Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ofcom Rules Channel 4 Global Warming Documentary in Breach

The BBC reports that Ofcom has told Channel 4 that its documentary the Great Global Warming Swindle violated Ofcom rules but did not "cause harm or offence." The documentary's makers argue that global warming is not caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. In its ruling, Ofcom found that Channel 4 was in breach of the "due impartiality" requirements of the Broadcast Code.

In Part Five the programme explored the effects in developing countries of Western government policies which seek to restrain industrial development to reduce the production of carbon dioxide. One consequence, according to the programme, is a lack of electricity in many parts of the developing world which adversely affects people’s living conditions and their health. These policies, the programme claimed, result in respiratory diseases and death.

These issues are matters of major political controversy and are major matters relating to current public policy as defined by the Code. During this section no alternative views on this issue were presented.

The Code states that “matters of major political…controversy and major matters relating to current public policy…vary according to events but are generally matters …which are of national, and often international, importance…” In Ofcom’s view there is clearly a debate about whether, and the extent to which, developing countries should be required to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide as a result of concerns about global warming. Governments around the world have been preparing for the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases after 2012. Some developing countries such as China and India are industrialising rapidly. Some Western governments wish these countries to agree to some form of capping of their carbon dioxide emissions and so would encourage these countries to make more use of sustainable energy sources. A number of developing nations however are refusing to limit their emissions, arguing that since richer countries are responsible for most emissions today it is proper that they should be the ones to cut their emissions most.

Rule 5.12 requires that where a major matter of current public policy of international importance like this is being considered in a programme “an appropriately wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes.” In this part of the programme, and on this specific issue, no such wide range of views was included. Ofcom also found that the programmes referred to by Channel 4 in the cluster of programmes editorially linked to The Great Global Warming Swindle were not sufficiently timely or linked to satisfy the requirements of Rule 5.12. Nor could the requirements of due impartiality be satisfied by the general and wide ranging media output about anthropogenic global warming over recent years (including print media output) that was referred to by Channel 4 in its response.

Part Five of the programme therefore breached Rules 5.11 and 5.12.

Read the entire ruling here.

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