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Twenty Eight Gate: The BBC Has A Serious Case To Answer

Solve BBC Bias blog

One area of the BBC’s output which has come under intense scrutiny is their reporting over  climate science.

Tom Chivers over at the Telegraph has noted that “a new scandal is enveloping the BBC“ which has rapidly become known as “Twenty Eight Gate” and refers to a court case where the BBC spent a lot of money and lawyers time blocking a Freedom Of Information request which enquired who attended a BBC seminar on 26th January 2006.

People such as Bob Willis who have raised Freedom Of Information requests querying BBC’s approach to climate journalism have been assured by the BBC “It is not the case that the BBC ‘presents man-made global warming as a proved fact’. On the contrary, the BBC does not take a stand on the issue.”

Stephanie Harris from the BBC goes on to outline “I’d like to explain the context underpinning the application of our editorial guidelines in the climate change debate. Notwithstanding the so-called ‘climategate’ affair, the biggest peer-reviewed process in history, the IPCC, concluded with certainty of more than 90% that climate change was primarily driven by humans. This informs our coverage.  Indeed, on 18 June 2007 the BBC published a report on safeguarding its impartiality in the 21st century. It was the result of a project first commissioned by the BBC Board of Governors in conjunction with BBC management in November 2005 to identify the challenges and risks to impartiality. The report has been endorsed by the BBC Trust, the BBC Executive Board and the BBC Journalism Board.”

The bone of contention for the “Twenty Eight Gate” scandal is that when responding to Freedom Of Information requests of this nature the BBC refers to an important “high-level seminar”.  Indeed Stephanie Harris in her response to Bob Willis says

“Below is an excerpt from the section of the report relating to coverage of the climate change debate: ‘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. But these dissenters (or even sceptics) will still be heard, as they should, because it is not the BBC’s role to close down this debate. Acceptance of a basic scientific consensus only sharpens the need for hawk-eyed scrutiny of the arguments surrounding both causation and solution.”

People were curious who these “best scientific experts” were and whom the BBC relied on to form it’s editorial policy and blogger Tony Newberry asked a Freedom Of Information Request to find out.  The BBC resisted publication of the names, Tony Newberry appealed and ultimately the release of the names of the experts was blocked in the courts after a legal fight.

However, the story has now grown to become a scandal and christened “Twenty Eight Gate” this week after blogger Maurizio Morabito uncovered the names of the experts from an unexpected source.

With the scandal now out in the open, recently departed “ex-BBC environment hack” Richard Black has taken to Twitter to state of the seminar “The BBC’s stance was not based on these meetings – that meme is pure bull”.  All of which leaves the BBC with a lot of questions to answer:

  • If Richard Black is correct that the BBC’s stance was not based on meetings such as the seminar, then why do official BBC FOI responses state that they were?
  • If the BBC’s stance was not based on meetings such as the seminar, then what is it based on?
  • How did the BBC choose the “best scientific experts” and why are they qualified to inform a change to the BBC’s editorial policy?
  • Given climate issues touch almost every walk of life, why should a small group of people have such influence over BBC’s climate policy?  Why does the BBC not retain and open and impartial mind and report on climate issues and news as they arise?
  • Why did the BBC seek to block the names of the experts whom they had relied on to change their editorial policy?

It seems that in the wake of other journalistic crises which have recently hit the BBC, that Chris Patten must now also add a specific investigation into the BBC’s climate journalism to his list of priorities.

This scandal raises many other questions and I shall be returning to these in subsequent blog posts.

Solve BBC Bias, 15 November 2012