Melanie Phillips

13 November 2012

The real BBC scandal

Published in: Melanie's blog

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The BBC has expended considerable effort, not to mention a very large amount of licence fee-payers’ money, upon suppressing evidence of its biased reporting.

In 2004, prompted by persistent concerns about anti-Israel bias, a report was written by broadcasting executive Malcolm Balen on the BBC’s Middle East coverage. The BBC has spent more than a third of a million pounds resisting legal efforts to force it to publish this report, which remains secret to this day.

In a report published in 2007, the BBC claimed that the previous year it had held a ‘high level seminar’ on climate change attended by ‘some of the best scientific experts’. As a result, said this report, the BBC had

‘come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change]’.

A member of the public, Tony Newbery, mounted a five year attempt under Freedom of Information law to force the BBC to divulge the names of the ‘scientific experts’ who had persuaded it into this astounding abandonment of objectivity in reporting on the issue of climate change.

The BBC spent thousands of pounds blocking Mr Newbery’s action, which finally failed last Friday, implacably refusing to make those names publicly available. Now we know why.

For an enterprising blogger, Maurizio Morabito, has uncovered the list of these 28 names through searching an internet cache on the website of the International Broadcasting Trust, which helped set up the seminar with the BBC.  This list shows that in fact only a tiny number of these secret participants were actually current scientists – and most or all of those were climate change alarmists, including the director of the Tyndall Centre which was at the eye of the infamous ‘Climategate’ email storm. The rest of them were activists or journalists.

So the BBC censored its journalism on climate change on the basis of a seminar of climate change partisans, zealots and assorted distinctly unauthoritative others, whom it wholly misleadingly described as some of the ‘best scientific experts’.  It then spent thousands of pounds of public money trying to conceal this fact on the spurious grounds -- as with the Balen report – that journalistic processes had to remain private.

This scandal, however, goes way beyond the issue of climate change. The notion that the seminar’s co-organiser, the International Broadcasting Trust, is an objective body is quite false. It is nothing other than a left-wing lobby group supported by a veritable who’s who of radical developmental and third world-activist NGOs – including Amnesty, Christian Aid, Human Rights Watch, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children and WWF (World Wildlife Fund)  -- and which openly aims to influence broadcasters to promulgate the views of such organisations.  And it boasts about its successes in achieving this aim:

‘Our lobbying work has produced significant results. Both the BBC and Channel 4 now have remits which place internationalism at the heart of their output... When the new BBC Charter was first published in 2006 in draft form, there was also no mention of internationalism. As a result of lobbying by IBT the Charter was amended and one of the BBC’s key purposes now is ´to bring the world to the UK.´

Indeed, the 2006 climate change seminar wasn’t the half of it. The Biased BBC site has uncovered a number of other seminars the IBT organised and that the BBC attended between 2004 and 2008. The IBT boasted:

‘Six seminars have taken place. They have had a significant impact on the BBC’s output’,

a claim apparently upheld in 2005 by Jana Bennett, then Director of Television, who

‘acknowledged that the Real World Brainstorms had had a significant impact on the BBC’s thinking and programming. She said the ambitious season Africa Lives on the BBC would not have been the same without this dialogue’;

 not to mention Roly Keating, controller of BBC 2, who at another IBT seminar about ‘global interconnectedness’ in 2007

‘urged producers and commissioners ‘to generate more variety – shapes, tones, formats – because the liberation of coming at these subjects from a completely different spirit is so breathtaking.’

Given the supporters and aims of the IBT, is it surprising therefore that so much of the BBC’s journalism sounds so much like anti-capitalist, anti-west, anti-Israel, third-world agitprop?

And given the apparent systematic breach of the BBC‘s statutory duty to impartiality that would appear to have been involved, not just in its reporting but also in its association with an outfit whose agenda is to influence broadcasting output to a radical leftist view of the world, isn’t this a scandal that is even more urgent for Parliament to investigate than the wretched Newsnight debacle?

Update: I put the main points above to the BBC, and this is what they told me in response:

'There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage. The event certain bloggers have referred to was one in a series of seminars for BBC editors and managers. They were a forum for free and frank discussion of global issues and not created to produce programming nor set story direction. They involved external contributors from business, science and academia. Seminars such as this do not set editorial policy. They can over time and along with many other elements help inform our journalism through debate and access to expertise, but the setting of our editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust.

'The BBC has refused disclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal has unanimously upheld this. The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that is necessary for our independent journalism.

 'IBT were one of a range of organisations and different voices the BBC worked with in delivering these seminars. They are no longer involved. The events were considered against our editorial guidelines and raised no issues about impartiality for the BBC or its output.'

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography


  • The World Turned Upside Down
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