Media Watch's Holmes on The Drum


Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes, presenter of Media Watch, writes a lengthy defence of his team’s reporting of the ANU death threats story on ABC’s The Drum. You can read it here.

The only point I am going to comment on is detail is the following claim:

In any case – and this is a factor which The Australian keeps dodging around, although it is crucial – the 11 emails were in fact irrelevant to the ANU scientists being moved to more secure offices, because that had happened 16 months earlier, in February 2010.

The Canberra Times’s Rosslyn Beeby no doubt knew this, but did not make it clear in her report. The ABC and the AAP don’t seem to have taken it aboard, and certainly didn’t report it back in June 2011. Simon Turnill didn’t understand it when he put in his FOI request.

Well actually, it’s nothing to do with understanding – Beeby didn’t make it clear, as Holmes states, if indeed she did “no doubt” know it. In any event, my FOI request was based on the ABC’s reporting of this event, which says:

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks.

I cannot see any way of construing the above to mean anything other than the following: death threats have been received at ANU in the last six months and we’ve moved staff as a result.

Holmes then quotes a number of emails, none of which contain “death threats”, but simply confirm the unfortunate truth that scientists (along with many others public figures) receive abusive emails from a tiny minority of disturbed individuals. This fact should not have been used as a way to tar all critics of the climate consensus as being a bunch of dangerously unhinged lunatics who would resort to sending death threats to climate scientists because they disagree with what they are saying (the inference – intended or unintended – from the Canberra Times and ABC reporting).

Holmes ends thus:

Who you believe on this matter – The Australian, or Media Watch – should have nothing at all to do with whether or not you accept what the vast majority of qualified scientists are telling us about climate change. 

Science by consensus again. And still the ANU haven’t produced evidence of any death threats to any staff at any time. They are welcome to do so whenever they like and then we’d all be happy to see an end to this farce.

Carbon tax: $10bn up in smoke


Stop burning that money! It's bad for the climate!

It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating again and again:

The carbon tax will do nothing for the climate.

Terry McCrann points out the blindingly obvious (to everyone except Julia Gillard and the Labor/Green government), namely that China’s increasing emissions will dwarf any reduction in Australia’s already tiny carbon footprint.

Australia’s planned reduction of 5%, of the 1.5% of global emissions it produces, equates to less than eight hundredths of one percent of global emissions. Even if we assume global emissions remain constant, such a tiny change will make no difference to the climate.

But of course, as the alarmists like to say, it’s worse than we thought! Since global emissions will continue to increase as China chews through more and more coal every year to support its rapidly growing economy, Australia’s token reduction will be swamped many times over.

So we know that the carbon tax will do nothing for the climate. So what is it for?

It’s a very expensive, very damaging political gesture to keep the Gillard minority government in power by buying the support of the Greens (I wouldn’t pay 10c for a Green, let alone $10bn), and to kowtow to the pointless political correctness that pervades the climate agenda, run as it is by the UN and mega-environmental groups like WWF and Greenpeace.

The Australian roasts Media Watch – again


Media Watch

Your humble correspondent gets another mention in an editorial in The Australian today:

IT’S no surprise that the ABC’s Media Watch has no bite when it comes to scrutinising the national broadcaster’s own news coverage. On Monday night it lost its bark as well. Host Jonathan Holmes fell silent over an issue that he bungled badly the week before — the ABC’s erroneous report in June last year that: “Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.”

The sensationalised story, which followed up a report in The Canberra Times, gained such wide airplay on radio, on television and online that it was picked up internationally by The Guardian and the scientific journal Nature, fuelling a perception that climate sceptics are dangerous fanatics.

The problem was that a crucial element of the story was wrong, which the ABC now concedes — sort of — in a “clarification” buried deep on its website.

But, curiously, most of [Holmes'] wrath was directed at The Australian — for factual news stories that revealed that FOI requests by climate change blogger Simon Turnill had uncovered 11 emails at odds with last year’s ABC report. 

Read the rest here.

And, no, there is still no response from ANU to my questions seeking clarification regarding their claim (in the ABC correction) that they did receive death threats, but just not within the scope of the original FoI…

Climate fears decrease with increasing scientific literacy


Who’da thunk it? The more you know about science, the less likely you are to worry about “global warming”. One of the great myths is that people are sceptical of the global warming scare because they are scientifically ignorant – people like me for example, with a degree in Engineering from the University of Cambridge.

