PCC verdict

From: robin russell-jones
Date: 19 September 2012 17:04:52 GMT+01:00
To: Sean Goldstein
Subject: Re: Our reference: 122487

Dear Mr Goldstein The PCC’s decision was hugely disappointing but utterly predictable. Their basic position is neatly encapsulated by the statement:

 “The Commission is conscious that there exist sharply differing and conflicting views on the topic of global warming, which is a contentious area of political and scientific debate.”
There is of course a political debate which is deliberately manufactured by those with a vested interst in the outcome, but there is no scientific disagreement about the basic facts of global warming. The failure of the PCC to distinguish between peer-reviewed scientific papers, and propaganda from climate change contrarians  is a serious indictment of their judgement . Similairly their decision to give equal weight to publications by the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and unscientific reports by privately funded think tanks such as the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) indicates that they are in serious need of advice from qualified scientists. The PCC has come in for considerable criticism in recent months, not least because of their abysmal failure to discover the nefarious practices of the Murdoch Press.

Yours Sincerely Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath

On 19 Sep 2012, at 16:17, Sean Goldstein wrote:
Dear Dr Russell-Jones
Further to our previous correspondence, the Commission has now made its assessment of your complaint under the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The Commission members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you raised. However, their decision is that there has been no breach of the Code in this case. A full explanation of the Commission’s decision is below.
If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled – as opposed to the Commission’s decision itself – you should write within one month to the Independent Reviewer, whose details can be found in our How to Complain leaflet or on the PCC website at the following link:
Thank you for taking this matter up with us.
With best wishes
Yours sincerely
Sean Goldstein

 

Commission’s decision in the case of
Russell-Jones v The Sunday Telegraph
 
The newspaper had published three articles, on the subject of climate-change, which the complainant felt were inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Under the terms of Clause 1 (i) of the Code, newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate information, and the terms of Clause 1 (ii) make clear that a “significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected promptly, and with due prominence”.
Each of the articles under complaint were comment pieces, intended to allow the newspaper’s columnist, Christopher Booker, to express his views on, and contribute to, the global warming debate; as such, the Commission began by making clear that columnists are entitled to express their personal views and comments – however robust or controversial they might be – provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact.
The Commission turned, first, to address the complainant’s concerns about the article headlined, ‘In the eyes of ‘Nature’ global warming can’t be natural’. The complainant said that the article had misrepresented the content of an academic paper by Jeremy Shakun, published in ‘Nature’, entitled ‘Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation’, by claiming that the paper demonstrated that when the earth was emerging from the last ice age, temperatures rose first, later followed by rises in C02.  The Commission acknowledged that Shakun’s study had argued that, over the course of the last de-glaciation, increased concentrations of C02 led to global warming; however, the report also noted an important exception which Shakun had conceded suggested that C02 was not the cause of initial warming. The Commission, therefore, considered that the columnist was entitled to express the view that Shakun’s paper, notwithstanding its title,  could be interpreted as demonstrating that temperatures rose first, followed by CO2.The article had not breached Clause 1 of the Code in relation to this issue.
The Commission turned to consider the complainant’s concerns about the article headlined ‘The ‘thought criminals’ were right after all’. The complainant objected to the columnist’s assertion that there was a divergence between the projected pace of global warming and the observed data of its progression, an assertion which had been made as part of the columnist’s overall narrative about the suppression of dissenting opinions, which challenged politically correct orthodoxies. The Commission is conscious that there exist sharply differing and conflicting views on the topic of global warming, which is a contentious area of political and scientific debate.  It is not the role of the Commission to reconcile the respective positions; rather, it can only come to a view, under the terms of the Code, as to whether published content is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
The newspaper provided the December 2009 monthly C02 report of the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) to support the columnist’s specific claims that neither temperatures nor sea levels have risen, as predicted. It was the complainant’s view that the statistics contained in the report had no significant meaning, principally because the relevant data had been derived over a relatively short time frame. While the complainant was entitled to challenge the statistics, the newspaper was entitled to rely upon the report in support of the columnist’s claims, and there was no breach of the Code.
It was also the complainant’s view that it was misleading for the columnist to have claimed that the ice caps were not melting, nor hurricane activity intensifying, as predicted. To support the former claim, the newspaper referred to an article entitled ‘Recent ice-sheet growth in the interior of Greenland’, by Ola Johannessen, which argued that while there was considerable evidence of melting on Greenland’s periphery, the much larger ice-sheet inland had in fact been thickening, a development not predicted by the established data sets.
In relation to hurricane activity, the newspaper referred to a 2010 article by Met Office scientist Les Hatton, which argued that observed data cast doubt on the IPCC’s prediction that global warming would result in a greater number of hurricanes, of a greater intensity. Hatton had concluded that there appears to be no significant difference in either the frequency or intensity of hurricanes globally.  The newspaper had, therefore, demonstrated a basis for the columnist’s claims and there was no breach of the Code on these points.
More generally, the newspaper referred to the 2007 IPCC report, which predicted that the areas of land affected by drought and the frequency of heat waves would increase.  The newspaper noted that, despite the prediction, the frequency of significant heat waves had not increased since 2003 and noted the findings of a U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association study, which attributed the cause of a heat wave in Western Russia, in mid-August 2010, to historical processes and not necessarily to climate change.
The newspaper also referred to another study, by Narisma et al, which suggested a decreased incidence of droughts in the latter half of the twentieth century, despite predictions that, as climate-change progressed, drought incidence would intensify. While the Commission acknowledged the complainant’s criticisms of the findings in these papers and his disagreement with the columnist’s argument, the newspaper had clearly demonstrated the existence of a body of thought which supported its columnist’s position. There was, therefore, no breach of the Code in relation to the complainant’s concerns about the article.
The complainant also raised concerns about the article headlined, ‘The green mystery we must ask out MPs to explain’; in particular, he noted that the columnist had failed to include biomass, geothermal and tide and wave power renewables, when he claimed that windmills and solar panels could only provide a fraction of the energy needed to replace the burning of fossil fuels. The Commission noted that the columnist had clearly stated which renewable energy sources he had been referring to, and he was entitled to note only the potential contribution of wind and solar power. It was not the case that readers had been misled and so there was no breach of the Code in relation to this aspect of the complaint.
The Commission was aware of the complainant’s concern about the newspaper’s failure to publish a letter which he had submitted, in response to the article; however, the publication of readers’ letters is a matter of editorial discretion, and so the Commission could not comment further in this regard.
Reference No. 122487
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