Below is the full adjudication made by the Australian Press Council based on three separate complaints made against News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt. The complaints related to claims Bolt misrepresented key facts about global warming.
Bolt states will respond to the ruling, but it will not be published until next week. I’ll provide some analysis shortly – but my initial response is the ruling favours the complainants. But it is no “knock out blow”.
Full text below:
The Council has considered several complaints about an article by Andrew Bolt, “Time that climate alarmists fessed up”, in the Herald Sun on 1 February 2012. The same article also appeared in Mr Bolt’s blog on the Herald Sun website under the heading, “Open your eyes. Where’s that warming?”. The article opened by saying “let’s see how the great global warming scare is panning out, shall we? First, the planet hasn’t warmed for a decade – or even 15 years, according to new temperature data from Britain’s Met Office”. A later sentence began: “Sea levels have recently dipped, the oceans have lately cooled, Arctic ice has not retreated since 2007 …”.
Three people complained separately to the Council that the article contained a number of misrepresentations. A key complaint related to the assertion that the Met Office data showed no warming in the last 15 years. The assertion had been made on 29 January in an article by David Rose in the UK newspaper Mail on Sunday. The Met Office responded on the same day that “for Mr Rose to suggest that the global temperatures available show no warming for the last 15 years is entirely misleading”. The complainants also said that because the changes in sea and ice conditions mentioned by Mr Bolt were relatively short-term and minor they did not refute the longer-term trends in the opposite direction. Therefore, they said, his statements gave a misleading impression.
The newspaper said that although Mr Bolt had drawn on the Rose article he had been unaware of the Met Office response. In any event, it said, that response was not incompatible with his statement that average temperatures were now no higher than 10 or 15 years ago. The newspaper said that data provided by one of the complainants actually supported Mr Bolt’s assertions about recent changes in sea and ice conditions, even if there had previously been trends in the opposite directions. It added that the assertions were clearly expressions of opinion, which Mr Bolt was entitled to express. It said that a letter from one of the complainants criticising the article had been published a few days afterwards, and some criticisms had been published in the blog’s comment section.
The Press Council has concluded that Mr Bolt was clearly entitled to express his own opinion about the Met Office data but in doing so he needed to avoid conveying a misleading interpretation of the Met Office’s own views on its data. In a blog posting two days earlier (29 January) he had quoted Mr Rose’s assertion about the lack of warming and a reader then posted a comment referring him to the Met Office’s description of that assertion. The Met Office description should have been mentioned in Mr Bolt’s print article and blog of 1 February, even if he then rebutted it as unconvincing. It was not sufficient in these circumstances to assert ignorance of the response or to rely on the reader’s previous posting to inform other readers about it. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on that ground.
The Council has concluded that the statements by Mr Bolt quoted above in relation to sea and ice conditions were likely to be interpreted by many readers as indicating that the longer-term trends had ceased or were reversing. It agrees with the newspaper that Mr Bolt’s assertions about recent changes in sea and ice conditions were statistically compatible with the key data sources put forward by the complainants. But it agrees with the complainants that those data were also statistically compatible with continuance of the longer-term trends in the opposite directions from the shorter-term changes to which he referred. Pauses and even reverses in direction do not necessarily signify the end of a long-term trend and have occurred in earlier stages of the trends in question here.
Given the great public importance of these issues, Mr Bolt should have acknowledged explicitly that all of the three changes in question were comparatively short-term and were statistically compatible with continuance of the long-term trends in the opposite direction. On the other hand, the article referred to the possibility that global warming has merely “paused” and it emphasised the need to “keep an open mind” on these issues. Accordingly, despite concerns about the manner in which the available evidence is presented, the Council’s decision is not to uphold these aspects of the complaint.
The Council emphasises that this adjudication neither endorses nor rejects any particular theories or predictions about global warming and related issues. It observes that on issues of such major importance the community is best served by frank disclosure and discussion rather than, for example, failure to acknowledge significant shorter- or longer-term trends in relevant data.
Supplementary note (not required to be published):
The separate complaints on this article were received from Gary Ellett, Tony Mahoney and Bob Thomas.
Relevant Council Standards (not required to be published):
This adjudication applies part of General Principle 6: “Publications are free to advocate their own views and publish the bylined opinions of others, as long as readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed.”