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« Uncreditworthy | Main | More DECC Climategate correspondence »

More on Newbery versus BBC

Andrew Orlowski has written a follow-up piece about the BBC climate seminar and Tony Newbery's efforts to find out who attended.

The BBC wants to be open and transparent only until it is asked a question by the public - then it must be entitled to be closed and opaque, rebuffing information requests as invalid. It's as though Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has shaped corporate policy.

It may surprise some TV licence payers to know that while the BBC ("It's your BBC") conducts "listening exercises" and is guaranteed a £20bn hypothecated tax windfall, it regards itself as a "private". The worst of all worlds?

"I just want the BBC to do what it says on the label," Newbery told us. "The public should know who the BBC is relying on for expert opinions that inform editorial policy."

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Reader Comments (39)

The question scientists should be asking, is was the science presented accurately to the BBC.

But the BBC will not say.

Nov 7, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

20 billion quid? Really? And we whinge in Australia about the ABC getting one billion dollars a year to spout Greenpeace press releases.

The snouts in the trough must number in the tens of thousands.

I wonder if any government will ever have the guts to bite the bullet and admit that these organisations have long outlived their purpose. It is also another reminder of why hypothecated taxes are shocking public policy.

Nov 7, 2012 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

Brilliant timing of a BH post from my point of view. I was just wondering what had happened to Tony Newbery's sterling efforts, because I've just been alerted on Twitter to what looks like it's going to be a bloodbath at the Frontline Club tonight - Trouble at the BBC - Savile, management and public trust. I'm not sure I can make it but just take a look at the blog post prepared by Stewart Purvis in advance of the discussion, snappily titled How well has the BBC handled the Savile crisis? You can decide using this timeline from Day One to Day Fifty-Six.


Nov 7, 2012 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

And now I've read the other Andrew.

The BBC wants to be open and transparent only until it is asked a question by the public - then it must be entitled to be closed and opaque, rebuffing information requests as invalid. It's as though Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has shaped corporate policy.

Brilliant. Two devastating pieces on the Beeb, interleaved. I must go back to the Purvis but thanks, Andrews.

Nov 7, 2012 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

See also Tony's own blog for an account of his experiences with the legal process and a bacon roll.

Nov 7, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

And now I've read the other Andrew:

The BBC wants to be open and transparent only until it is asked a question by the public - then it must be entitled to be closed and opaque, rebuffing information requests as invalid. It's as though Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has shaped corporate policy.

Great writing. Two devastating pieces on the Beeb, interleaved. I'm on my way back to the Purvis but thanks, Andrews.

Nov 7, 2012 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

If the BBC decided in 2006 that the science was settled then they have made a catastrophic mistake in representing the science of global warming to the licence-paying folk who 'own' the BBC, and they have the right to know who advised the BBC to go down this route.

BBC's coverage of science, especially climate change, in the news has been appalling, and are we not allowed to find out why they have done it this way, or do we just pay the licence fee and take whatever they give us!

No we don't Ms Boaden and Mr Harrabin, WE pay your inflated salaries and we have a right to know how this cock-up began.

Also, the BBC should have the balls to defend their list of attendees - to explain why they were invited. This 'deciding what is good for us behind closed doors' is not on anymore.

On such an important topic, and with such a fundamental change in the ethics of BBC reporting, we - the folk who pay for the BBC, have a right to know.

Shame on the BBC for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds defending a list of 28 names - and at a time when thousands of BBC employees are being made redundant. Where is their perspective?

Nov 7, 2012 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNot the Nine O Clock News

In Orlowski's piece a BBC spokesperson is quoted as saying that the BBC is a public body but private as far as FOI is concerned.
In the BBC charter there are
40 occurrences of the word 'public',
0 occurrences of the word 'private'.

BBC charter para 23(f)
"In exercising all its functions, the Trust must act in the public interest and, in particular,it must—...
(f) Ensure that the BBC observes high standards of openness and transparency"

Nov 7, 2012 at 2:45 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Valiant Newberry. Venal BBC.

Nov 7, 2012 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Well the Biased Broadcasting Corporation just gets worse and worse.

Who do these people think they are?

Thank you Mr Newbery for all your efforts on behalf of the tax-payer.

Nov 7, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

"I wonder if any government will ever have the guts to bite the bullet and admit that these organisations have long outlived their purpose...." --johanna

Next time I'm in Brussels, I'll ask them.