So they assumed that as scientific literacy increased, fear of climate catastrophe would similarly increase:

Dumb sceptics, right?

So it was a bit of a blow when the results were precisely the opposite:

Oops. Maybe not.

The abstract reads:

Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension. The public knows too little science, it is claimed, to understand the evidence or avoid being misled. Widespread limits on technical reasoning aggravate the problem by forcing citizens to use unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. We conducted a study to test this account and found no support for it. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest. This result suggests that public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.

Paper here.

Chubb on ANU: 'no death threats except when journalists picked up the story'


FOI request

The death threat saga has reached parliament, with questions being asked at a Senate Estimates Committee of Prof Ian Chubb, current Chief Scientist, but Vice Chancellor of the ANU until March 2011. Most amazingly, Chubb confirms there were no death threats until the journalists got hold of the story!

The Australian reports that Liberal senator Scott Ryan questioned Chubb, who responded that, in 2010:

A senior member of his staff came to him with concerns from the institution’s climate scientists over emails they had received and said they had also had “a couple of visits from people who had walked in off the street”.

The staff member expressed a desire to have the climate scientists moved from their then-location, Professor Chubb said. “We looked at what we could do and we moved them. Senator, we did not make a fanfare, we did not go public. We simply moved them and got on with our business,” 

Basically they were given swipe card access. So does this incident refer to the “kangaroo cull” incident, or another? He goes on to confirm he never read the emails:

They were at least abusive but let me be clear . . . I didn’t read the emails. I trusted the man who came to me, he was a senior member of the staff and he represented concerns of the staff to me,” Professor Chubb said.

Yes, it has been accepted all along that the emails were offensive. However, Chubb saves the best until last:

“For the record, there were no alleged death threats except when journalists picked up the story.”

So is this a media beat up? Can we now assume that this means that during Chubb’s watch as Vice Chancellor, which ended in March 2011 with the appointment of Ian Young, there were no death threats to climate scientists at ANU? If so, why are the ANU still insisting, through the ABC correction, that they did, in fact, receive such threats?

The window during which such threats must have been received is closing rapidly, and is now restricted to the period March – June 2011. I am still awaiting a response to the questions I sent to the ANU’s media office on Friday, seeking clarification.

Time, I think, for the ANU to finally come clean on this mess.

Full Australian article here.

Durban climate agreement threatens to unravel


Figueres does her "Humph" face

From the fantasy world of the ABC’s balanced reporting to the fantasy world of climate talk-fests, as the chances of globally agreed action on climate change have slipped further into the mire, with even the flimsy Durban deal looking shakier still:

CHINA has accused Australia of working to undermine negotiations for a new international agreement to cut global carbon dioxide emissions.

A new war of words between developed and developing countries over who should be responsible for cutting carbon dioxide emissions has threatened to derail talks on the so-called Durban platform being held in Bonn in Germany.

The dispute means high hopes for talks on a new, legally binding agreement that includes the US, China and India, agreed to in Durban, have descended into infighting between developed and developing countries at the first hurdle.

The Bonn talks were scheduled to appoint key officials and agree on procedures to negotiate a new agreement by 2015, to take effect by 2020.

Institute of Public Affairs spokesman Tim Wilson said: “A bad outcome at Bonn will have a huge impact on the attitudes and enthusiasm for an outcome later in the year and beyond.

“It seems clear that in Durban everyone agreed that something needed to be done but the hard point was the detail and there has been no resolution of the detail.

“If this is the outcome at Bonn it bodes very poorly for any substantive outcome at Qatar later this year for the detail of a second Kyoto commitment period which will cascade into problems for the Durban platform and a post-Kyoto agreement as well.” (source)

Even the Guardian cannot spin the failure.

ANU death threats: ABC's groupthink on climate


FOI request

The Australian publishes no less than four separate articles dealing, either directly or tangentially, with the ANU death threat story, and focussing in particular on the ABC’s response to the release of the emails.

Interestingly, the ABC’s response to the release of the emails has become more the focus of these reports, since it exposes the blinkered mentality on climate change which afflicts our national (taxpayer-funded) broadcaster.

