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« WUWTTV | Main | The madness of dim George »

Boaden on the stand

The BBC's Helen Boaden was on the witness stand today as Tony Newbery makes a last-ditch attempt to force the BBC to disclose who attended its mysterious seminar on climate change in 2006 (background here). If the Information Tribunal throws his case out, it's probably the end of the line.

Andrew Orlowski of the Register was there and describes what happened here. It looks like a fait accompli:

When it came to a cross examination by Newbery, David Marks QC, the presiding tribunal judge, threw a thick protective cloak around the BBC's star witness, refusing to allow the blogger to pose many of his questions to Boaden directly. As a result, most remained answered.

"If the BBC had no record of what was said," remarked Newbery, "the first part of the Chatham House Rule doesn't apply. I can't request it. It doesn't exist."

The judge sternly reminded Newbery that any line of enquiry that allowed the identity of the attendees to be inferred should not be allowed. Marks also stepped in where he thought Boaden may not have been able to answer. Marks even intervened to prevent one line of enquiry very germane to Newbery's case: the blogger wanted to know if the attendees were there in a private or public capacity.

”It could be both,” mused the judge. “I'm reluctant to allow Ms Boaden say anything about this. I doubt if she can add anything to what is a submission by you. You’re under a severe warning from me not to go anywhere near the question.”

[Update: Tony telephones, noting that he will be unable to report on what happened at his own blog for a few days. He's on the witness stand himself tomorrow.]

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Reader Comments (63)

A possible application of the CHR is in the fact that all but one of the attendees had the same opinion hence by knowing their names we will know their opinion.

Oct 29, 2012 at 7:17 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

David Marks QC, the presiding tribunal judge, threw a thick protective cloak around the BBC's star witness, refusing to allow the blogger to pose many of his questions to Boaden directly.

In which case, why was she there?

Also, if there is no official record of what was said, what can be ascribed to the attendees?

Oct 29, 2012 at 7:21 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Unbelievable stuff from a state broadcaster. Thank god for Saville ruining their reputation - maybe in the future they wont be able to give us proles the high hat quite so easily!

Oct 29, 2012 at 7:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterduncan

@ omnologos Oct 29, 2012 at 7:17 PM

But if the attendees were, according to Auntie, "....some of the best scientific experts...", won't their opinions be known anyway?

Oct 29, 2012 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

If she refuses to name names, then why not give figures about how many we're from loony NGOs, how many we're journalists, how many we're actual scientists.

Oct 29, 2012 at 7:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob


Jimmy Saville has not ruined the reputation of the BBC.
You can't ruin a disgraceful reputation, but you can (as Jimmy Saville has) confirm it.

Oct 29, 2012 at 7:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Andrew Orlowski's article is, I think, the only one that I have ever seen written by a mainstream journalist about something I am familiar with that is completely accurate. He hopes to be in court again tomorrow. We live in interesting times!


Oct 29, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

I know Kafka-esque is bandied around a lot, but really? Shocking behaviour.

And the screaming silence from the chatterati is telling.

Oct 29, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

I think there are similarities with this case and Jimmy Savile - he managed to hide himself and his activities in plain sight and it seems the BBC just let him to do it. Harrabin, Black et all have managed to infiltrate the BBC to further a green agenda and have managed to hide this fact in plain sight. Although to be fair Savile was far worse than these guys, lets not forget to make that distinction. I hope Tony can make some headway here, good luck to him.

