SEVERAL weeks ago on the Science Show, broadcast nationally by our ABC, the host Robyn Williams interviewed a journalist, Bob Ward, masquerading as an expert on climate science. Mr Ward proceeded to make various inaccurate statements and false claims including that he had systematically reviewed the literature on climate science. As a consequence of this systematic review the listener was lead to believe that Mr Ward had accurately identified a paper by Professor Bob Carter, James Cook University, as the worst paper ever published on climate science.
In fact Mr Ward has made no systematic review, and the focus on Professor Carter and a paper he published two years previously was not news. Furthermore Professor Carter was not invited onto the program to debate Mr Wards as suggested in the following letter, but rather to make a pre-recorded comment.
The real news that week was that Professor Carter’s new book, The Counter Consensus, was to be launched at a small function in Melbourne – something the program failed to mention.
I complained to the ABC about the interview which I construed as a spiteful attack on Professor Carter’s credibility orchestrated by host of the science show, Robyn Williams, a well known hater of so called ‘climate sceptics’.
I received the following official reply yesterday which is complete nonsense. Indeed the program violated the ABC’s various codes because while purporting to be factual, was inaccurate and not in context.
Furthermore it would appear from the following letter that the ABC management might be prepared to excuse the broadcasting of ill informed opinion on its Science Show because it has another program ‘Counterpoint’ that broadcasts quality science.
Dear Ms Marohasy
Thank you for your email regarding the 2 October broadcast of The Science Show.
Your concerns have been referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. We have the role, under the ABC’s Editorial Policies (http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm) of examining the compliance of material, about which a complaint has been made, against the relevant editorial standards. In the course of these examinations, we seek and consider material provided by the relevant Division, in this case, ABC Radio.
Radio National’s Science Show is classified by the ABC as a topical and factual program. As such, it must adhere to the guidelines set out in section 7 of the Editorial Policies. These state, in part:
“7.1 Through its topical and factual content the ABC reflects a wide range of audience interests, beliefs and perspectives, presented in a wide variety of formats and styles. This content includes for example:
7.1.1 specialist topics such as arts, children’s, education, entertainment, history, Indigenous, lifestyle, natural history, religion, science and sports.”
“7.4 Staff must also observe the following principles:
7.4.1 The ABC is committed to impartiality: where topical and factual content deals with a matter of contention or public debate, a diversity of principal relevant perspectives should be demonstrated across a network or platform in an appropriate timeframe.
7.4.2 Factual content requires accuracy. (a) Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context.”
Our role in Audience and Consumer Affairs is to assess whether the interview with Bob Ward on the Science Show complied with the relevant editorial requirements outlined above. The first point we must consider is whether Bob Ward can be regarded as a “principal relevant perspective” for the purposes of the discussion. We understand from ABC Radio that Mr Ward was invited on to the program to discuss his views on the quality of climate sceptics’ publications as this is a subject of his research. Given his position as Policy and Communications Director for the Grantham Institute, a group lead by Lord Nicholas Stern which is based in the London School of Economics, and his ability to strongly and coherently argue his views, we are satisfied that he constitutes a “principal relevant perspective” on this matter.
During the interview, Mr Ward expressed views on the quality of some climate research which were clearly contentious and as you note he was particularly critical of a paper authored by Professor Bob Carter. However, we understand that Professor Carter was asked on to the show to respond to the criticisms made of his views and others by Bob Ward. Professor Carter declined, as Robyn Williams noted during the broadcast. Nevertheless the program has published on its website links to the initial paper published by Professor Carter, Mr Ward’s critique of the paper, and Professor Carter’s written response to the claims made by Bob Ward (http://abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2010/3023812.htm). In our view, the invitation made to Professor Carter to appear on the program, and the publication of his paper and response on the program website, indicate that the program was seeking to present its audience with a diversity of views on this subject.
We should also explain that for topical and factual content like the Science Show, the relevant impartiality standard requires that a diversity of principal relevant views be demonstrated across the network in a reasonable timeframe. In this case, the network is Radio National. In considering whether Radio National has met this standard (notwithstanding Professor Carter declining the invitation to appear on the 3 October program), we note that the views of so-called climate sceptics have been featured across a range of Radio National programs in an appropriate time frame. In our view, these broadcasts provide the required diversity of views to augment those expressed by Mr Ward on 2 October, and taken as a whole, this coverage satisfies the impartiality requirements. By way of example, UK politician and lobbyist Lord Christopher Monckton appeared twice on the network during his recent visit to Australia, in the Counterpoint program (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2010/2800684.htm) and on Radio National Breakfast (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/breakfast/stories/2010/2803256.htm). Counterpoint has also featured Professor Aynsely Kellow, from the School of Government at the University of Tasmania discussing the IPCC review (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2010/3020300.htm. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Richard Lindzen, who Bob Ward critiqued in the Science Show on 2 October has also appeared on Counterpoint discussing his views on flawed climate science (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2008/2395805.htm) as have you (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2008/2191714.htm). More recently, Professor Ian Plimer was interviewed on the Counterpoint program of 18 October discussing the the Royal Society and its updated guide on climate change (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2010/3039797.htm).
Please be assured that your views have been noted by Radio National and the Science Show team.
For your reference, the ABC Code of Practices summarises the major principles which guide ABC content and is available here –
Thank you again for taking the time to write.
Claire M Gorman
Audience and Consumer Affairs