Nov 7, 2012 at 3:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Perhaps it is about time to reconsider the BBC as a publically funded body. Are the licence payers geting £3.5 Billion (annual bill) worth of radio & TV? Or is it just a gravy train for a select few where the wishes of the public are ignored?

The amount of money it has spent on promoting CAGW must be many, many millions. I wonder if anyone has tried to work it out?

Nov 7, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

I can't see any principled defence here. No commercial considerations. The question of confidentiality of the identity of those attending seems dubious - why should they not want their identity known (if indeed they don't or is the BBC just assuming they don't?). But I do see a clear public interest in the basis of decisions made about coverage of an issue. Well done, Mr Newbery. And yet again, something grubby about the upholders of the "consensus".

Nov 7, 2012 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

Perhaps we need to get back to basics and ask why an organisation which exists to make (mainly puerile) television programmes needs to behave like this. What possible secrets can they have which need such concealment?

Nov 7, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

"What possible secrets can they have which need such concealment?"

What indeed? Who knew they were harbouring a sexual predator for so long?

Oh, that's right. They did.

Nov 7, 2012 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

As an habitual listener to Radio 4 (and 3 on occasion), I often support the BBC, but this is indefensible. Why didn't they put up this kind of a fight when Alistair Campbell was gunning for them?

Nov 7, 2012 at 6:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

I wonder what supporters of the theory of CAGW think of the BBC's refusal to divulge the information? If you are sceptical of the "consensus" view that man-made CO2 emissions are the main cause of climate change then it is natural to want to know who and what is shaping the BBC's coverage. However, even if you are convinced that CO2 emissions must be curbed I cannot see why you would want to keep information about the BBC's consultations secret.

After all, if the evidence for the predominant role of CO2 is overwhelming it should not matter if all the people the BBC consults are supporters of the theory. It is only if the evidence is not as incontrovertible as claimed that the BBC needs to worry about accusations of bias.

Nov 7, 2012 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Really we shouldn't blame the BBC for this debacle. The juge has the power to just say "reveal the names as your charter requires" . Problem solved.

Or perhaps the "scientists" who were there would like to tell us so that they can abide by the BBC charter on their behalf.

What do think. Possible? Nah, pas de chance.

Nov 7, 2012 at 7:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen richards

I can only assume that the list of guests was unimpressive or grossly biased or loaded with financial interests or including some subsequently fallen from favour. Since I am still struggling to find anyone impressive on the side of CAGW, I'm guessing a mix of the last three.

Nov 7, 2012 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

My last comment doesn't make a lot of sense. What I meant to say was something to the effect that 'unimpressive' is not a disqualifier nor an embarassment for the BBC as far as climate campaigners are concerned.

Nov 7, 2012 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Rather than whinge amongst ourselves, let Auntie know our concerns.............

Nov 7, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Peter Sissons said

'For me, though, the most worrying aspect of political correctness was over the story that recurred with increasing frequency during my last ten years at the BBC — global warming (or ‘climate change’, as it became known when temperatures appeared to level off or fall slightly after 1998). From the beginning I was unhappy at how one-sided the BBC’s coverage of the issue was, and how much more complicated the climate system was than the over-simplified two-minute reports that were the stock-in-trade of the BBC’s environment correspondents. These, without exception, accepted the UN’s assurance that ‘the science is settled’ and that human emissions of carbon dioxide threatened the world with catastrophic climate change. Environmental pressure groups could be guaranteed that their press releases, usually beginning with the words ‘scientists say' would get on air unchallenged.''' (and more at )

Michael Buerk agreed with his colleague, and...

'accuses staff at the Corporation of an inbuilt ‘institutional bias’ and warns that they read the left-wing Guardian newspaper as if it is ‘their Bible’. Reviewing a memoir by his former colleague Peter Sissons, Buerk endorses his view that the BBC is warped by the prejudices of its staff. He says fellow reporters have ‘contempt’ for business and the countryside – and that a left-wing culture means the national broadcaster has been cast ‘adrift of the overriding national sentiment’ on issues such as climate change.'

The BBC said:

‘While Michael is entitled to his opinion, it has been some time since he has worked for BBC News so it’s interesting he feels in a position to comment. We certainly do not recognise the picture he has painted and nor would his colleagues. ‘Impartiality is critical to our success as a news broadcaster and is always at the centre of what we do.’