Oct 29, 2012 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

'My interest in climate change grew out of my concern for the failings of BBC journalism in reporting it. In my early and formative days at ITN, I learned that we have an obligation to report both sides of a story. It is not journalism if you don’t. It is close to propaganda.
The BBC’s editorial policy on ­climate change, however, was spelled out in a report by the BBC Trust — whose job is to oversee the workings of the BBC in the interests of the public — in 2007. This disclosed that the BBC had 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’.
The error here, of course, was that the BBC never at any stage gave equal space to the opponents of the consensus.
But the Trust continued its ­pretence that climate change ­dissenters had been, and still would be, heard on its airwaves. ‘Impartiality,’ it said, ‘always requires a breadth of view, for as long as minority ­opinions are coherently and honestly expressed, the BBC must give them appropriate space.’
In reality, the ‘appropriate space’ given to minority views on climate change was practically zero.
Moreover, we were allowed to know practically nothing about that top-level seminar mentioned by the BBC Trust at which such momentous conclusions were reached. Despite a Freedom of Information request, they wouldn’t even make the guest list public.
There is one brief account of the ­proceedings, written by a conservative commentator who was there. He wrote subsequently that he was far from impressed with the 30 key BBC staff who attended. None of them, he said, showed ‘even a modicum of professional journalistic ­curiosity on the subject’. None appeared to read anything on the subject other than the Guardian.
This attitude was underlined a year later in another statement: ‘BBC News currently takes the view that their reporting needs to be calibrated to take into account the scientific consensus that global warming is man-made.’ Those scientists outside the ‘consensus’ waited in vain for the phone to ring.
It’s the lack of simple curiosity about one of the great issues of our time that I find so puzzling about the BBC. When the topic first came to ­prominence, the first thing I did was trawl the internet to find out as much as possible about it.'
Anyone who does this with a mind not closed by religious fervour will find a mass of material by respectable scientists who question the orthodoxy. Admittedly, they are in the minority, but scepticism should be the natural instinct of scientists — and the default setting of journalists.
Yet the cream of the BBC’s inquisitors during my time there never laid a glove on those who repeated the ­mantra that ‘the science is settled’. On one occasion, an MP used BBC airtime to link climate change ­doubters with perverts and holocaust deniers, and his famous interviewer didn’t bat an eyelid.'

Peter Sissons:- Extract from his memoirs 'When One Door Closes' as reprinted in the Mail 9 February 2011

Oct 29, 2012 at 9:04 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

"the lack of simple curiosity"

As with George Entwhistle and his conversions with, surprise surprise, Helen Boaden!

Link (5th point down)

Oct 29, 2012 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Sorry, 'Entwistle and his conversation'. Can't type when I'm cross!

Oct 29, 2012 at 9:34 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

There's quite a pattern developing here - meetings that nobody attended, conversations in which nothing was said, and casting couches on which nobody saw Jimmy Savile fixing it for vulnerable girls from care institutions. It is quite astonishing that an organisation as morally bankrupt as the BBC can still command £4B per annum of taxpayers' money.

Oct 29, 2012 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Pharos- do we know who the conservative commenter was? Could he be asked to disclose anyone or anything further that he remembers about who was there? Or has he been muzzled as well?

Oct 29, 2012 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Could he be asked to disclose anyone or anything further that he remembers about who was there?
Not if the meeting was held under Chatham House rules.

Oct 29, 2012 at 10:06 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Do Chatham rules only apply to what was said, not who attended?

Anyway,given that one of the speakers writes in a college publication,that he attended this event, in a list of seminars and conferences attended, and I know the name of his presentstion and the content of it.

Does this not make the BBC's claim ridiculous

Andrew, presumably, Tony might mention this?

Oct 29, 2012 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

This is treason.....................

Oct 29, 2012 at 10:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

CHR:- From

It seems there is nothing to prevent the naming of attendees; it is simply 'who said what', which can't be identified.

"Q. Can participants in a meeting be named as long as what is said is not attributed?

A. It is important to think about the spirit of the Rule. For example, sometimes speakers need to be named when publicizing the meeting. The Rule is more about the dissemination of the information after the event - nothing should be done to identify, either explicitly or implicitly, who said what."

Oct 29, 2012 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public


Read comment no 2 on this piece

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

@ Messenger, the conservative commentator was Richard D North - TonyN writes about his participation, here:

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

The hearing is taking place at the civil courts at the Central London Civil Justice Centre, 26 Park Crescent, W1, and is ongoing.

