Ex-chief scientist treated unfairly in documentary, Ofcom rules

July 24, 2008

Leading academics, including the Government's former chief scientist, were treated unfairly in a television documentary challenging notions about global warming, the broadcasting watchdog has ruled.

The documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, broadcast by Channel 4 in March 2007, provoked 265 complaints.

In an adjudication this week, the regulator Ofcom said that David King, former UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Carl Wunsch, an oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of hundreds of scientists, were treated unfairly.

Ofcom found Channel 4 in breach of rule 7.1 of its fairness code, which states: "Broadcasters must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes."

Sir David King complained that his views had been "misrepresented" and that he had been criticised for comments he had not made.

Ofcom agreed that comments, which were ridiculed and which called into question his scientific views and his credibility, had been wrongly attributed to Sir David.

The IPCC was described in the documentary as "politically driven" and Ofcom ruled that this was unfair and "went to the core of IPCC's function and reputation".

Professor Wunsch complained that the programme misrepresented his general views on climate change and his comments on the relationship between CO2 in the ocean and temperature change.

Ofcom did not agree that his comments had been misrepresented, but did find that he should have been told that the programme was a polemic against the consensus view.

Overall, Ofcom said that while it had concerns about aspects of the presentation, and the omission, of facts, the audience was not "materially misled" as the programme was a polemic.

matt.rooney@tsleducation.com.

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