On page 5, Chris Merritt writes an article entitled “ABC issues correction on ANU scientists email threats claim” quoting ACM’s editor:

THE ABC has issued a correction acknowledging that 11 emails sent to climate scientists at the Australian National University contained abuse, but no death threats.

The correction, posted on the ABC’s website late on Thursday, follows criticism from The Australian and ABC TV’s Media Watch.

It comes three weeks after The Australian reported that Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim had examined the emails and found no death threats, while adjudicating on an attempt to obtain their release from the ANU under the Freedom of Information Act.

That FOI request had been submitted by lawyer and blogger Simon Turnill, who was seeking to check the veracity of the ABC’s report of June 4 last year that in the previous six months “several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security”.

The correction indicates that the ABC now accepts its report about Mr Pilgrim’s decision on May 11 should have said the emails contained no death threats, rather than just saying they contained abuse.

But the ABC has not disavowed last year’s reports about death threats. It says the ANU believes its staff did receive death threats, but they did not come to light in the FOI exercise.

In response, Mr Turnill wrote to ANU asking it to make public whatever evidence it has about death threats.

He drew its attention to the ABC’s statement in the correction that “the ANU maintains that staff have received death threats in other communications not released under the FOI action”.

He asked the university when such death threats were received, who received them, what form they took, whether the university referred them to police and what evidence it held about the existence of death threats. He wrote this information was covered by the terms of a second FOI request he served on the university.

“However, I would respectfully suggest that given the significant media interest in this story the university consider releasing the evidence of those death threats which it holds without the need for another protracted FOI procedure,” Mr Turnill wrote. (source)

In case you wondered, the ANU haven’t yet responded to the email I sent yesterday, and I fully expect them to refuse to release the documents. One must ask why they are so reluctant to put an end to the speculation, that some particularly cynical readers may be engaging in, that maybe there aren’t any death threats at all, or for some strange reason the ANU spectacularly failed to keep proper records of something as serious as a death threat? As our American cousins would say, just release the documents already!

The lead story on Inquirer is entitled “Groupthink takes over at national broadcaster

NOW and then, if you watch and listen long enough, you can be encouraged by journalists ignoring what many would argue is the groupthink of the ABC. But the reaction from within can be discouraging.

This month the 7.30 program aired a strong story in which whistleblowers revealed how some asylum-seekers were committing identity fraud to win humanitarian visas. Through government action and individual cases in the past, we know this is a real issue but not one the ABC normally likes to ventilate. The reward 7.30 and its journalists received for this attempt to report reality was to be attacked by the ABC’s Media Watch program. The spat continues.

Likewise, this newspaper has been engaged in a debate with Media Watch. This time the program has been defending the ABC’s alarmist reporting of claims that climate scientists had received death threats. Outsiders sometimes wonder what is more important at the national broadcaster: the facts or their impact on a political agenda. (source)

Chris Merritt also writes on the front page of the Inquirer, in a piece entitled “The world according to ABC has its own climate“, about the experiences of Marc Hendrickx, of the ABC News Watch blog, when attempting to obtaining corrections and clarifications from the ABC:

Alan Sunderland, head of policy at ABC news, gives every indication of being a reasonable man. But so does Marc Hendrickx, who runs the blog ABC News Watch. He has been left dumbfounded at what he sees as the national broadcaster’s inability to accept that when it comes to climate change, the organisation is riddled with groupthink that diminishes its journalism on this subject.

Even when the ABC qualifies earlier reports on climate change – as it did this week – it does so in a way that Hendrickx believes is grudging and inadequate.

“Getting the ABC to make corrections over factual mistakes is like pulling a camel through a needle,” he says. “They can’t even get the correction right.”

Throughout the past few weeks, Sunderland has been the man in the hot seat – responding to requests for explanations about the way the ABC has conducted itself during the unfolding debate about two associated issues:

Were there ever any real death threats made against climate change scientists at the Australian National University in the six months to June 4 last year, as reported by the ABC at the time?

