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« Whodunnit? | Main | Heartfelt but not Heartland - Josh 148 »
Friday
Feb172012

Richard Black and the BBC guidelines

Richard Black's article about the Heartland documents is one of many that are now being closely scrutinised to see whether they comply with normal journalistic practice. In particular, as I pointed out the other day, Black's article appears to have been published after the Heartland Institute issued its notice that one of the documents was a fake. The timing difference may have been quite small, although if someone can determine exactly when the press release was issued, I'd be interested. However, whether there was adequate validation of the source is also an interesting question.

The original version of the article said this:

The institute hasn't yet confirmed the documents are genuine - but equally, it hasn't said they're not, and it's had long enough (more than 12 hours, at the time of writing) to take a look.

Well, perhaps. But what the BBC editorial guidelines say is this:

Where appropriate to the output, we should:

  • gather material using first hand sources wherever possible
  • check and cross check facts
  • validate the authenticity of documentary evidence and digital material
  • corroborate claims and allegations made by contributors wherever possible.

and this

3.4.1 We should try to witness events and gather information first hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first hand sources and, where necessary, corroborate their evidence. We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, a named on-the-record source is always preferable.

or this

3.4.6 We should only broadcast material from third parties who may have a personal or professional interest in its subject matter if there is a clear editorial justification. The material should be labelled. This includes material from the emergency services, charities, and environmental groups.

It does look to me as if Black has broken BBC guidelines here. But there's it's actually worse than this. Take a look at this quote from Chris Rapley.

Chris Rapley, a climate change scientist at University College London, described the project as "brain-washing".

"This strikes at the very roots of truth and freedom in a democratic society, something I would have felt the American people would find abhorrent," he said.

(As an aside, we should note Rapley's struggles with grasping the intracacies of Americans' approach to "truth and freedom", which Lucia has been ridiculing here. I don't know about you, but I always found the First Amendment pretty easy to understand.)

The source of this story appears to have been the Science Media Centre (who else?). They appear to have issued a press release quoting "expert reaction" to the Heartland affair - Bob Ward, Trevor Davies of UEA, Dave Reay (who, IIRC was the guy who ran the campaign against the Great Global Warming Swindle) and Chris Rapley. Strangely, the press release is not on their website, but can be seen on the website of the New Zealand Science Media Centre here.

It is noticeable that all those quoted are careful to caveat their statements with reference to the doubts over the reliability of the disclosures. Rapley's words were

“Assuming that the leaked documents are genuine, the most chilling revelation is the campaign to brainwash American children..."

It's therefore strange to see that this carefully worded caveat didn't find its way into Black's story. To the BBC man, was is enough to assume that they were real:

All the indications are that the documents are real - which gives us an unusually frank look into how lobbying against action on climate change actually works, and who funds it.

The Editorial Guidelines also state that:

Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area. They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.

The idea that Richard Black adheres in any way to the BBC's editorial guidelines seems completely risible to me. As far as I can see BBC management let him do his own thing, and the BBC Trust don't care one way or the other.

(H/T to a reader for alerting me to this line of thought).

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Reader Comments (26)

Does Richard's mum know that he writes these sneering hit pieces?

Does she think he can build a better world with lies and hate ?

What does he tell his children ? "Daddy is lying for the greater good"

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Not sure of the internal workings of the BBC Science Churnalism department but would it not have been wise for Black to run this past David Shukman - the new BBC Science Editor first ?

As Black appears not to have had time to do this, in his excitement, would it not be unreasonable for Shukman to make some form of apology/correction before Heartland consider the legal action mentioned in their press release ?

This way we will be able to see whether the BBC Editorial guidelines mentioned above are worth the paper they are printed on.

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterjazznick

yes jazznick

after all the head of bbc newsgathering, Frann Unsworth, Richard Black and David Shukmann's boss said that Shukmann's appointment to BBC Science Editor would bring a "new level of analysis."

One sorely needed IMHO, but I wont hold my breath.

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterNot Bob

Science Media Centre again? Oh dear. Funny how Fiona Fox and Bob Ward's organisation seems linked to everything, isn't it?

Especially the clumsy, incompetent, unprofessional things.

Love to know how much they are paid to spin.

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

Bishop - please write to the BBC and ask them to answer the points you raise.

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

FakeGate has exposed BBC and Guardian journalists to ridicule and has seriously damaged the reputation of both media organisations. In a rush to print and judgement they all forgot the golden rule of journalism - "If your mother says she loves you, go out and check it first".