Mr Newbury does not have professional representation. My estimate of the cost of the BBC legal team, to keep this information secret, is £40,000 per day. This is just a rough calculation - it may be more (or a little less).

I am sorry to say I am the only reporter covering the case so far, and I am really just a curious bystander. Freedom of Information legislation was written with the onus on disclosure. It quite rightly provides exemptions for journalists, to prevent the disclosure of their sources, where disclosure would cause real harm to if the identity of the sources was revealed.

Mr Newbury's argument is that the BBC's refusal to name the 28 is against the spirit and practice of the law. The QC David Marks however prefers a creative approach, and in the absence of challenge, is redefining the law on the fly. In professional stand-up comedy, where such improvisation is valued, I believe this is called "riffing".

Given the importance of the tribunal, perhaps readers of this blog could come forward to bear witness to the events taking place here.

Hearings start at 10am.

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Orlowski

"This is treason....................."
It should be Alec but, sadly, it's not.
According to the legal-dictionary it's:
"The betrayal of one's own country by waging war against it or by consciously or
purposely acting to aid its enemies"
When the enemy is within, treason is turned on its head!

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News (...) she was appointed Director of BBC News in 2004, earning £354,000 last year.

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:21 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@Andrew Orlowski
"I am sorry to say I am the only reporter covering the case so far, and I am really just a curious bystander"
Pretty well summarises the state of todays State, Andrew.
Thanks for your input here and at El Reg.
Your honesty and obvious outrage is much appreciated by this commentator.

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

So what is the actual legal status of this Chatham House Rule? Seems to me in this context it doesn't have any? Has this been tested in law anywhere? My understanding is the BBC organised the meeting and then as a result formulated broadcasting policy? Were there any written terms to this meeting? Invites etc? And so what if they said the meeting was under Chatham House Rules - is it anything more than an agreement between attendees over reporting arrangements? If meetings which fall under legitimate public inquiry can simply be kept off the record by some "Chatham House Rules, pax, fingers crossed behind my back" nonsense then things are really in a sorry state. Pathetic.

For Tony - these might be of interest. Chatham House appears to have been cited by the defendant but is not discussed by the ICO in reaching their decision. It looks as if the ICO tested the validity for each attendee to remain anonymous. Good luck - I hope somebody with legal knowledge chips in to help even at this late hour.

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

"Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News (...) she was appointed Director of BBC News in 2004, earning £354,000 last year."
According to Andrew Orlowski's rough figure "My estimate of the cost of the BBC legal team, to keep this information secret, is £40,000 per day" this indicates that either Helen is being vastly underpaid ( given that her entire annual stipend is but 9/365 of the team appointed to keep her in place) or that she is heavily overpaid (needing such expensive support to keep her in the job) or, and just possibly, that the BBC has too much (of our) money to waste!
PS - anyone know how many Marks (QC) to the Pound (GB)?

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Something is rotten in the seat of our Bench.

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:40 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

The continuation of a bizarre tale. Back in 2006 the eco nutters had all the power. Now it looks very different with their power on the wane and unsurprisingly, nobody wants us to see who is behind the curtain. If the judge has already decided how it is going to turn out, why is the charade continuing?

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

Couple more:

A met request which appears to link Chatham House to FOI Act Section 36:

The ICO briefing on Section 36, from which a .pdf search on "Chatham" returns no results:

Oct 29, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

CH themselves suggest the "Rule" has no legal status, but you risk a telling off from them if you are a "member":

Some current corporate and NGO members:

Oct 30, 2012 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Given the information provided so far, we can now reasonably surmise that one of the world experts at the 2006 BBC seminar was Jimmy Savile.

Oct 30, 2012 at 12:14 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

omnologos 12:14 AM

damn you

OK.... but Elvis, Lord Lucan and Jimmy Hoffa were there too.

Farcical hardly covers it - the putrid stench emanating from this is overpowering.

Is the judge wearing an oversized ginger afro wig and a nosepiece borrowed from the BBC Comic Relief prop closet?

