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Bias at the national broadcaster is as easy as ABC

By Marc Hendrickx - posted Wednesday, 23 February 2011


In late November last year Sara Phillips, ABC's environment editor, posted an opinion piece about climate negotiations at Cancun to her taxpayer-funded blog. I left a comment suggesting she might be better off covering a recent paper published in the Journal of Climate co-authored by Steve McIntyre. This work refuted an earlier study published in Nature in the summer of 2009 and widely covered by the ABC which claimed there was unusual warming in west Antarctica due to man-made global warming. McIntyre and co-authors O'Donnell, Lewis and Condon proved the statistical methodology of the Nature study was flawed and the results erroneous. I directed Phillips to a post on the subject by McIntyre, at his Climate Audit website.

The following anonymous comment was posted to Phillips's blog shortly afterwards:

Annie : 03 Dec 2010 7:07:53pm

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The denialist clowns return again . . . climateaudit.org . . . run by Stephen McIntyre a known climate denialist and extremist right-wing provocateur . . . you are a joke as are your answers . . . laughing hysterically.

On seeing the comment I alerted Phillips, suggesting the comment should be removed as it contravened ABC posting rules, namely, 4.4.1 defamatory, or otherwise unlawful or that it violates laws regarding harassment, discrimination, racial vilification, privacy or contempt; 4.4.2 intentionally false or misleading; 4.4.4 abusive, offensive or obscene; 4.4.5 inappropriate, off topic, repetitive or vexatious; 4.4.9 deliberate provocation of other community members.

After a day or so it was clear my request had been ignored, so I submitted a formal complaint to the ABC. This was turned down by the ABC's audience and consumer affairs. The reply I received on December 16 included the following rationale from Phillips: The moderator has explained this decision as follows: "Mr McIntyre is described by Annie as being an 'extremist right wing provocateur'. Mr McIntyre's views are seen by some as extreme. Annie clearly believes they are. He could reasonably be described as 'right wing' as a speaking member of the George C Marshall Institute, which is known for its right-leaning politically conservative views. 'Provocateur' is a name given to describe those whose thinking goes against that of the status quo, another label that could reasonably be given to Mr McIntyre. As such, the comments from Annie are not unfounded and therefore not defamatory."

I thought McIntyre might be interested in our national broadcaster's view of him so I passed on ABC's official response. These views perhaps account for the lack of coverage of McIntyre's ground-breaking work on climate change by the ABC.

McIntyre responded to the ABC, in an email sent on December 17:

I am not a "member of the George Marshall Institute". This allegation on your part is untrue. I once spoke at a briefing session sponsored by George Marshall Institute, but that does not make me a "member" or imply any endorsement on my part of their views. I would have been delighted to make the same presentation at a session sponsored by the Pew Centre.

Nor is there any basis for characterising my political views as "extremist right wing". I have seldom expressed political opinions, though I once said that, in American terms, I would have been a Bill Clinton supporter. My only recent political contributions have been to a left-wing municipal politician in Toronto, Pam McConnell. I challenge you to provide any evidence that I hold "extremist right wing" political views. The comments by Annie are totally unfounded and defamatory. Yours truly, Stephen McIntyre

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On December 23 ABC advised that the offensive comments had been removed.

The level of bias and base ignorance inherent in the views of a senior ABC journalist, in supporting the defamatory comments, are truly astonishing.

The affair leaves one questioning the credibility and objectivity of ABC's environmental reporting, along with the independence and efficacy of ABC's system of self-regulation.

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This article was first published in The Australian on February 21, 2011.



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About the Author

Mark Hendrickx runs the blog ABCNewswatch.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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