Did the ABC succumb to groupthink on climate change by giving little weight – and no coverage until this week – to the fact Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim had reached a conclusion that at the very least undermined, if not demolished, the ABC’s June 4 report? (source)

And the lead editorial is entitled “Media Watch keeps an eye out for ABC heretics”, which refers to the FoI story:

The latest example has been its dissembling defence of The Canberra Times and the ABC over erroneous reports that climate scientists at the Australian National University had received emailed death threats. The original newspaper report, in June last year, was taken up with such gusto by the ABC that it was followed internationally. The revelation of death threats against scientists played conveniently into a narrative that portrays climate sceptics as irrational fringe-dwellers ranting at the reason of science. But a crucial element in the story was wrong.

A Freedom of Information application unearthed the crucial emails, which contained abuse, but not death threats. We revealed this, and the ABC failed to fully report it. So, strangely, Media Watch decided to shoot the messenger. We are pleased to report that the ABC, belatedly yesterday, corrected its reporting – although you had to dig deep into its website to find it. This, in itself, is unsettling because rather than resist stubbornly for three weeks, media organisations should be eager to correct mistakes, in order to keep faith with consumers. (source)

None of this should surprise anyone who has read this blog for any length of time. Is the ABC subject to groupthink on climate? Do bears defecate in the woods? Is the Pope catholic? Is the Climate Commission a paid mouthpiece for government climate propaganda? Is the IPCC a corrupt political organisation founded solely to find evidence of a conclusion already reached? I could go on…
The Australian also prints Christopher Booker’s damning critique of the BBC’s bias on climate change – of which the ABC is a clone.
Note: some of these links are paywalled. I will try to put up scans in due course.

ANU 'death threats' – ABC posts a correction


FOI request

Which raises more questions than it answers:

ANU emails

Posted Thu May 24, 2012 4:13pm AEST

News Online: On May 11, the ABC reported on the release under FOI of a number of emails relating to climate change received by staff at the ANU. The story should have made clear that the emails were found to be abusive, but NOT to constitute death threats or clear threats of violence. However, the ANU maintains that staff have received death threats in other communications not released under the FOI action. The story has been clarified and updated. (link)

In particular, this sentence:

“The ANU maintains that staff have received death threats in other communications not released under the FOI action.

So I have sent a further email to the ANU to clarify this statement in a number of ways without having to go through the full FoI procedure. Although why the ANU don’t just simply show us the evidence they have of these alleged “death threats” is a mystery. At least then we could all stop this messing around.

The Australian has another piece on the ABC’s defence of its position, entitled “ABC ‘evidence’ of climate threats old, and wrong” – link to follow.

More intrigue (click to enlarge)

 

ANU 'death threat' story – a few final thoughts (for now)


ACM gets a plug on Media Watch last night

UPDATE 3 (25 May 2012): Marc Hendrickx over at the ABC News Watch blog has picked up the baton, and is drilling down into what precisely happened at the ABC in relation to this story. See his posts here and here. Great work, Marc.

UPDATE 2 (24 May 2012): Legal editor at The Australian, Chris Merritt, writes a lengthy piece on the FOI/ABC/MW spat here.

UPDATE: Andrew Bolt tears Media Watch to shreds here.

ABC’s Media Watch reported on the ANU FOI story last night (see here for background).

They criticised the ABC for not properly correcting or clarifying their original story of 4 June 2011, but reserved their harshest words for The Australian, whose reporting of the story they construed as attempting to debunk ALL alleged “death threats”, whether at ANU or elsewhere. This was obviously not the case, as the FOI only related to ANU.

Christ Merritt writes today in The Australian:

[Media Watch host Jonathan] Holmes gave the impression that the newspaper’s reports debunking death threats at the ANU had extended to other alleged death threats at other universities.

The Australian’s reporting of the issue has focused on tracking the progress of Mr Turnill’s FOI request, which focused only on ANU.

Holmes also mistakenly asserted that The Canberra Times had not reported there had been death threats at ANU. But articles to the contrary were published by that newspaper on June 4 and 5 last year.

The June 5 report, which is available online, says: “Security has been tightened at the Australian National University in Canberra after several climate change scientists received death threats.”

Alan Sunderland, head of policy at ABC news, said the update provided further information “in the light of the controversy over elements of the details, and the contested views put forward about aspects of the story”.

“The fundamental point, however, remains the same: the ANU reported a year ago that it had received death threats and other abusive and/or threatening messages, and they have confirmed that they stand by this despite the release of the recent emails.” (source)

The story is up at the Media Watch web site here. They proudly displayed some emails that a couple of anonymous climate scientists had supplied, and, yes, they contain unpleasant abuse and foul language, but crucially, no death threats.

