Great Britain’s official broadcasting watchdog agency administered a sanction, what amounts to a slap on the wrist, for a controversial March 2007 “Great Global Warming Swindle” TV program for which critics wanted a much grander pound of flesh.
Ofcom – the United Kingdom’s Office of Communication, which oversees broadcasting – said the controversial Channel 4 program was “intentionally designed as a polemic” and that it was far from perfect in several ways. But it concluded that the program, while unfair to some scientists and to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “did not materially mislead the audience so as to cause harm or offense.”
Pointing to language establishing it in 2003 in the U.K., Ofcom said in its decision that it “only regulates misleading material where that material is likely to cause harm or offence.” It characterized that as “necessarily a high test.” (The U.S. has no such governmental or independent official news council or arbiter.)
“The audience would have been in no doubt that the programme’s focus was on scientific and other arguments which challenged the orthodox theory of man-made global warming,” Ofcom wrote in its 22-page opinion.
Despite a narrator’s line that “you are being told lies” that anthropogenic warming is certain, Ofcom wrote: “At no point did the programme advocate that the audience should not protect the environment. For example, it did not advise people to use energy unwisely or inefficiently.” It therefore concluded that it could not find “actual harm” to the public from the broadcast, which it said Channel 4 had described as “an authored polemic.” Instead, it sanctioned the broadcast for being “in breach” on measures of impartiality and not providing a sufficient range of viewpoints.
In addressing criticisms from some 256 complainants, including a 176-page complaint from a group involving some prominent climate scientists, Ofcom wrote that “both domestically and on a worldwide level, the political debate had largely moved on from questioning the causes of climate change to attempting to find solutions to it.” The U.K. office pointed to “a very broad consensus of opinion which accepted the scientific theory of man-made global warming” by the time the “Swindle” piece first aired on March 8, 2007.
It said “the view of human activity as the major cause of global warming does not appear to be challenged by any of the established political parties [in the U.K.] or other significant domestic or international institutions.”
In sanctioning the channel that broadcast “Swindle,” Ofcom wrote that it had failed a “due impartiality” test in reporting on a matter of significant political controversy or public policy and that it had failed to provide “an appropriately wide range of significant views” in addressing such matters.
It ruled also that the program had treated the IPCC, former U.K. Chief Scientist Sir David King, and M.I.T. climate scientist Carl Wunsch unfairly.