Saturday, 19 May 2012

THE OZ 19/5/12: ABC 'climate death threats' reports undermined

ABC 'climate death threats' reports undermined

  • From:The Australian 
  • May 19, 2012 12:00AM

  • Jonathon Holmes
    ABC Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes .

    Source: The Australian
    THE accuracy of the ABC's reporting on climate change has been called into question by an activist who uncovered documentary evidence that undermines one of the national broadcaster's most sensational reports on the subject.
    Climate change blogger Simon Turnill told The Weekend Australian the contents of 11 emails he uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act were at odds with last year's ABC report that death threats had been made against climate scientists at the Australian National University.
    Then, when the ABC reported on the contents of those emails after they were uncovered, it did so in a manner that he regarded as being incomplete. The ABC neglected to include the key fact that there was no evidence in those emails of death threats at ANU, contrary to previous ABC reports. Mr Turnill said he was disappointed but not surprised because he believed the ABC's approach to climate change "toes the consensus line" and anyone who challenged the orthodoxy received short shrift.

    Mr Turnill obtained the documents at the heart of the affair from the the ANU in order to check the veracity of last year's ABC report that climate change scientists at the university had received death threats in the preceding six months.
    An independent examination of those emails by Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim found they contained abuse but no death threats.
    After those emails were made public, Mr Turnill said The Australianhad accurately reported that they contained abuse against ANU climate scientists but no death threats. When the ABC reported on the same emails, it made no mention of the fact they did not contain death threats. "I was surprised that the ABC chose to run the story again, saying it confirmed there was abuse -- yes, that's true, there was abuse -- but there were no death threats," he said.
    The original ABC report came soon after The Canberra Times said the problem of death threats against climate change scientists was not confined to ANU and other academics were at risk.
    The Australian's reporting of the affair has tracked the progress of Mr Turnill's FOI request and relied on Mr Pilgrim's independent assessment.

    ABC program Media Watch has presented a series of questions to The Australian about the affair.
    While accepting Mr Pilgrim's findings that the 11 emails did not contain any death threats, Media Watch supervising producer Amy Donaldson asks how this newspaper could conclude that other alleged threats outlined in The Canberra Times had also been debunked.
    While The Australian's reporting had focused on Mr Turnill's FOI investigation, Ms Donaldson asked why this newspaper had not approached other climate scientists. The parameters of Mr Turnill's FOI request had been heavily influenced by the six-month timeframe used in the original ABC report asserting that there had been death threats at ANU.
    Late yesterday, this newspaper sent questions of its own to Media Watch seeking a response from presenter Jonathan Holmes on whether he saw his role as defending climate change orthodoxy? Holmes replied: "No. The program's role is to apply accepted journalistic standards to the output of the Australian mainstream media."
    The program's executive producer, Lin Buckfield, declined to provide a direct answer when asked if Media Watch would examine why the ABC had chosen to report, in the wake of Mr Pilgrim's findings, only that the 11 emails contained abuse without mentioning that its earlier reports had said they included death threats. She also declined to provide a direct response when asked if Media Watch would be examining whether the ABC's policy on corrections and clarifications had properly been applied to this matter? "Watch the program on Monday night," Buckfield said.
    The Weekend Australian's editor, Nick Cater, said: "Media Watch's flaw is that it is vulnerable to capture by its presenters' pet obsession. Jonathan Holmes has taken a neutral stance on most issues, but on climate change he has clearly fallen victim to ABC group think."
    This is not the first time that Media Watch has criticised The Australian over news that is at odds with the orthodox view on climate change. In August last year, the program attacked The Australian for "misrepresenting" a report on coastal sea levels, even though the author of the report, NSW principal coastal specialist Phil Watson, did not claim to have been misrepresented.
    Mr Watson's employer, the NSW Department of Environment, claimed the article, by senior journalist Stuart Rintoul, misrepresented Mr Watson, which The Australian denied.
    Mr Watson's research, based on century-long tide gauge records, found that there was a "consistent trend of weak deceleration" in sea level rises from 1940 to 2000.
    Media Watch also attacked The Australian over its reporting in March of a risk assessment report prepared by consultants to Port Macquarie-Hastings Council in which it recommended the council adopt a plan now to evict residents of a road in the NSW mid-north coast town of Lake Cathie because of predicted coastal erosion dangers.
    The Australian correctly reported that the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation report said that, at the current rate of erosion, 14 houses would face a structural risk towards the end of the century, and that incorporating predictions of sea level rises due to climate change would accelerate the erosion to the point where the houses would be at risk by about 2050.
    Media Watch claimed the report was inaccurate because SMEC had said there was an "immediate" threat. But the program was selective in its coverage of the SMEC report, particularly what it said about an "immediate threat" to the houses.
    The brief from the council to the consultants, as per the requirement legislated by the former Labor state government, included an assessment of predictions of rising sea levels as a result of climate change, based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections.
    The SMEC report says it considered "the NSW government's sea level rise benchmarks of 0.4 m (from 1990 to 2050) and 0.9 m (from 1990 to 2100)".
    The SMEC report says that based on photographic studies, the average rate of historical recession of escarpment is 0.2 metres a year.
    The report only talks of an "immediate" threat to the structural integrity of the houses from erosion in a specific rare context: the one-in-a-100 chance of a "major storm" in any one year.
    Media Watch failed to disclose the timeframe in which SMEC wrote of an "immediate" threat.

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