So as I’m sure most of you know, tonight there is a documentary about how we don’t need to worry about global warming.
Whatever your feelings about climate change, there are good reasons to to have serious concerns about the film:
It’s made by Martin Durkin. In 1997 he made a series called Against Nature for Channel 4. It targeted environmentalists, and presented them as ‘the new enemy of science’ and comparable to the Nazis. They were responsible for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World.
As well as the normal objections to the content that you might have expected – and fair enough to have your opinion – there were much more serious problems. Channel Four eventually had to broadcast a prime-time apology. The Independent Television Commission ruled: “Comparison of the unedited and edited transcripts confirmed that the editing of the interviews with [the environmentalists who contributed] had indeed distorted or misrepresented their known views. It was also found that the production company had misled them… as to the format, subject matter and purpose of these programs.” Etc.
Now, it seems slightly odd to me to get the same bloke to make the same documentary after that’s happened, whatever your feelings on global warming and mankind’s role in it, but there you go.
To me this is about trust. As a viewer I can account for bias, but not out and out misrepresentation.
Incidentally, in general, I don’t cover green stuff in the column, for two reasons:
1. Lots of other people write about it, whereas – especially when I started 4 years ago – nobody was writing about the stuff I write about. And…
2. I tend to do things where people have simply and unambiguously got a piece of science completely wrong, and this tends not to be the issue in green issues, it tends to be more about how you synthesise thousands of little bits of evidence, which is fun for a book, but gives no sting for a column other than “I reckon”, which is exactly the kind of journalism I try to avoid writing.
So, well, if there’s anything totally bonkersly wrong in this, do please let me know. My guess, before it goes out, is that the program will be some political rhetoric about the economic dangers of implementing measures to restrict carbon dioxide emmissions, and the rumour is it might also feature a one-sided view of the “hockey stick controversy”?
I would imagine that few counterveiling views will have wished to participate, because of the the obvious problems with Durkin.
So after watching it, I’m just left wishing I could have seen a documentary on a similar subject made by someone I could actually trust, because it’s obviously a really interesting area. The only figure who was on where I had prior knowledge was Piers Corbyn. The program said his predictions on the weather are consistently more accurate than the Met office. As far as I know, from reading around him a year or so ago, this is entirely incorrect, but I would welcome evidence to the contrary. Oh, and Nigel Calder is introduced as the ex-editor of New Scientist (he’s 75, and edited new scientist briefly between the ages of 31 and 35, shortly after its launch).
In the end it’s just frustrating. A program presenting a challenging view on a complex and controversial subject is interesting and valuable; a program presenting a challenging view on a complex and controversial subject by someone with a proven track record of misrepresentation is not, especially when a lay person – which is what I effectively am for this subject – can already spot what seems to be one howler – Corbyn’s record – at first sight.
I am approaching this entirely as a punter. Call it an experiment: I’ve specifically not double checked all the facts in the documentary. It’s an unnerving feeling, the fear of being misled and in the dark, either by this program, or what went before, I don’t get that feeling often enough, and I’m going to embrace and enjoy it, so I can empathise more with “the publics”, as they call it in thinktank world.
I would absolutely love to see a documentary on similar material by someone I could trust.