Oct 30, 2012 at 12:41 AM | Registered Commentertomo

I think we need a pithy label which covers all of these people, one which might catch on with the general public as a way to identify and explain them - in the way that "yuppies" once did, and "banksters" is currently being promoted.

I propose "serps", standing for "self-regarding public servants". This has the advantage that it covers all of them, from Westminster politicians, through certain climate scientists, the BBC, government-funded NGOs, even some local bureaucrats and officials. I also think this label explains them.

Oct 30, 2012 at 3:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

I am continually amazed at how many times sceptics will take these types of things in front of courts, tribunals, panels, hearings, committees and the like.

Oct 30, 2012 at 3:14 AM | Registered Commentershub

I am aware that Dr David Whitehouse worked for the BBC at the highest level, as science correspondent and then as science editor, during the time of the seminar which is the subject of this debate and the court case. Why not ask him who was there? Surely as the BBC's most senior science journalist at the time he would know? Or is he not allowed to say?

Oct 30, 2012 at 4:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterSNels

It is known that the British courts are under the control of freemasonary. Judges bow there head to its didctats. Freemasons are aslo child.......................

Oct 30, 2012 at 7:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

i have so much admiration for Tony for taking on the Establishment, but despair for the Fourth Estate, in and outside the Court.

many thanx to andrew orlowski for being there and reporting the shenanigans.

but even andrew's Reg has taken a poor turn as regards CAGW coverage in recent times, with andrew seemingly not being the main man any longer. what a shame.

Oct 30, 2012 at 7:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

meant to ask if this is the judge in question:

David Marks QC
David Marks is in practice at the Bar specialising in insolvency and commercial work. He was appointed QC in 2009.
He was formerly on the committee of the lawyers group attached to the British section of Amnesty International. David and other lawyers within Amnesty worked closely with the late Paul Sieghart in the years prior to Paul's death. In particular David helped organise a series of lectures with a number of eminent guest speakers to coincide with and celebrate the publication of Paul's key treatise on The International Law of Human Rights by the Oxford University Press.

Oct 30, 2012 at 7:50 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

and is this the blinkin' BBC woman, photo included?

4 July 2008: Memex1.1 Blog John Naughton: Real World
If you’d dropped a bomb on the Cavonius Centre at Gonville & Caius College in Cambridge any time in the last two days then you’d have wiped out most of the senior creative people in the BBC (plus a few academics). They were gathered for the annual media seminar organised by my colleague Joe Smith in collaboration with Roger Harrabin and others from the BBC and IBT, who now has the grand title of BBC Environmental Analyst. The purpose of the event is to get the BBC folks away from their highly-pressured environment and expose them to a spectrum of thinkers from academia and the arts world...
The overall idea of these gatherings is to reflect on interdependence. The theme this year was “Real World: storytelling in an interconnected world”. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of collective agonising about the state of the public debate about subjects like climate change and DNA testing — and on the role of the mainstream media in fostering (or hampering) those debates. The openness and vigour of the debate between the editors and programme-makers and their bosses was impressive. The BBC continues to employ a lot of intelligent and perceptive people...
***PHOTO CAPTION: For me, one of the high points of the seminar was meeting John Lloyd, the producer/writer behind a staggering list of comedy shows. (The photograph shows him with Frances Weil of BBC Vision, one of the organising team.)

Frances Weil
Project Manager at BBC TV

Oct 30, 2012 at 8:00 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Michael Bravo spoke at tne conference and publically lists it as seminars and conferences attended

Oct 30, 2012 at 8:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I sugges ta FOI request be made to find out how much the BBC has spent on defending a simple FOI request for a list of attendees. See how highly the BBC defends 'impartiality' and 'transparency'.

Oct 30, 2012 at 8:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Pharos: thanks for the link to Richard D North. Ah, yes, I remember it well....

Is this tribunal costing Tony Newbery money to attend? I'd be happy to chip in, if so, and perhaps others would too.