Nov 7, 2012 at 8:21 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

I bet Jimmy was there, doing his thing.

Nov 7, 2012 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver


Of course the BBC doesn't recognise the building is burning down around them. Their problem is they are looking from the inside out, hence why they can't see the smoke and flames.


Nov 7, 2012 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

One of the outstanding memories of my recent decade of living and working in the UK is my huge disenchantment with the BBC, not improved by having to pay the extortionate licence fee. Those of us who grew up in the immediate post-WWII era in Great Britain's former colonies were inculcated with the concept that the BBC was the aspirational model for state broadcasting services; it was a disenchanting experience to listen to the incredible political and scientific bias from that same BBC.
The scandals within the BBC that have surfaced since I returned to NZ last year are further confirmation that the BBC, that once owned iconic status in the English-speaking world, is no longer fit for purpose and must be sorted by the current government. Sadly, I doubt that any current politician in the UK has the moral fortitude to even consider taking effective action.

Nov 7, 2012 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

I have just given up (what, again?, you ask) on the BBC's 10 o'clock News.
By 10.15 (in what I believe is a 25-minute national bulletin — I can rarely stand it for that long) I had been treated to the usual adoration of the Blessed Barack with the occasional swipe at some other guy whose name escapes me for the moment but who had evidently been trying to interfere with the holy man's onward march to sainthood.
I'm sure the outcome of the American presidential election has implications beyond the borders of the US but I can't help wondering if there would have been the same level of adulation had the other guy won.

Nov 7, 2012 at 10:48 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Interesting comment from Tony on his blog:

The signs this evening are that this story will make the leap into the MSM at the weekend.

Looking back to the Climategate scandal, Judith Curry wrote a very powerful open letter to Climate Audit which homed in on a culture of hostility towards critics and ‘circling the wagons’ that existed within climate science. With what I have learned during the past ten days, and the ongoing turmoil surrounding the Savile affair, just the same mentality seems to be driving the BBC towards an inevitable catastrophe.

Nov 7, 2012 at 11:37 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

'The BBC admitted in a letter to a Tory MP that it has received nearly £3million in grant money from the European Union over the past four years. Other grants totalling £16million came from local authorities across the UK. The money was spent on "research and development projects".

The broadcaster also disclosed that its commercial arm BBC Worldwide borrowed over £141million from the European Investment Bank since 2003. Of that figure £30million is still due to be repaid by the end of May this year. These figures are disclosed in the commercial arm’s annual report, while the BBC's annual report does not make clear where the grant money comes from.'

Nov 8, 2012 at 12:30 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

Dear Auntie Jim,
Please could you Fix-It for me to milk the European Investment Bank while being blindfolded?
Your's sincerely
Grant (age 141 million)

Nov 8, 2012 at 2:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

For viewers in the UK only- and strictly time-limited, my last remark is a reference to Russell Howard's Good News Extra - Series 7 (episode 6) on BBC iPlayer at 10:54.

Nov 8, 2012 at 2:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Nov 7, 2012 at 1:29 PM | Richard Drake

[...] take a look at the blog post prepared by Stewart Purvis in advance of the discussion, snappily titled How well has the BBC handled the Savile crisis? You can decide using this timeline from Day One to Day Fifty-Six.


Dynamite, indeed. In particular, the role of David Jordan, Director of BBC Editorial Policy and Standards. As I read his conflicting (and deflective) assertions, I was reminded of UEA's Edward Acton's unctuous wriggling during the course of his encore performance at the HoC SciTech committee.

Other interesting parallels, of course, are the multiple "investigations" that are planned - not to mention the many different "storylines". Almost makes one wonder if, perhaps, the Beeb has engaged the same "crisis and reputation management" team as UEA did (at some point) in the aftermath of CG1.

As for the Beeb deciding that it is beyond the reach of FOI, in the case of Newbery vs BBC ... to my ear this sounds remarkably similar to IPCC honcho, Thomas Stocker's "expert" declaration that the provisions of the Aarhus Convention do not apply to the IPCC (because "climate" is not mentioned). This led Stocker to conclude:

So to take this convention and turn it around appears to me like a perversion.

Amazing, eh?!

