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.

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.

ANU: ABC's extraordinary back-down on 'death threats' story


FOI request

UPDATE: Bishop Hill reports here.

Just when you think things cannot get any more bizarre, the ABC quietly updates its latest story on the ANU death threats with the following extraordinary statement:

UPDATE (May 21): The release of these emails under Freedom of Information followed reports last year (see related stories above) that ANU scientists had received death threats. Climate change sceptics have claimed that the released emails contradict suggestions that any death threats were received, but a spokesperson for the ANU says the university is standing by its claims that death threats were received. Questions have also been raised about whether one of the released emails did, in fact, constitute a threat to use a gun, with a person involved in the kangaroo culling program claiming the comments were made by him, and were in no way intended as a threat.

So is the ABC seriously suggesting that Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim himself is a “climate change sceptic”? Here’s what he said in the FoI decision:

“10. Having inspected the documents, I have determined that 10 of the documents, in the form of emails, do not contain threats to kill or threats of harm. These documents contain abuse in the sense that they contain insulting and offensive language.”

And the 11th, the ABC concedes, was nothing but an innocent discussion about kangaroo culling. The question remains, however: if death threats were received by ANU at any time, why were they not reported to the police? More and more questions, fewer and fewer answers.

My follow-up FoI request (already submitted to ANU) will definitively answer all of these questions – although no doubt they will refuse to release them, and it will require another appeal to the Information Commissioner.

See? According to the ABC, like any challenge to the consensus, it’s all an evil plot by the sceptics! Hilarious!

Media Watch will be a hoot.

TONIGHT: ABC Media Watch expected to cover ANU story


I didn't really love it beforehand…

It is likely (although not guaranteed) that ABC’s Media Watch will cover the ANU freedom of information request story tonight.

Regrettably, I think we can all guess that criticism will be reserved for The Australian‘s coverage of the FoI release rather than for the ABC’s original reporting of the story (still, as of 2.10pm AEST, to be corrected or clarified).

See more on ACM’s FoI page here.

Media Watch is at 9.20pm AEST on ABC1.

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