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Kodikara and Smith and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2008-077

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainants

  • Tushara Kodikara of Wellington
  • Inga Smith of Dunedin

Dated

25th November 2008

Number

2008-077

Channel/Station

Prime TV

Broadcaster

SKY Network Television Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Great Global Warming Swindle – documentary alleging that global warming was natural rather than due to human activity and/or carbon dioxide – interviewed a number of scientists who disagreed that global warming was man-made – followed by a Prime News Global Warming Special panel discussion – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – introduction clearly established that documentary was presenting one controversial perspective – panel discussion satisfied requirement of reasonable efforts to present other viewpoints – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant mainly concerned with inferences drawn from statements of fact – panel discussion specifically addressed a number of alleged inaccuracies – decline to determine one aspect of the accuracy complaint – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not identify in original complaint who was treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   The Great Global Warming Swindle, an hour-long documentary made by British television producer Martin Durkin, was broadcast on Prime TV at 8.30pm on Sunday 1 June 2008. Eric Young from Prime TV introduced the programme with the following comments:

Good evening. It is one of the most contentious, the most debated, the most compelling issues of our time. It is of course global warming, and even if you don’t understand the science, you will recognise the language – carbon footprints, fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions. It has become a part of your life irrespective of where you might stand on the issue.

Now for some, man-made global warming is a crusade, a reality to which we are waking up far too slowly. To others though, it is at best an unproven hypothesis, and at worst the scare tactics of a suddenly powerful lobby. 18 months ago a movie fronted by former US vice-president Al Gore confronted many of us for the first time with the subject. That movie was of course An Inconvenient Truth. It went on to win two Academy Awards and the gentleman who likes to describe himself as the man who used to be the next president of the United States instead went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Still, there are sceptics. One of them is British documentary maker Martin Durkin. And over the next hour or so you’ll see his response. Now because he speaks only to fellow sceptics, and because many of the points he makes continue to be challenged, we’ve assembled a panel of scientists, broadcasters and environmentalists to discuss them. You’ll meet them shortly. But first we must point out The Great Global Warming Swindle does not represent the views of Prime or Prime News.

[2]   The documentary was then shown. It was introduced by a narrator as follows:

Man-made global warming is no longer just a theory about climate. It is one of the defining moral and political causes of our age. Campaigners say the time for debate is over – any criticism, no matter how scientifically rigorous, is illegitimate, even worse, dangerous. But in this film it will be shown that there is nothing unusual about the current temperature, that the Earth's climate is always changing, and that the scientific evidence does not support the notion that climate is driven by carbon dioxide, man-made or otherwise. Everywhere, you are told that man-made climate change is proved beyond doubt. But you are being told lies.

[3]   The programme proceeded on that basis, with comments from the narrator, and included numerous individuals who offered opinions about why they did not believe that global warming was a result of human activity or carbon dioxide.

[4]   Immediately after The Great Global Warming Swindle, Prime screened an hour-long “Prime News Global Warming Special”, which consisted of a panel discussion hosted by Eric Young. There were five guests, who discussed the documentary and the global warming debate in general:

  • Dr David Wratt, NIWA General Manager; leader of NIWA’s climate team and Chair of the Climate Committee of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
  • Professor Martin Manning, professor of climate change at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute.
  • Dr Willem De Lange, senior lecturer in earth and ocean sciences at Waikato University. He was a sea level expert for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1994-1995.
  • Cindy Baxter, climate campaigner and international Greenpeace climate consultant, who “describes herself as someone obsessed with tracking the sceptics of global warming”.
  • Leighton Smith, broadcaster, described as “New Zealand’s best known global warming sceptic”.

Complaints

[5]   Tushara Kodikara and Inga Smith made formal complaints to SKY Network Television Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

Tushara Kodikara’s complaint

[6]   Mr Kodikara argued that the programme had breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[7]   With regard to balance, Mr Kodikara maintained that the programme was not a documentary, but “a one-sided piece of propaganda made on behalf of climate sceptics that alleges that the world’s climate scientists are lying about global warming”. The complainant also maintained that SKY had breached the standards because it had not been explicitly stated that the programme was an opinion piece; it claimed to be a scientific documentary. He said that “it tried to cover this up by having a debate afterwards, but failed to clearly discuss the many inaccuracies in the film”.