Nov 8, 2012 at 5:15 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

I recall that you once posted a report or link to it, by someone whose name I cannot recall, which described the PR strategy to be adopted by the CAGW movement. The essence of the strategy was to talk as if CAGW was a scientific fact, even if it was impossible to demonstrate it, and to promote it by using all available channels and opinion formers. My faulty recollection is that this dated from around this time (December 2006). If confirmed it provides more evidence that the BBC was party to this manipulation of opinion prior to the passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008. Can you please remind me of the link?

I believe it was also around this time that the language began to evolve through terms such as global warming > climate change.

Nov 8, 2012 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

oldtimer, google IPPR and 'warm words' and the top hit will get you to the pdf of that document.

Nov 8, 2012 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

The first question that springs to mind, is why on Earth were the BBC holding a meeting under the Chatham House Rule in the first instance? The second, why is a taxpayer funded organization that claims "impartiality" in broadcasting, being remotely allowed to abandon such impartialiy for a subject that is highly contentious at best, & manufactured at worst, if not for politically motivated reasons of dumbing down for the purposes of controlling the information the "public" receives, yet it is paying for "impartiality"! Clear & present dangers exist here, & the BBC should have "total war" declared upon it to route out the people responsible for this crime against democratic accountability by the "ruling elites"! I certainly find it difficult to believe that people genuinely feel freer to speak openly in such a specific meeting. If I am paying the bills I don't want my building contractor, architect, buildling services engineer, & structural engineer, along with any other old Tom, Dick, or Harry, they arbitrarily decide to invite to meet behind my back, making decisions, & implementing them, without informing me as to who, where, what, & why, before, during, & after, then effectively demanding I pay for the privilege!!! I suspect the usual slime that passes for law these days will win-out in the end as is all too often! Why do these people wonder why so much disrespect is shown towards the law/lawyers these days, one seriously has to challenge their intellectual capacity for doing so!

Nov 8, 2012 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit


You may be thinking of Futerra's Rules of the Game (pdf).

Nov 8, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth


The judge has the power to just say "reveal the names as your charter requires"

So why doesn't he? He's behaving very oddly, IMO - almost as though he's been nobbled...

Nov 8, 2012 at 1:00 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

@ rhoda 11:10 and Gareth 12:36

Bingo! They both are references I recall. The time sequence of publication is interesting:
Futerra Rules of the Game 14/10/2005 published by DEFRA
Warm Words 03/08/2006 published by IPPR
Warm Words II 19/09/2007 published by Energy Saving Trust

The BBC meeting was held December 2006, between Warm Words and Warm Words II
Climate Change Act was passed in 2008

I wonder if Gill Ereaut (Principal of Linguistic Landscapes) and /or Nat Segnit (author, scriptwriter and journalist), the authors of Warm Words attended the December meeting? Or Simon Rettalake (Head of Climate Change team at IPPR)?

The quote I was searching for was this recommendation in the paragraph headed Treating climate change as beyond argument:
"Much of the noise in the climate change discourse comes from argument and counter-argument, and it is our recommendation that, at least for popular communications, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won. This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective. This must be done by stepping away from the ‘advocates debate’ described earlier, rather than by stating and re-stating these things as fact. The ‘facts’ need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken. The certainty of the Government’s new climate-change slogan – ‘Together this generation will tackle climate change’ (Defra
2006) – gives an example of this approach. It constructs, rather than claims, its own factuality."

The earlier Futerra document provides some choice quotes:
"2. Forget the climate change detractors
Those who deny climate change science are irritating, but unimportant. The argument is not about if we should deal with climate change, but how we should deal with climate change."
"We need trusted organisations and individuals that the media can call upon to explain the implications of climate change to the UK public."

Nov 8, 2012 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Hilary: thanks for reading the timeline and for the feedback. Stewart Purvis was on good form last night, indeed he and Steve Hewlett put me right on some of the detail as I argued that it had to more than Peter Rippon at fault, even based on our incomplete data. The audio recording is well worth taking in. David Jordan is a key figure. I give timings of some of the crucial moments here.

Nov 8, 2012 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

jamesp: I quite agree with you about the judge. Have we got any legal eagles lurking who could comment here on the judge's comments. They ought to be challengeable as misdirection or something, oughtn't they, but then I'm no expert.

Nov 8, 2012 at 6:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

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