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Message sent to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs

February 21, 2011

Dear Mr Maley

Thank you for your response to my complaint concerning bias in Lateline’s interview selection.

I realise, of course, that “balance” may not always be achieved within a single program. In this case, however, the Lateline program had a 3 to zero line up. One might have thought it possible to have one sceptic – all the more so as all except the extreme alarmists seem to accept that the extreme weather is a product of La Nina, a natural influence on climate.

You say that the ABC believes that the majority of scientists favour the view that the world is warming. But that of course is not the issue. The issue is whether the warming acknowledged by almost all scientists (and others) is due to emissions from usage of fossil fuels. On this the ABC seems to have nothing to say but you ignore my point that 30,000 scientists have signed a petition rejecting the theory that emissions are the cause. That compares with claims that about 1600 scientists contributed to the compilation of the last IPCC report, with about 50 actually being the main or lead authors.

Your reply also suggests that I made a  contention about the availability of data.  But this is puzzling as I made no such contention.

You indicate that the ABC has interviewed sceptics and refer to interviews with Professor Ian Plimer, including in debate with George Monbiot. I welcome such action and suggest that, particularly as Prime Minister Gillard has made the establishment of a carbon price a major agenda item, such interviews might be increased. With the vote by the US House of Representatives against any budget payment to the IPCC, they might include interviews with a range of scientists and others on  likely developments in that country.

Yours faithfully

Des Moore
Institute for Private Enterprise

Dear Mr Moore

Thank you for your email of February 9 concerning Lateline.

As your correspondence raised concerns of a lack of balance, your email was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC's editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for balance in news and current affairs content, as outlined in section 5.2.2 (e) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.

The story you have complained about set out to answer the question of whether the recent spate of record weather events could be explained by climate change. This was clearly stated in the introduction to the story: "Australia's deadly bout of extreme weather has left many parts of the nation battered and there are warnings that there's worse to come due to climate change. However, climate scientists admit they're not certain how much global warming is influencing such disasters. Lateline's Margot O'Neill spoke to three of Australia's leading climate scientists about what they know and don't know about predicting more extreme weather."

The headline on the Lateline website summed up the doubt reflected in the reporting: "Climate change may not be to blame". In essence, the three climate scientists said the jury is still out. One even said that cyclone numbers had, in fact, decreased.

The ABC believes that it is accurate to state that the majority of scientific opinion favours the view that the world is warming. You contend that there is only 80 years of data and therefore it is irrelevant. It is obviously true that the further back in time one looks, the data is progressively less precise and detailed. However, useful data exists for than 80 years and more importantly, the most respected organisations measuring temperatures agree that warming is occurring.

In that context it is valid to explore what phenomena can or cannot be linked to climate change without debating on every occasion whether the globe is warming or whether the warming is anthropogenic.

In fact, it is more interesting to find that scientists who do accept that climate warming is occurring, are not prepared to link the Queensland floods to climate change.

On the broader issue of anthropogenic global warming, the ABC does not claim that all scientists, or indeed all members of the ABC's audience, are in harmony.  As Lateline's story clearly demonstrated, the ABC does not assert that there is no uncertainty in either the science or the projected climate outcomes.

The ABC’s Editorial Policies in relation to balance state:

Balance will be sought but may not always be achieved within a single program or publication; it will be achieved as soon as reasonably practicable and in an appropriate manner. It is not essential to give all sides equal time. As far as possible, present principal relevant views on matters of importance” section 5.2.2(e).

The Lateline program and other ABC Television current affairs programs have had a number of climate change sceptics as guests.

Among them has been Professor Ian Plimer, who has appeared twice in recent times, in an interview with Tony Jones and in debate with British writer, George Monbiot. Those appearances can be located on the Lateline website.

The ABC is committed to presenting a range of relevant views on the subject at appropriate times.

Accordingly, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the broadcast was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for balance. Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been noted and conveyed to ABC News management.

Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated. For your reference, a copy of the ABC Code of Practice is available at: codeofpractice-revised 2008 pdf.

Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, the avenues of review which may be available to you are outlined at section 7. Please note that the ABC is making changes to its self-regulatory arrangements in 2011 and the Complaints Review Executive and Independent Complaints Review Panel will be discontinued on a date to be announced. Should you wish to pursue your complaint with either of these bodies, please do so within 14 days. Your opportunity to seek review from the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be unaffected by these changes.

For more information about the changes the ABC is making to its self-regulatory framework, please refer to the report available here -

Yours sincerely

Mark Maley
Audience & Consumer Affairs

ABC program: Lateline

Date of program: 9 February

Location: VIC

Subject: Bias

Comments: The Lateline program on weather conditions that may be behind the recent natural disasters interviewed three scientists (Matthew England, Andy Pitman, and David Karoly) who are well know for their alarmist views about global warming. As indicated by the 30,000 scientists who have signed the Oregon petition, there are numerous scientists (and others) who reject this dangerous warming theory. The Lateline program should stop being one-sided and give its viewers the opportunity to hear the other side.

Network - ABC Television
RecipientName - Audience & Consumer Affairs

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