FakeGate is also beginning to reveal a coordinated internet, print media and broadcast smear campaign against sceptics. We knew there are a network of links out there between science groups, green groups, science/enviro-journalists and green-minded politicians, but the way they were all ready to pile in with adverse comments within minutes and hours of these documents being released indicates that many must have been given a heads-up prior to release.

Even our own Richard Betts seemed to have prepared comments at hand on controversial aspects of the fake document.

It highlights once more that we are further away than ever from having an open and honest debate on Climate Change, as ever we have;

Fake Science - Fake Reports - Fake Documents - Fake Journalism - Fake Anger.

cAGW is entirely fake.

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

@Not Bob

"new level of analysis"

I wouldn't be too enthusiastic about this given the BBCs current trajectory...

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

Stuck-record,

Even without figures it is clear from the SMC's funding page that they are actually a Big Oil shill and cannot be trusted on any subject whatsoever, ever. BP and Shell support them financially. Evil carbo-corp EDF also support them. And dastardly purveyors of Franken-foods Monsanto too. And News International!

/sarc

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Just been reading the SMC stuff from New Zealand. The constant caveats of 'if shown to be true' in each of the opinions suggests to me that even they collectively - or the editor who collated them - was beginning to get chilly extremities in the pedal region about the authenticity of the documents. But they'd done the work so couldn't back out now.

Bad decision.

Nearly as bad as that of [snip - rude] Black from the BBC to charge ahead regardless. Every time he does daft things like this so publicly another large chunk falls away from his little remaining credibility.And visibly harms that of his employer.

And even Auntie Beeb can tolerate only so much misbehaviour - even by their favourite children. I think his card is marked.......

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Black and thereby the BBC's bias has been laid bare with this Heartland episode. But what concerns me more about Black and the BBC is their refusal to properly scrutinise the many dubious practices by the hockey team, Hansen and others. The ongoing adjustments of historical temperature data by GHCN and GISS are a current example of BBC bias - by not investigating or giving any coverage of this data manipulation and corruption the BBC are undoubtedly guilty of bias by censorship.

http://jennifermarohasy.com/2009/06/how-the-us-temperature-record-is-adjusted/

http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/how-giss-has-totally-corrupted-reykjaviks-temperatures/

http://www.real-science.com/new-giss-data-set-heating-arctic

Feb 17, 2012 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Chris Rapley was my boss at BAS and in all that time I never knew that he was a "climate change scientist". In fact he gave a "get to know me" talk in the conference room, at the time he was appointed, and all I remember was something about testing rockets in Australia. No mention of climate, but I might have slept through that. Mind you, Chris did turn BAS from a dull, science led, institute into an exciting "centre of excellence" for media opportunities, so no surprise that he continues to project himself onto the media despite his fall from the top steps of science to lowly "climate change scientist".

Feb 17, 2012 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Richard Black dropped any pretence of impartiality long ago. His latest tweet here, for example, reads: "The new 'global coalition' on black carbon and methane - my take". No doubts are left in the reader's mind. Those are his views. He is not a reporter. He's an environmental activist who writes opinion pieces.

Feb 17, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterHG54

A person wrote a post on the BBC site saying that Richard Black was well meaning. Richard Black has Anthony Watts' email address and has communicated with him before. I wrote that if Richard Black was well meaning towards Anthony Watts he would have asked him about the veracity of the documents before writing what he did. My post was deleted.

I was born in the US of British parents and have dual nationality. Chris Rapley from University College London does his employer no favours with what appears to be a latent anti-Americanism. That is a shame because my mother graduated from UCL and one of my nieces went to visit a few days ago, as a prospective student. I think the BBC ought to at least make some effort to reign in Richard Black's partisan advocacy. They may not care, journalistically, but the BBC does take advertising on its US website and it is not sensible to insult your customers too much.

I almost excuse the BBC on science grounds: They are simply not educated enough in science to make a good assessment of the issues. And they don't care, despite the fact that competent scientists are available in abundance. That is why they recently appointed a new science editor with a BA in Geography.

Feb 17, 2012 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The intreset part of this , as that Black is getting a kickign in his own artcile , as much for the way he 'did not ' cover climategate as for the way he covered 'fakegate' , it shows people have been watching how Black plays the game anfd their not happy.
But then we known from the leaked e-mails Black is 'the Teams' BBC bag boy and if they think that is the case that tells you all you need to known about how 'impartial' he is on the issue.