UPDATE: Check out some of the comments on the MW site as well:

“‘Media Watch’ sinks to a new low. I think it’s time to retire Jonathan Holmes and bring in a host who can provide some objective coverage on climate change.”

“Ah Media Watch. Caught again with your pants down. The “death threat” story was a beat-up from the start. What is it with warmenists and lies?”

“So you still have not come up with a single threatening email? Abusive yes, threatening, no. So claims of threatening emails HAS been debunked.”

I realise that many people are missing the subtle distinction here between abuse and death threats. Whereas anyone in the public glare, such as politicians and celebrities, will receive their fair share of abuse and obscenities (the kind shown on MW last night, and on their web site here – PDF – warning, extremely strong language) from a small and disturbed section of the population, death threats are a serious criminal offence carrying very severe penalties. By conflating the two issues in a single story and thereby muddying the waters, is highly misleading journalism.

By the way, Holmes also claimed last night that these “threats” were reported to the police. But the police wouldn’t have been interested. They’re not threats, they’re “mere” abuse. Another non-point.

Why did the Canberra Times choose to run the story it did? Who is helped by it and who is harmed?

Allegations of death threats are an extremely serious charge. Rosslyn Beeby’s story, written as it was by a fervent believer in the cause of man-made global warming, discredited and smeared sceptics, whether intentionally or otherwise, by suggesting that they would stoop to criminal actions such as issuing death threats in order to stifle debate on climate change.

And in turn, the climate scientists are portrayed as innocent victims in all of this, garnering sympathy at a a time when their credibility and the public’s trust in their doom-laden pronouncements was (and is still) at an all time low.

Like climate scientists, environmental journalists are a self-selecting set of environmental activists, so it is hardly surprising that Beeby takes the line she does.

But still for there to have been produced no evidence of a single actual, genuine, death threat, after three weeks of fairly intense media scrutiny, is concerning. If there are such threats, then let us see them, and please explain why they were not reported to the proper authorities, rather than being leaked to the media.

It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway), that abuse and obscenities of the kind sent to climate scientists is deplorable and they should not have to put up with such behaviour in a civilised debate.

However it cuts both ways. Given the vitriolic manner in which those who disagree with the orthodoxy on climate change are regarded (for example by being compared to Holocaust deniers, or regarded as criminals against humanity who should be executed, or who should be tattooed, or worse, gassed), it is unfortunately not entirely surprising that a tiny minority of those resort to the kind of abuse we have seen levelled against the climate consensus.

Further FOI requests are in place. I anticipate this story will disappear from the media until the results of those requests are known.

POSTSCRIPT: Desperate to keep the death threat risk real so he can continue to use it to smear anyone who disagrees with his precious consensus, Deltoid (link in the Headbangers blog roll) still can’t tell the difference between a death threat and mere abuse. Waving a noose in front of someone isn’t very nice, but it ISN’T A DEATH THREAT. If it was, then why wasn’t the person involved arrested and charged? And silence on the actual issues in question above, naturally. 

BREAKING: Media Watch


UPDATE: Marc Hendrickx finds links to Canberra Times articles which make the same claim as the ABC regarding the ANU.

ABC1’s Media Watch covered the ANU FOI story in detail tonight. I’m not going to post in detail yet, but in summary, the ABC and the Australian take a bit of a beating, and the Canberra Times gets off lightly.

In respect of the ABC, Media Watch rightly criticises the organisation for not correcting further and/or clarifying the original reports of death threats at ANU in the six months prior to the original report.

In respect of The Australian, Media Watch appears to believe that Christian Kerr’s articles were claiming to debunk ALL the death threat claims. This was never the case, and clearly only related to the ANU FOI request.

As for the Canberra Times, I would still like to see what evidence there was of death threats. Everything that Media Watch showed on air was abuse and unpleasant, yes, but NOT a death threat. Media Watch enjoyed showing those, I can tell. But they aren’t death threats.

Clearly MW loathes News Limited and the Australian, so it’s little surprise that they get a shellacking. All good stuff!

More to follow.

You’ll eventually be able to see it here.

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