[8]   Mr Kodikara considered that the programme contained “glaring inaccuracies, distortions of fact and misrepresentations of the real state of climate science”. He outlined each of these in his complaint:

  • The programme was incorrect in asserting that the global average temperature today was not as high as it was during other times in recent history, such as the Medieval Warm Period, and that this indicated that the recent warming trend was a natural phenomenon.
  • It was misleading to assert that global average temperature decreased between 1940 and 1980 and therefore it could not be dependent on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, which increased over that period.
  • The programme asserted that while climate models suggest that greenhouse gases should warm the troposphere faster than the surface, observed data showed that the surface was warming more quickly, indicating that any climate change that was occurring was not due to human activity. This was inaccurate.
  • It was inaccurate to assert that volcanoes produced far more carbon dioxide than human activities, so anthropogenic greenhouse gases could not be having a significant effect on global average temperature.
  • It was misleading to assert that ice cores showed that, during earlier periods in the earth’s history, rises in carbon dioxide followed increases in temperature, and therefore by implication the current rise in greenhouse gas concentrations had not caused the recent increase in global average temperature.
  • The programme asserted that the variation in global average temperature over the last couple of centuries could be explained by the effect of solar activity instead of the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations since the Industrial Revolution. Scientific evidence has shown that this was not the case.

[9]   Mr Kodikara concluded his complaint by asserting that the programme inaccurately represented the current known state of climate science. “Even though scepticism is a healthy process in science,” he wrote, “many of the hypotheses presented in the film have been considered and been rejected by peer-reviewed scientific study.” He considered that the documentary was not objective, fair or balanced, but presented “outdated, inaccurate, incorrect data to misrepresent the current understanding of climate science. Prime failed to accurately demonstrate the many flaws in the film”.

Inga Smith’s complaint

[10]   Ms Smith argued that the programme “presented only the views of a very small group of people who do not believe the accepted scientific facts of climate change”. She said that Prime TV then claimed to balance this by having a “panel discussion” following the screening of the programme.

[11]   Ms Smith contended that the programme and the panel discussion were unbalanced for the following reasons:

  • The programme showed only the views of a small group of people who do not believe the accepted scientific facts of climate change.
  • The programme selectively used information to back up the arguments of those people, making the programme unbalanced and misleading.
  • The “panel discussion” pitted two respected climate scientists and a Greenpeace activist against a talk-back radio host and a scientist who did not accept the science of the UN’s IPCC. The result was a heated debate, which in no way achieved balance, since the programme preceding the panel discussion consisted of more than an hour of presenting only one side of the argument.

[12]   The complainant considered that to achieve balance, the scientists should have been permitted to present the rebuttal of the programme without interruption from people holding the same views as the programme, which, she contended, had already given over an hour to presenting those views.

Standards

[13]   SKY assessed the complaints under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

[14]   SKY noted that the programme was prefaced with an introduction from Prime TV presenter Eric Young stating that The Great Global Warming Swindle was a controversial documentary and not necessarily endorsed by Prime TV. The programme was immediately followed by an hour long discussion panel, it said, on the topic of global warming, “which gave ample opportunity for opponents of The Great Global Warming Swindle documentary to express their views”.

[15]   The broadcaster also noted that the documentary had already been shown by Channel 4 in the UK and by ABC in Australia, and that the version screened on Prime had been updated to remove material that was established to have been factually incorrect.

[16]   SKY said that it had received letters from a number of scientists congratulating Prime for screening the documentary and encouraging public debate around this issue. It also noted guidelines 4b and 4c to the balance standard, which state:

Guidelines

4b    No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present all significant sides in as fair a way as possible, it being acknowledged that this can be done only by judging each case on its merits.

4c    Factual programmes, and programmes shown which approach a topic from a particular or personal perspective (for example, authorial documentaries and those shown on access television), may not be required to observe to the letter the requirements of Standard 4.

[17]   SKY declined to uphold the complaints.

