Lessons to be learnt from Channel 4 blunder
The BBC's decision to drop its climate change event is not the first time a major broadcaster has been accused of skewing the debate in favour of global warming deniers.
One of the most controversial programmes on the subject was transmitted by Channel 4 last March, and, littered with major errors and half-truths, it was one of the finest examples of how not to make a television documentary. The Great Global Warming Swindle suggested the public had been duped by scientists prepared to lie for the sake of gaining either fame or research funds and contained a string of mistakes, some of which have now been accepted by the programme's makers. The scientific accuracy of the film and how its makers treated the interviewees is also the subject of an Ofcom inquiry.
Channel 4 attempted to justify the programme's transmission on the grounds it had already given large amounts of air time to presenting the orthodox views of the scientific establishment on the issue. It was time, it said, to present the views of the heterodox community.
The argument sounded remarkably similar to the Channel 4 position in the early 1990s when it decided to transmit a series of documentaries claiming HIV was not the cause of Aids, and that the Aids epidemic in Africa was a myth put about by aid agencies in need of money.
Needless to say, Channel 4 has never apologised to the millions who have been infected with "harmless" Aids since.
Professor Carl Wunsch of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the scientists interviewed in The Great Global Warming Swindle, has complained that he was duped by the film-makers – a claim denied by Martin Durkin, whose company Wag TV made the documentary.
Professor Wunsch said the programme was grossly distorted and his own interview was edited to make it seem as if he supported a viewpoint he did not. More disastrously for Mr Durkin and Channel 4, however, is that the programme relied heavily on a series of graphs that were either wrong or flawed.
Mr Durkin claims the overall thrust of the film was unaffected by the errors but many impartial observers would disagree.
But where the programme really fell down is in what it left out. Much of the science that would have explained Mr Durkin's arguments was just not dealt with. It was a huge error of omission, something Channel 4 should have identified long before this disastrous programme was aired.