There is an unusual story developing as a result of an ongoing FOI request from Tony Newbery, some excellent detective work by Maurizio Morabito – see discussion at Bishop Hill here. Also see context from Andrew Orlowski here.
Several years ago, the BBC stated in a report:
The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].
Tony Newbery (see Harmless Sky blog) was curious as to the identity of these “scientific experts”, and filed a Freedom of Information Act request. Rather than simply complying with the request, the BBC refused the request. Tony appealed to the ICO and lost. The ICO agreed that the BBC was a “public authority” but held that the information was held “for journalistic purposes” and exempt:
The Commissioner is satisfied that in view of the fact that the purpose of the seminar was to influence the BBC’s creative output, the details requested about its organisation, contents, terms of reference and the degree to which it impacted upon changes to Editorial Standards by BBC News constitute information held by the BBC to a significant extent for the purposes of art, literature or journalism. Information about the content of the seminar was used to shape editorial policy and inform editorial decisions about the BBC’s coverage and creative output. The details about the arrangements for the seminar are held to facilitate the delivery of the event and to ensure that the appropriate people were in attendance.
Tony appealed to the Information Tribunal. The BBC appeared with six lawyers. BBC official Helen Boaden argued that the meetings had been held under Chatham House rules and that the identity of the participants was therefore secret. Tony was again given short shrift, with the members of the Tribunal being surprisingly partisan, as reported by Orlowski.
Out of left field, Maurizio located the information on the Wayback machine here. Rather than the participants being the “best scientific experts” as claimed, they were almost entirely NGO activists. And rather than the meetings being held under Chatham House rules as Boaden had told the tribunal, seminar co-sponsor IBT had published the names of attendees of the meeting, describing the purpose of the meetings as follows:
The BBC has agreed to hold a series of seminars with IBT, which are being organized jointly with the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme, to
discuss some of these issues.
The document located by Maurizio includes names from other meetings as well. The names are presently being fisked at Bishop Hill and Omnologos.
For the record, I do not share the visceral disdain for the BBC coverage of most commentators at Bishop Hill. I am not exposed to BBC regular programming and my own experience with the BBC (mostly arising from Climategate) has been constructive. I thought that their recent reprise on Climategate was as balanced as one could expect. I also think that their original coverage of Climategate was fair under the circumstances. While Roger Harrabin approached Climategate from a green perspective (something that does not trouble me – indeed, on a personal level, I like most green reporters), in my opinion, he treated his obligations as a reporter as foremost in his Climategate coverage, and, as a result, his coverage of Climategate was balanced. Indeed, I think that one of the reasons that he was particularly troubled by the Climategate conduct and dissatisfied by the “inquiries” may well have been the inconsistency between the Climategate attitudes in private and the public posture of green organizations in the seminars that were the subject of Newbery’s FOI.
Update: Ironically, Harrabin is not listed as an attendee at the Jan 2006 conference on climate change that was the subject of the OI request (though he attended other conferences and was involved in starting the seminar program.) Further update – however, other information indicates that he was at this conference and that the list is in error on this point.
Update: The non-NGO “experts” were Robert May (a population biologist and former Royal Society president), Mike Hulme of East Anglia, Dorthe Dahl-Jensen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark (an ice core specialist), Michael Bravo of Cambridge (a specialist in the history of Antarctic exploration and public policy), Joe Smith of the Open University (active in BBC science progamming), Poshendra Satyal Pravat, Open University, who was then doing a PhD in theories of social and environmental justice and Eleni Andreadis of the Harvard Kennedy School (public policy). Virtual no representation from climate science.
Harvard-Kennedy School Class of 2006: One of BBC’s scientific experts at the 2006 meeting was Eleni Andreadis, then studying at the Harvard Kennedy School. She made a short film of interviews with HKS graduates (see here here).
Another member of the Harvard-Kennedy class of 2006 is very much in the news today: Paula Broadwell was also a student at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2006, where she met David Petraeus after a lecture.