Oct 30, 2012 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

pdf: 22 May 2007: Open University Seminar: The Royal Society of Arts, London
Group 1: Climate change (includes)
Frances Weil, Climate change co-ordinator, BBC Vision and News
also includes: Activating Publics: Dr Joe Smith, This Experiment Has to Work (10 mins)

the following says so much about Open University, the BBC and the CAGW meme:

Open University: Dr. Joe Smith: Senior Lecturer in Environment

Oct 30, 2012 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

How do we know whether they were Chatham House rules at the time (did the BBC just make this up, after the event?)

I ask, because one of the speakers, felt perfectly able to put it down in a list of conferences seminars attended, in his departments annual report. (which shows at the VERY least, the BBC has no excuse to not publish names.

Michael Bravo

Lectures and Conferences

November 2005
Bravo, M.T. ‘Where is upstream? Science and its publics for International Polar Year (2007-2008)’, Science and Technology Studies Workshop, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

January 2006
Bravo, M.T. ‘The impact of climate change on northern peoples’, Climate Change – The Challenge to Broadcasting, BBC Bush House April 2006

Bravo, M.T. ‘Science’, British Association for Canadian Studies Annual Meeting, New Hall, Cambridge

May 2006
Bravo, M.T. ‘James Rennell and the cartography of shipwreck’, Shipwreck Conference, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

August 2006
Plenary panel, ‘Narratives of climate change’, with William Cronon, Diana Liverman, and Richard Hamblyn, IBG Conference, Royal Geographical Society

The above implies to me (ie a routine listing) it was just another routine CMEP style seminar, and the secrecy requirement after the event, is just an excuse, so that the BBC doesn't get embarassed by this seminar..

His field is 'impacts' not 'attribution', anyway.

Oct 30, 2012 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Since North was present at this seminar, why doesn't he name the other participants?
Or has he gone coy, all of a sudden?
Doesn't sound like him.

Oct 30, 2012 at 10:16 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Could this be described as BBCgate?

And might we say the judge is "playing a blinder"?

Oct 30, 2012 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered Commenterspangled drongo

There is no legal basis for the Chatham House Rule, as far as I am aware. It is an informal device used to encourage people to speak freely without the fear of remarks later being attributed to them in the media or elsewhere. It does not prevent reporting of what presenters said if they agree to it being published or the reporting of the tenor of subsequent discussions without attribution to individuals. It rests on trust. If a journalist abused it, he would not be invited back again.

I was once, a long time ago, a corporate member of Chatham House. I was a member because it was a useful way to find out what was happening in various parts of the world. Journalists often attended as it provided useful background and policy information. The same rule was applied to discussions at the Foundation for Science and Technology, where I was a member of the Council for several years. Science journalists frequently used to attend these functions. In those days, the idea was to provoke discussion and argument. Everyone there knew who was attending because their names were printed in the programme. I don`t think that anyone there thought this list was some sort of state secret. It seems odd to me that the BBC is so coy about this aspect of their meeting - unless they are trying to hide something.

Oct 30, 2012 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

We all know what they are fighting so hard to hide.

It's like they held a seminar on religion and only invited Taoists.

Oct 30, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

I saw that too, Martin. And did anyone else catch Neil Wallis on the Daily Politics on Friday? Awkward to say that I had quite a lot of sympathy for the cause he was chosen to represent, though his thuggish approach may not have endeared the unaligned viewer. But what was Wallis doing at UEA in 2009-10, for goodness sake?

As for Chatham House I don't think the definitive history has really been written. It should be. Norman Rose's The Cliveden Set covered some of the early ground in 2001. But from Lionel Curtis to Arnold Toynbee, admirer of both Hitler and Stalin, to David Mitrany, whose functionalism-as-a-way-to-world-government surely influenced a later generation of power-seeking internationalists like Maurice Strong, it's been mixing it with obscure intellectuals, the mega-rich, internationalist bureaucrats, central bankers and assorted totalitarians. Mind you, the world wide web changed the game profoundly. Such places have had to adapt. We live and learn, just perhaps.

Oct 30, 2012 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

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