Remember the BBC's Planet Relief? 24 hours of being lectured by holier-than-thou greens? It was pulled from the schedules a year into the project, when BBC planners got cold feet. They reckoned their viewers might not be too pleased at having naked propaganda shoved down their throats.
I came across some interesting developments related to this project the other day. It's a bit involved, but stick with me.
Planet Relief was the brainchild of an environmentalist called Matt Prescott. Now it's interesting in itself that an environmental campaigner appears to have been appointed to head a very large BBC project. Still more surprising is the fact that he was barely out of University when appointed to head it up.
The justification for the licence fee has always been that the BBC is objective and impartial, and yet here we have Mr Prescott brought in from outside, apparently to use public resources to promote his own (and presumably the BBC's) political views.
Now perhaps I'm leaping to conclusions. Perhaps Mr Prescott has TV experience, as well as being an environmental campaigner. Perhaps his objectivity and is unimpeachable. Let's see.
So what do we know about Matt Prescott?
His Blogger profile can be seen here. He is nothing if not prolific, with fully eleven blogs associated with him. He has a PhD in zoology from Oxford, and organised the Oxford Earth Summit. In 2005 he launched a campaign to ban incandescent bulbs and since graduating has worked for:
- Prof. Norman Myers (a British environmentalist),
- Sir Crispin Tickell,(a British diplomat, environmentalist and academic)
- Roger Harrabin,(BBC environment)
- George Monbiot, (journalist and environmentalist)
- Jon Plowman (Head of BBC comedy)
- Glenwyn Benson (Controller BBC knowledge)
Now an environmentalist working for environmentalists isn't really news, but working for the head of BBC comedy? That's a bit odd isn't it?
According to this article by Prescott himself, he was introduced to Plowman by Roger Harrabin and the Open University's Joe Smith in Cambridge "a couple of years ago". This puts it in 2006.
Now Cambridge, Roger Harrabin, and Joe Smith rang a bell with me. Harrabin and Smith run something called the Cambridge Environment and Media Forum (CEMP) which I've blogged about previously. It's funded by the BBC and is alleged to look at ways of improving reporting of environmental stories. There are some details of some of the seminars they have organised online. By looking at the lists of attendees it appears that the meeting of Prescott and Plowman may have taken place at the seminar at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge on September 14th and 15th 2006, the purpose of which was apparently to look at how non-factual program makers might include environmental and development issues in their storylines. It's worth a look at the names of those involved which reads like a list of the movers and shakers in the upper echelons of the Beeb.
We should first stand back and wonder how a fresh-faced PhD, not long out of Oxford, manages to move so rapidly through the ranks at the BBC. No sooner is he in the door than he is hob-nobbing some of the most powerful people in the BBC. But not only that, but he has also landed himself a major project to co-ordinate. It's pretty impressive stuff.
We might also wonder how Mr Prescott came to work at the BBC. Was he an employee or a consultant? If the former, was the position advertised openly, and if the latter, what particular expertise was Prescott supposed to bring in order to justify his retention.
Why, we wonder, did the allegedly objective BBC journalist Roger Harrabin invite this rather wet-behind-the-ears environmentalist to meet such important people?
Reasons for the invitation aside, the result seems to have been that Plowman, the head of BBC comedy, got right behind the Planet Relief idea. He was still supportive after it was cancelled. In Prescott's words:
Jon did his best for Planet Relief within the BBC and stuck by me after his baby was cancelled.
Prescott is also clear that Harrabin and his CEMP colleague Joe Smith (who, we note in passing, is also a non-political public servant and who also has a startling sparse publication record, according to his webpage) were also instrumental in getting the Planet Relief project off the ground:
Joe Smith (Open University) and Roger Harrabin (BBC News) [...] also played a crucial role in helping to get things off the ground a couple of years ago.
After Planet Relief was pulled, Prescott went back to campaigning - as noted above, he had launched a campaign to ban incandescent bulbs in 2005. The BBC obligingly gave him a slot on their website to promote his views, here and another one here.
Roll forward to today, and Matt's latest wheeze is E-day. This time, we are all going to switch off lights for a day and the planet will be saved. All the usual suspects are involved: Jon Plowman is on the steering committee, and among the list of people thanked for help and support are Roger Harrabin and the following BBC staff:
- Andrew Lane (BBC Weather)
- Andrew Zincke (BBC Worldwide)
- David Shukman (BBC)
- Jonathan Harvey (BBC)
- Kate Forbes (BBC)
- Mark Damazer (BBC Radio 4)
- Mark Kinver (BBC)
- Peter Barron (BBC)
- Richard Black (BBC)
- Sarah Mukherjee (BBC)
- Sophie Stafford (BBC Wildlife Magazine)
- Will Watt (BBC Worldwide)
In addition, occasional BBC correspondent Alex Kirby seems to be heavily involved.
Now, were we especially naive, we might think that all these BBC staff were giving their spare time to support Mr Prescott's campaign. But thirteen people, representing all the major arms of the BBC, is strongly suggestive that the Corporation is giving unofficial support to this campaign which is nothing if not political. Essentially, they've tried to resurrect Planet Relief on the quiet. They've done their bit puffing up E-day, with an online article from Richard Black at the start of the month and another today. They seem to be almost the only MSM outlet which seems to think E-day is news.
So where is all this heading? I don't really know, but it just doesn't look right to me. It kind of looks as if the BBC is allowing itself to be used once again as a vehicle for environmentalist propaganda.
Just another reason to privatise it.
Matt Sinclair is following E-day's progress. So far energy consumption is above normal. Even the kindest heart would find it hard not to snigger.