fuelled suggestions that the storms might be due to climate change by saying in the Commons he had ‘suspicions’ they were. The Met Office denied this was the case.
Swamped: Flooding on the River Thames last week. David Rose said the BBC followed an agenda
But repeatedly, the BBC followed the PM’s line. Slots on the Radio 4 Today programme and Radio 5 repeated the bogus proposition on three separate days – and in none were sceptics allowed to present an alternative view.
Yet the facts are clear. Met Office records show that December 2013 was only the 20th wettest since 1910. It had just two-thirds the rainfall of the wettest, 1914.
For October to December, 2013 was only the 14th wettest year, and there has been no discernible trend in UK or English rainfall for more than 100 years.
But though the BBC was suggesting the storms were ‘climate’ rather than ‘weather’, it took a contradictory view over the icebound ship.
Radio 4’s Inside Science told listeners that the ice was a freak, unpredictable event – driven by weather, not climate – and even added it had been falsely ‘used by climate deniers’ to advance their case.