Referrals to the Authority

[18]   Dissatisfied with SKY’s response, Mr Kodikara and Ms Smith referred their complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mr Kodikara’s referral

[19]   Mr Kodikara argued that SKY’s response was “disingenuous, and in one respect completely wrong”. He said that SKY stated that the version of the programme it had broadcast had been updated to remove material that had been proven to be factually incorrect, but the programme still had “several egregious errors”, which he would outline in his further submissions. He also considered stating that scientists congratulated Prime for screening the documentary was “a poor justification, in terms of the many scientific flaws in the film”.

Ms Smith’s referral

[20]   Ms Smith disagreed with SKY that her original arguments were “not valid because of the disclaimer given at the start of the programme, and because Prime regards the ‘debate’ slot as ‘ample opportunity’ for the other side to be presented”. She also disagreed that the programme was exempt from balance requirements because of guideline 4c. She considered that the programme was “presented in the style of an authoritative documentary (the narrator is never shown...) rather than as an opinion piece”.

[21]   The complainant also objected to the argument that guideline 4b excused the comparatively short amount of time given to the scientists in the panel discussion to present their views. She said they were not given a chance to present their arguments uninterrupted and therefore guideline 4b could not be invoked as a justification.

[22]   Ms Smith contended that guidelines 5d and 5e were not followed merely by playing a version of the programme that had been edited down from that shown in the UK and Australia, “which [SKY] states was the case with this programme”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[23]   SKY stated that it stood by its decision that:

...by bracketing the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle with an introduction from Eric Young immediately beforehand and an hour-long studio debate afterwards, the network has more than lived up to its obligation under [guideline] 4b to provide balance in the discussion of a controversial subject.

[24]   The broadcaster maintained that it had not breached the guidelines to the balance standard because it was made clear in Prime’s introduction that the documentary represented an individual perspective on the subject of global warming, and it ensured that the version of the documentary that was screened had been updated to remove “the most argumentative material”.

[25]   SKY noted that Ofcom, the UK broadcasting regulator, had dismissed many of the UK complaints against the documentary subsequent to its original screening. In its ruling, SKY said, Ofcom stated that it was of “paramount importance” that broadcasters “explored controversial subject matter, with inevitable complaints”, and that it was clear that the programme was “attacking a mainstream view”. Despite “some concerns about aspects of this programme as regards the portrayal of factual matters”, Ofcom stated that the broadcaster had the right to screen this programme provided it complied with the broadcasting codes. Ofcom concluded that it had.

[26]   SKY emphasised that the Ofcom decision referred to the original UK screening of the programme, while Prime had screened a version that had been updated to remove the most controversial material. Therefore, SKY said, the complaints which were upheld by Ofcom referred to material which was not screened in New Zealand.

[27]   The broadcaster wrote:

Prime did not try to hide that The Great Global Warming Swindle was a controversial documentary, nor that it would provoke extreme reactions: hence our approaches to those with a vested interest in the issue, offering them the opportunity to appear on camera and express their point of view.

[28]   SKY reiterated that it had received letters from scientists both for and against the documentary, as well as emails praising Prime for its “courage” in screening it. From its perspective, SKY said, “there does not appear to be anything like the consensus on the scientific issues” that the complainants claimed.

[29]   SKY emphasised that Prime regularly screens documentaries or popular programmes concerning scientific issues, and that it was arguably the only free-to-air broadcaster that gave regular prime time coverage to science. It therefore considered that screening The Great Global Warming Swindle should be regarded as “a contribution to a wider debate that can only help public awareness of the issues involved”.

[30]   The broadcaster concluded its response by noting that The Great Global Warming Swindle had received recognition in the following ways:

  • Shortlisted in the Best Documentary category in the British television industry’s 2008 Broadcast Awards;
  • Best Documentary at the Io Isabella Film Festival held in Southern Italy;
  • Jury Prize in the 3rd International Science Film Festival Awards 2008 held in Athens.

Complainants’ Final Comments

Mr Kodikara’s final comment

[31]   Mr Kodikara noted that Ofcom found that The Great Global Warming Swindle had breached the UK fairness standard.

