Ruling

20400-23 Extinction Rebellion v The Daily Telegraph

  • Complaint Summary

    Extinction Rebellion complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Net zero's dam has burst, but the BBC is still papering over the cracks”, published on 5 August 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      14th December 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20400-23 Extinction Rebellion v The Daily Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Extinction Rebellion complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Net zero's dam has burst, but the BBC is still papering over the cracks”, published on 5 August 2023.

2. The article was a column which expressed the writer’s view that the BBC’s coverage of climate change had been “shamelessly one-side, presenting highly politicised theory as irrefutable fact”. The columnist stated that the public were “still being shamefully ill informed by the BBC about differing views on climate change policy – on the science (the role, for example of ‘natural variability’), the efficacy of government intervention, the real costs, the possibilities of adaptation rather than resistance”.

3. The columnist then provided his own commentary on the nature and significance of the shift in the corporation’s approach to and coverage of climate change since the early 2000s. The columnist argued that the BBC had “adopted” a “fix habit of thought” on the subject, seeking to “refute rather than investigate various green scandals, such as the ‘Climategate’ emails leaks of 2009”. It then stated: “If a political leader claimed, as did Gordon Brown before the Copenhagen summit which failed, that there were “50 days to save the planet”, the BBC reverently reported it and never explained afterwards how the unsaved planet had somehow survived”.

4. The article concluded by stating that “one of the biggest stories of our time requires particularly careful impartiality”, adding: “Predictions should not be treated as statements of fact. Science […] should never been treated as unanimous. Costs and benefits should be interrogated”.

5. A substantially similar version of the article also appeared online.

6. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1. The complainant acknowledged that the article was a comment piece, but said it was inaccurate to report that the public were being “shamefully ill informed” by the BBC about “climate change policy” – it stated, as fact, that the BBC had failed to comply with its impartiality guidelines, which it had not.

7. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate to report that the BBC did not investigate the ‘Climategate’ email leaks of 2009; the BBC did, in fact, report on the matter and it provided examples of its coverage from 2009 to 2012 in order to demonstrate this.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said the columnist was entitled to argue that the BBC’s approach to and coverage of climate change did not fulfil the corporation’s commitment to due impartiality. It said the article was clearly presented as the columnist’s view and distinguished as such. It was the columnist’s view that the BBC merely sought to “refute” various green scandals and that, in his own personal view, the public were being “shamefully ill informed” by the BBC on the subject.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee first noted that the article under complaint was a comment piece, and clearly distinguished as such by the tone, format and the accompanying by-line and photograph of the columnist. However, it also made clear that newspapers have an obligation to take care not to publish inaccurate information, even in comment pieces.

10. The article had sought to challenge the BBC’s approach to and coverage of climate change over the last 20 years. To this end, the columnist argued that the public were, to this day, still “shamefully ill informed” about “differing views on climate change policy”; and cited a number of specific examples, including the role “of natural variability”, the “efficacy of government intervention”, and “the real costs”. This was clearly an expression of the columnist’s personal view on the scope and nature of the BBC’s coverage; it did not amount to a statement of fact. The columnist clearly set out his reasons for his view – including on the disparities between the public and the corporation’s attitude to the issue – and there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The Committee then considered the second point of complaint: it was incorrect to state that the BBC “sought to refute rather than investigate various green scandals, such as the ‘Climategate’ email leaks of 2009”. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern that, reading the sentence in isolation, readers might understand it to mean that the BBC had not investigated the ‘Climategate’ email leaks of 2009 at all. However, the Committee had regard to the article as a whole: the columnist considered that the BBC had not applied “due impartiality” on the issue of climate change; and argued that it had not properly interrogated claims about the “imminent destruction” of the planet or the specific timeframes proposed by some to prevent such an outcome. Taken in this context, and where it was clearly presented as the columnist’s own personal assessment of the corporation’s intentions to properly investigate claims that support the prevailing consensus on the subject, the Committee did not consider that this statement represented a failure to take care or a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

13. N/A


Date complaint received: 07/08/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/11/2023