Feb 17, 2012 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Chris Rapley did his MSC at Jodrell Bank and then went to the Mullard Science Lab where he worked on the Solar Max satellite. Sir Robert Boyd was director than (the best one they ever had) and with the ERS series of remote sensing satellites it seemed sensible to have a group studying remote sensing at MSSL and Boyd asked Rapley to lead it. This was in the early 80s. A few years later he went to some swedish biosphere project where he stayed for several years before getting the British Antarctic Survey job. He left the BAS and started a 5-year contract as director of the science museum (a very surprise move according to those in the know) but he left after 3 years. Rumour has it that the trusties were unhappy with his extreme climate views and his naked desire to be a media darling. After leaving the Sci Museum early he has become professor of carbon management at UCL.

In his admin role in Sweden and the BAS he did no 'climate science' as such, just fronted the work of others when the TV people came. Many were unhappy about his climate stance at the Sci museum and as for carbon management - well, is that science?

Feb 17, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDDier

Chris Rapley did his MSC at Jodrell Bank and then went to the Mullard Science Lab where he worked on the Solar Max satellite. Sir Robert Boyd was director than (the best one they ever had) and with the ERS series of remote sensing satellites it seemed sensible to have a group studying remote sensing at MSSL and Boyd asked Rapley to lead it. This was in the early 80s. A few years later he went to some swedish biosphere project where he stayed for several years before getting the British Antarctic Survey job. He left the BAS and started a 5-year contract as director of the science museum (a very surprise move according to those in the know) but he left after 3 years. Rumour has it that the trusties were unhappy with his extreme climate views and his naked desire to be a media darling. After leaving the Sci Museum early he has become professor of carbon management at UCL.

In his admin role in Sweden and the BAS he did no 'climate science' as such, just fronted the work of others when the TV people came. Many were unhappy about his climate stance at the Sci museum and as for carbon management - well, is that science?

Feb 17, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDDier

Yeah.......post normal journalism?

Feb 17, 2012 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurfew

DDier,
Thank you, that's interesting. Did Chris Rapley ever study "Carbon" in a more formal scientific sense?
I have a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry [i.e. Carbon Chemistry] and successful use of computer modelling of new carbon compounds. That was computer modelling that was later proven to be correct[*]. But somehow I still doubt that would qualify me as any kind of expert in the eyes of Richard Black and the BBC.

[*] I won't bore you with my unsuccessful or incompetent computer modelling. Nice people don't dwell on such matters.

Feb 17, 2012 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Richard Black and his blatant propaganda should be an embarrassment to the BBC. The fact he isn't says all you need to know about that once august organisation.

Feb 17, 2012 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

// " Dave Reay, Senior lecturer in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh"

My mother's uncle was a "vice president in carbon logistics". Can anyone guess what his company vehicle looked like?

Feb 17, 2012 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

A coal lorry?

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

"All the indications are that the documents are real". The secret is in "all the indications are", proof there is none.Such as in olden days, all the indications are that the heavens go round the earth.

Feb 17, 2012 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Laughton

Climate aside, there's a huge giveaway on Black's political leanings by his description of the Heartland Institute as "overtly libertarian" as if libertarianism were shameful by definition. Would he write "overtly socialist"?

Feb 17, 2012 at 11:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil McEvoy

Chris Rapley, a climate change scientist at University College London, described the project as "brain-washing".

"This strikes at the very roots of truth and freedom in a democratic society, something I would have felt the American people would find abhorrent," he said.

He probably does not see the deep irony in those words.

“The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.” Benjamin Franklin

Just who was Benjamin Franklin? Nicknamed 'The First American', an archetypical polymath scientist, with pioneer observations in meteorology, electrical storms, invented the lightning rod, discovered evaporational cooling experimenting with Hadley, discovered the Gulf Stream in oceanography,
As a diplomat and politician, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, was foundational in defining the American ethos, championed the opposition to authoritarianism, both political and religious, and the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment.

And that is why American's core ethos is to oppose the authoritarian censorship and suppression of debate that climate radicals seem so desperately to require.

Feb 18, 2012 at 12:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

the webcite time says 15:26 ET - what timezone is ET ? SO when did he actually first publish the piece in GMT?

Feb 18, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJason

I've now found time look in a bit more detail at the Heartland documents and compare their funding with sources of funding on both sides of the climate debate. I conclude that there is no David versus Goliath, only two Goliaths.

Feb 22, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon

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