[32]   As stated in his referral, Mr Kodikara disagreed that SKY had removed the most argumentative material from the programme; he considered that it still contained several serious factual inaccuracies, which he outlined in his original complaint. He said “the reaction to the film in the United Kingdom and Australia would have shown these errors to exist and a responsible broadcaster would have pointed these out”.

[33]   The complainant argued that the debate that screened afterwards was “nothing more than a general debate on climate change, not a discussion on the inaccuracies of the film, as claimed by Prime”. He therefore considered that Standard 5 was breached because the debate did not rectify the inaccuracies in the documentary.

[34]   Mr Kodikara noted that Ofcom ruled that the final part of the programme breached the code relating to impartiality and presenting a wide range of views, which he likened to New Zealand’s Standard 4 (balance).

[35]   Referring to the Ofcom decision, Mr Kodikara complained that two scientists, David King and Carl Wunsch, were treated unfairly in the programme.1

[36]   Mr Kodikara noted that the programme made significant allegations questioning the scientific credibility of the IPCC, but did not give the IPCC “a timely and appropriate opportunity to respond”. 

[37]   The complainant considered that it was disingenuous of SKY to use the Ofcom decision to defend their position, because several complaints to Ofcom were upheld, mainly relating to fairness. He said that where Ofcom did not uphold the complaints, the reason was that breaches of accuracy only applied to “content which materially misleads the audience so as to cause harm and offence”. Ofcom therefore ignored the falsehoods in the programme because most viewers would have known that the views expressed were not the scientific consensus. However, Mr Kodikara argued, SKY maintained that this scientific consensus does not exist. This was not true, he said, “as shown by the peer reviewed science that exists”.

[38]   Mr Kodikara concluded by saying he urged the Authority to conclude that the panel discussion was not a justification for screening the documentary.

Ms Smith’s final comment

[39]   Ms Smith stated that she was not sure why Ofcom’s decision was relevant, “given that it is in a totally different jurisdiction”. Since SKY had selectively quoted from the judgment, she said, she pointed out, and attached excerpts from, the critique of Ofcom’s decision by an investigative journalist and documentary maker.

[40]   The complainant noted that SKY had referred to unnamed “scientists” who had supported the documentary and SKY’s screening of it.

[41]   Ms Smith considered that SKY’s statement that “there does not appear to be anything like the consensus on the scientific issues that the complainant claims” was in contrast to the findings of Ofcom that SKY relied upon, which stated that “the views expressed in the programme went against the scientific consensus about the causes of global warming and were only espoused by a small minority”.

Authority’s Request for Further Information

Authority’s request

[42]   The Authority asked Mr Kodikara to provide evidence or further information to support his arguments that the following points were inaccurate:

  • Global average temperature today is not as high as it was during other times in recent history, such as the Medieval Warm Period.
  • Global average temperature decreased between 1940 and 1980.
  • Climate models suggest that greenhouse gases should warm the troposphere faster than the surface, but observed data show that the surface is warming more quickly.
  • Ice cores show that, during the earlier periods in the earth’s history, rises in carbon dioxide followed increases in temperature.

Mr Kodikara’s response

[43]   Mr Kodikara provided the following information about each point, which he said was adapted from a similar complaint about the programme to Ofcom.

Global average temperature today is not as high as it was during other times in recent history, such as the Medieval Warm Period.

[44]   Mr Kodikara stated that the programme asserted this using a graph which it attributed to the IPCC, that alleged that “current” global temperatures were not as high as temperatures recorded between 1100 and 1300, known as the Medieval Warming Period. The graph was taken from the IPCC’s First Assessment Report published in 1990, he said, and showed global temperature variations from 900AD to 1975. Thus the programme inaccurately claimed that it showed present temperatures. Mr Kodikara said that the graph had been superseded by many studies since 1990, and updated in the IPCC’s Second, Third and Fourth Assessment Reports. The complainant maintained that these studies made it clear that current global average temperatures were higher than they had been in recent history, and that the programme had “cherry picked data to misrepresent and present an unbalanced view of the known science”.

[45]   Mr Kodikara referred to a United States National Academies report published in 2006, which concluded, based on peer-reviewed scientific literature, that “none of the large-scale surface temperature reconstructions show medieval temperatures as warm as the last few decades of the 20th century”.

