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Extinction Rebellion (XR) says it has been repeatedly ignored by broadcast regulator Ofcom, in response to complaints about disinformation over climate change in the media.
Tom Hardy, a member of XR’s media team, says the group’s reports of misinformation over the climate crisis have been roundly ignored by the broadcasting watchdog, which regulates TV and radio to ensure news is impartial and factual. GB News and Rupert Murdoch’s TalkRadio are seen as frequent hosts to climate “sceptics” accused of ignoring the scientific consensus.
The climate activist has written to Ofcom about a range of shows, including a Julia Hartley Brewer radio segment where the host allegedly denied scientific evidence and disparaged guests with differing views.
It comes after GB News host Neil Oliver suggested weather maps were “woke,” saying: “Weather maps are among the most blatant and inexcusable fearmongering deployed so far” for identifying areas as red when temperatures are high. In 2021, the Met Office updated its colour coding of high temperatures to make maps more readable for colour blind people.
In one Ofcom complaint, Hardy wrote to the regulator: “On the 23rd of April , during an interview with Leo Murphy of the climate change charity ‘Possible’, Julia Hartley Brewer categorically stated that climate science is ‘disputed’; that ‘computer models have all been proven wrong’ and that ‘every single climate prediction has not come true.’ This is dishonest, misleading reporting and can easily be rebutted by any credible peer reviewed source.”
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Left On Read
He says he received no acknowledgement of receipt or personal notification of the complaint’s outcome. Hardy wrote to Ofcom in protest, saying: “My complaint that the show was materially misleading was rejected. I would like to know the rationale for this decision given that it clearly breached guidelines [which say]: ‘In consideration of whether an issue…has been broadly settled, broadcasters should consider relevant factors.
“These may include as appropriate independent reports commissioned by, for example, the UK Parliament and whether the issue has already been scientifically established…An example of an issue which Ofcom considered to be broadly settled is the scientific principles behind the theory of Anthropogenic [human-caused] Global Warming…
“When Hartley Brewer made the statements of denial, they were not ruminative but categorical and in direct opposition to Ofcom’s guidance notes.”
He added it was “surely salient” that TalkRadio is a subsidiary of Newscorp whose CEO Rupert Murdoch is “invested in” the fossil fuel industry. Murdoch is a major equity shareholder and strategic advisory board member for Genie Energy, which has interests in American Shale Oil, LLC (AMSO), and Israel Energy Initiatives, Ltd.
Adding to the frustrations, Ofcom only publishes brief summaries of complaints – a list of programmes with more than 50 standards complaints each week.
“The volume of complaints received about a programme is no indication of whether we will launch an investigation. There’s been many instances where we have taken action having received a single complaint,” a spokesperson told Byline Times.
“By the time our audience complaints bulletin is published each Wednesday, a decision may not have been taken as to whether the content raises issues or not. Decisions about whether we are pursuing those complaints or not are transparently published in a separate fortnightly bulletin published on a Monday.”
This approach to climate change complaints has raised eyebrows, given Ofcom’s hardline response to a programme called ‘Loveworld.’ The religious satellite channel was fined £25,000 by Ofcom for breaking broadcasting rules during episodes of ‘Full Disclosure.’
The channel was found to have made unevidenced, misleading, and potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines, without providing adequate balance for viewers.
The programme was deemed to be spreading misinformation without challenge or context. But Hardy says the same thing frequently happens with climate denialism on outlets like GB News.
In 2021, Hardy lodged a complaint about GB News host Dan Wootton allegedly inciting violence against Insulate Britain activists. Wootton invited Sherrilyn Speid, 34, who had driven her Range Rover into a trio of female climate activists as they sat on the M25 in Thurrock, Essex. One of them shouted in pain.
Last May, Speid was banned from driving after pleading guilty to dangerous driving over the October 2021 incident. PA reported that the then-35 year old, was disqualified from driving for a year, handed a community order and ordered to pay a total of £240.
In the interview before she was charged, Wootton asked her: “How tempted were you Sherrilyn to go a little bit harder into those women?”
Hardy complained about the interview but says he was ignored and eventually “found evidence that my complaint had been rejected – but received no notification,” he said.
Beyond the Watchdog
The XR activist now focuses his attention on the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO),the voluntary regulator for standards in print and some online outlets: “IPSO’s processes, however unsatisfactory in outcome, are at least transparent.”
Last week, Byline Times’ published allegations about Dan Wootton “catfishing” colleagues and contacts under pseudonyms to get potentially compromising pictures and videos of them (Wootton denies any illegality). That same night, Wootton’s show allowed climate denialism to go almost completely unchallenged.
As journalist Alan Rusbridger wrote for Prospect: “Wootton introduced an item on a climate change protester by asking whether it was ‘just another example of eco-terrorists perpetuating the most expensive and devastating lie in history?’ His guest…launched into a diatribe about climate warnings using the words ‘hoax and a scam’. Governments, he said, were crying wolf. It was ‘project fear, fear porn… pushing the climate terror.’”
The guest, Neil Oliver, had tweeted earlier this month: “There is no climate crisis… [it’s] the most expensive and devastating lie of all time”—the very words parroted by Wootton, who made no attempt to challenge Oliver. Imagine Newsnight rolling out the red carpet to David Icke. Ofcom might have something to say.”
Hardy described the fight-back against climate science as “frightening.”
The issue of climate crisis denial even goes for the BBC: “People like Benny Peiser have been invited on without mentioning their affiliation with the Global Policy Foundation,” the XR spokesperson added. The GWPF frequently casts doubt on climate science, having been founded by a climate ‘sceptic’, the late Nigel Lawson.
Kate Andrews of the TaxPayers’ Alliance was also recently on the BBC’s News Quiz, being “humorous about humanising the face of ideological extremism.” “There isn’t any provenance of who pays for them. It’s absolutely rife.”
A spokesperson for Ofcom told Byline Times the regulator has been “in correspondence” recently with Extinction Rebellion’s media engagement team about their approach on tackling climate misinformation.
“We explained that, in relation to news programming, Parliament has given Ofcom duties under the Communications Act 2003 to set standards so that broadcast news is presented with due impartiality and reported with due accuracy.
“We also set higher due impartiality standards when broadcasters are dealing with matters of political controversy and current public policy. Non-news programming must also not materially mislead the audience,” they said. However, the spokesperson added: “In setting and enforcing these standards, we also need to take into account the importance of freedom of expression.”
Ofcom has pointed XR to its guidance on Section 5 (Due Impartiality) of the Broadcasting Code. “This recognises that the scientific principles behind Anthropogenic Global Warming are broadly settled, and not an issue of political or industrial controversy. We do though distinguish between the scientific principles, and discussions of the public policy responses to climate change. Coverage of the latter is a matter for editorial judgement, within the standards set out in the Broadcasting Code,” they said.
On the 2021 complaint into Julia Hartley Brewer’s show, the regulator said that it did not pursue it after Ofcom “took into account that the basis of this discussion was around predictive, and not actual, data models.”
“Ms Hartley-Brewer’s comments, which in our view sought not to question the existence of climate change, but its magnitude, received strong challenge from guest Leo Murray which ensured viewers received an alternative viewpoint,” they added.
And on allegations of ignoring complaints, the spokesperson said: “As per our normal published procedures, we do not engage with individual complainants on the outcome of their complaint, but transparently publish them on our website in our fortnightly bulletin.”
This article was updated on the evening of 28 July 2023 to include a more extensive comment from Ofcom.
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