[46]   The complainant concluded that the programme had deliberately presented an inaccurate and unbalanced view of the scientific evidence, by ignoring peer-reviewed scientific papers and portraying the graph as current when it was in fact more than 30 years old and did not include current data.

Global average temperature decreased between 1940 and 1980.

[47]   Mr Kodikara stated:

It is true that measurements from meteorological stations that [have] been published by NASA and other scientific bodies show that there was an overall slight decline in global average temperature during this period. The film presented a misleading and unbalanced view because the film exaggerated this decline in the graph it presented and because the cause of the effect is well known (and human induced).

[48]   The graph resembled graphs published by NASA for average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and particularly North America, the complainant said, while graphs of average temperature in the Southern Hemisphere showed an overall increase during the period between 1940 and 1980. Mr Kodikara maintained that the programme was misleading because scientific literature shows that the period of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere is well understood to have been caused by increases in the concentration of pollutants, particularly sulphates, released into the atmosphere by industrial processes. He explained that sulphate aerosols have a cooling effect on the climate because they scatter light from the sun, reflecting its energy back into space. Clean air policies in Europe and North America reduced emissions of sulphate aerosols, he said, so that their cooling effect was soon outweighed by the warming effect of steadily rising levels of greenhouse gases.

[49]   Mr Kodikara argued that climate models taking into account only natural factors such as solar activity do not accurately reflect 20th century temperatures. However, he said, if they do consider human emissions including greenhouse gases and aerosols, they accurately reproduce the decrease in temperature from 1940 to 1970.

[50]   The complainant concluded that the programme was unbalanced because it neglected to mention the effects of anthropogenic aerosols. He also contended that it misrepresented scientific evidence for the causes of changes in global average temperature during the 20th century.

Climate models suggest that greenhouse gases should warm the troposphere faster than the surface, but observed data show that the surface is warming more quickly.

[51]   Mr Kodikara maintained that, prior to 2005 and before the programme was made, analysis of satellite data concluded that the lower part of the troposphere had cooled relative to the surface of the planet since the 1979 launch of the first satellites capable of monitoring temperature. This trend seemed to continue into the late 1990s, he said, and also appeared to be supported by balloon measures.

[52]  The complainant argued that “if these measurements were correct it would show some aspect of the models was incomplete, not that [anthropogenic global warming] is wrong as a whole”. However, he said, it was discovered in 2005 that there were errors in the collection and interpretation of the satellite data. This was reported in 2006 by the US Climate Change Science Programme, which stated:

Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected. New data sets have also been developed that do not show such discrepancies.

[53]   Neither the programme nor the Prime debate mentioned this, the complainant said. He concluded that the assertion made in the programme was clearly inaccurate or unbalanced, as this information should have been known to the documentary maker at the time the programme was made.

Ice cores show that, during the earlier periods in the earth’s history, rises in carbon dioxide followed increases in temperature.

[54]   Mr Kodikara stated that:

The scientific evidence from analyses of ice cores from Antarctica clearly shows that temperature rises during the transition from glacial to interglacial periods, which are generally accepted to be triggered when several cycles in the Earth’s orbital motion and rotation coincide (collectively termed Milankovitch cycles), were followed later by increases in the average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is due to the Earth warming, which then warms the oceans. As the oceans warm, [they release] carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

[55]   Although ice core analyses showed that at the end of glacial cycles a small initial temperature rise preceded an increase in CO2 levels, the complainant said, it was misleading and incorrect to conclude that subsequent increases in CO2 were driven by temperature and that CO2 could not cause temperature increases. The initial temperature rise was generally accepted to be caused by Milankovitch cycles. However, Mr Kodikara said:

...after the initial triggering a positive feedback is established so that CO2 quickly becomes a “driving force”. That is, regardless of the nature of the initial trigger... CO2 forces the subsequent temperature changes.

[56]   The complainant argued that it was misleading to omit this “crucial information”. The programme’s assertion, attributed to a 2003 paper by Nicholas Caillon and others, that the rise in CO2 concentrations could not be responsible for the recent increase in global average temperature misrepresented the findings of that paper, Mr Kodikara said.

[57]   The authors found that the “sequence of events during Termination III suggests that the CO2 increase lagged Antarctic deglacial warming by 800+/-200 years and preceded the Northern Hemisphere deglaciation”. However, the paper also stated that “the situation at Termination III differs from the recent anthropogenic CO2 increase”, and that “the recent CO2 increase has clearly been imposed first”. Mr Kodikara said that the paper stated that the sequence of events during Termination III was “still in full agreement with the idea that CO2 plays, through its greenhouse effects, a key role in amplifying the initial orbital forcing”. He said this meant that carbon dioxide exacerbates any temperature increase.

[58]   Further, Mr Kodikara argued, the programme included a graph, attributed to the authors, which did not appear anywhere in their paper. The programme clearly misrepresented Caillon’s conclusions, he said, as well as the evidence that the recent increase in global average temperature followed a rise in anthropogenic atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Authority's Determination

[59]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[60]   At the outset, the Authority considers that the documentary and the panel discussion were packaged in such a way by Prime that they must be treated as a single programme, rather than two separate programmes. This was primarily due to the Prime host’s introduction, which explained that Prime had assembled a special panel to discuss The Great Global Warming Swindle after it screened purely because of the nature of that documentary. Further, the panel discussion would have meant little to viewers who had not already watched The Great Global Warming Swindle. Accordingly, the Authority considers the Prime introduction, The Great Global Warming Swindle, and the Prime News Global Warming Special as one programme.

[61]   This finding is relevant to Standard 4 (balance), in relation to whether significant perspectives were presented within the programme, and Standard 5 (accuracy), as to whether the programme as a whole was inaccurate or misleading.

Standard 4 (balance)

[62]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. In the Authority’s view, the programme discussed the issue of whether global warming was caused by human activity. It accepts that this constituted a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, and that the documentary part of the programme only presented one perspective on that issue. Prime’s introduction for the documentary clearly stated that the documentary was presented from the perspective of global warming sceptics, and that it was a controversial piece.

[63]   In the Authority’s view, the inclusion of the panel discussion following the screening of the documentary satisfied the broadcaster’s obligation to make reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the controversial issue being discussed. Even though the panel did not specifically address in detail all of the points made in the documentary, the Authority considers that the discussion made viewers sufficiently aware that the arguments made in the documentary were in dispute, that there was credible evidence to the contrary, and that opposing viewpoints existed. Further, two authoritative experts on the panel, namely Dr David Wratt and Professor Martin Manning, informed viewers of the general nature of those other viewpoints and provided strong, and persuasive, criticism and rebuttal of many of the points made in The Great Global Warming Swindle.

[64]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that, although the documentary part of the programme presented only one viewpoint, the programme as a whole, including the Prime introduction and the panel discussion, did not breach Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[65]   Mr Kodikara alleged that the programme was inaccurate in six ways. Before the Authority deals with each of these points, it notes that Standard 5 applies to statements of fact; it does not apply to matters of interpretation, or analyses and conclusions drawn from scientific evidence.

[66]   A number of the inaccuracies alleged by Mr Kodikara contained both statements of fact relating to scientific data, as well as interpretations or inferences arising from that data. For example, he argued that the programme was incorrect in asserting that the global average temperature today was not as high as it was during other times in recent history, such as the Medieval Warm Period, indicating that the recent warming trend was a natural phenomenon. Whether or not the global average temperature today is as high as other times in history is a question of fact to which Standard 5 applies. Stating that this indicates that the recent warming trend is a natural phenomenon is simply an interpretation or analysis of the scientific data.

[67]   The Authority is not the appropriate body to determine the legitimacy of one scientific interpretation over another. It can therefore only determine the accuracy of statements of fact raised by Mr Kodikara.

[68]   Accordingly, when the Authority asked Mr Kodikara for further evidence to support his arguments (see paragraph [41] above), it confined its request only to the statements of fact contained in his complaint, and excluded what it considered to be matters of interpretation or analysis.

Global average temperature today is not as high as it was during other times in recent history, such as the Medieval Warm Period.

[69]   The Authority asked Mr Kodikara for further evidence that the programme was inaccurate in stating that “global average temperature today is not as high as it was during other times in recent history, such as the Medieval Warm Period”. His main concern was that the documentary presented an outdated graph which only contained temperature data from 900AD to 1975.

[70]   Having viewed the updated graphs in the more recent IPCC assessments (see FAQ 3.1 Figure 1 of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report below), the Authority accepts that the graph used in The Great Global Warming Swindle was misleading because it did not include data after 1975. It is clear from the graph below that, after 1975, the global mean temperature increased:   

   graph-temp 2008-077 para 70

 

 

 

 

 

[71]   However, the Authority notes that in the Prime panel discussion, Dr David Wratt specifically addressed this point. The above graph was presented in an on-screen graphic, clearly showing an increase in temperatures after 1975. He explained to viewers:

...it’s shown very clearly in the last IPCC assessment report that if you look at the temperature over the last 150 years, [it] fluctuated around up and down at the beginning, but then once we get to about 1900 it went up, but with some oscillations on top of it... but I think if you look at that graph... you’ll actually see that... recently it’s got hotter and hotter and that bit on the right is what was missed out of the Swindle’s graphs. And the point is that yes there are natural cycles, but as I was saying before, there’s this overall upward trend with cycles on top.

[72]   Accordingly, even though the graph in the first part of the programme was misleading, the error was explicitly corrected for viewers during the panel discussion, with reference to the documentary, so they were not likely to have been misled. Therefore the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Global average temperature decreased between 1940 and 1980.

[73]   When asked for further evidence on this point, Mr Kodikara responded:

It is true that measurements from meteorological stations that [have] been published by NASA and other scientific bodies show that there was an overall slight decline in global average temperature during this period.

[74]   The complainant then argued that this was misleading because, although temperatures decreased in the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures increased in the Southern Hemisphere during that period.

[75]   In the Authority’s view, Mr Kodikara has conceded that scientific data does in fact show a decrease in global average temperature between 1940 and 1980. This point and the arguments made by Mr Kodikara were also mentioned in the panel discussion by Professor Martin Manning, who said:

...the period for example after the warming in the ’40s where temperatures levelled off and it was a post-war boom, if you like... that was caused because we were pumping a huge amount of sulphate from low grade coal... all the sulphate in the atmosphere, that had a cooling effect... so we got on the top of that and fixed that, cut out the cooling and then you see the greenhouse gas effect. So those things are not covered in the film. There are so many things where we have very clear, simple explanations for what happened and the film doesn’t go near them.

[76]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme was inaccurate in stating that global average temperatures decreased between 1940 and 1980.

While climate models suggest that greenhouse gases should warm the troposphere faster than the surface, observed data showed that the surface was warming more quickly.

[77]   The Authority looked to the US Climate Change Science Programme report referred to by Mr Kodikara for assistance in determining this point. That report makes the following statements (pages 2-3, Executive Summary):

  • For observations during the satellite era (1979 onwards), the most recent versions of all available data sets show that both the low and mid troposphere have warmed. The majority of these data sets show warming at the surface that is greater than in the troposphere. Some of these data sets, however, show the opposite – tropospheric warming that is greater than that at the surface. Thus, due to the considerable disagreements between troposheric data sets, it is not clear whether the troposphere has warmed more than or less than the surface.
  • Although the majority of observational data sets show more warming at the surface than in the troposphere, some observational data sets show the opposite behaviour. Almost all model simulations show more warming in the troposphere than at the surface.
  • In 2000 and 2001, the NRC and the IPCC both concluded that global-average surface temperature increases were larger and differed significantly from temperature increases in the troposphere. The new and improved observed data sets and new model simulations that have been developed require modifications of these conclusions.
  • For global averages, observed changes from 1958 through 2004 exhibit amplification i.e. they show greater warming trends in the troposphere compared with the surface. Since 1979, however, the situation is different: most data sets show slightly greater warming at the surface.

[78]   The Authority accepts that the report concludes, as quoted by Mr Kodikara, that “this significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected”.

[79]   However, as demonstrated by the report, for the last 50 or so years, some data showed that the troposphere was warming more quickly, while other data showed that the surface was warming more quickly. In these circumstances, where the science appears to be unsettled, and even though this particular report concludes that there were errors in the data, the Authority is unable to determine whether the statement made in the documentary was inaccurate.

[80]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to determine this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Volcanoes produce far more carbon dioxide than human activities.

[81]   Having carefully viewed the programme and a transcript, the Authority is confident that, while Dr David Wratt referred to volcanoes in passing during the panel discussion, the version of The Great Global Warming Swindle that screened on Prime contained no mention of volcanoes. Therefore, there is no basis upon which the Authority can uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Ice cores show that, during earlier periods in the earth’s history, rises in carbon dioxide followed increases in temperature.

[82]   When asked for further evidence on this point, Mr Kodikara wrote:

The scientific evidence from analyses of ice cores from Antarctica clearly shows that temperature rises during the transition from glacial to interglacial periods... (collectively termed Milankovitch cycles) were followed later by increases in the average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

[83]   In these circumstances, where the complainant conceded that “rises in carbon dioxide followed increases in temperature”, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint. For the record, the Authority notes that Professor Martin Manning specifically addressed this point, and advanced the position argued by the complainant, during the panel discussion, saying:

...so the idea that you know we can somehow go back into the past records and find times when the temperature changed, and then the CO2 changed afterwards – well believe it or not that’s exactly what the science says should have happened. It’s called the Milankovitch Theory of Ice Ages... You cannot then turn that round and say, if CO2 increases it doesn’t cause the temperature warming.

The variation in global average temperature over the last couple of centuries could be explained by the effect of solar activity instead of the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations since the Industrial Revolution.

[84]   As stated above, the Authority is only able to consider Mr Kodikara’s accuracy complaints with regard to statements of fact made in the programme. In the Authority’s view, this aspect of his complaint is primarily concerned with the debate about the possible causes of global warming. He has not disputed that there has been a variation in global average temperature over the last couple of centuries.

[85]   Accordingly, the Authority considers that the above statement was clearly opinion and analysis rather than a statement of fact, and it declines to uphold the complaint that the statement was inaccurate.

[86]   For the record, the Authority notes that Dr David Wratt specifically addressed this aspect of the documentary during the panel discussion, criticised it, and strongly advanced the position argued by Mr Kodikara.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[87]   Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Mr Kodikara did not identify in his original complaint who he thought was treated unfairly.

[88]   The Authority’s task is to review the broadcaster’s decision. In the Authority’s view, although Mr Kodikara nominated Standard 6 in his original complaint, it was necessary, at that stage, for him to clearly name the individuals or organisations that he felt were treated unfairly, so that the broadcaster could properly deal with the fairness complaint in its decision. It was not sufficient for the complainant to later name those parties in his final comments.

[89]   Accordingly, the Authority is unable to consider Mr Kodikara’s fairness complaints in relation to David King, Carl Wunsch, and the IPCC. It also notes that Carl Wunsch did not take part, and was not referred to, in the Prime version of The Great Global Warming Swindle. The Authority therefore declines to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 November 2008

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.           Tushara Kodikara’s formal complaint – 2 June 2008
2.          SKY’s response to Mr Kodikara’s complaint – 10 July 2008
3.          Mr Kodikara’s referral to the Authority – 23 July 2008
4.          SKY’s response to the Authority on Mr Kodikara’s referral – 8 August 2008
5.          Mr Kodikara’s final comments – 25 August 2008
6.          Further information from Mr Kodikara – 11 October 2008
7.          SKY’s response to the further information – 14 October 2008

1.           Inga Smith’s formal complaint – 13 June 2008
2.          SKY’s response to Ms Smith’s complaint – 10 July 2008
3.          Ms Smith’s referral to the Authority – 23 July 2008
4.          SKY’s response to the Authority on Ms Smith’s referral – 8 August 2008
5.          Ms Smith’s final comments – 22 August 2008


1Carl Wunsch did not appear in the Prime version of The Great Global Warming Swindle (see paragraph [89]). David King was referred to at the end of the programme although not by name.