Friday, July 25, 2008


By the head of Britain's "Channel 4" TV

George Monbiot's claim that "no UK organisation has done more to damage environmental protection than Channel 4" takes the locally sourced, gluten-free biscuit ("Why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens?", July 22).

Monbiot alleges this documentary had "a huge impact, persuading many people that man-made climate change is not taking place", but provides no evidence. This film was watched by 2.7 million people - around 5% of British adults. It is difficult to say what "impact" it had on any of them. But it is likely to be the first time some encountered a viewpoint within the mainstream media that went against the prevailing scientific consensus supporting the theory of man-made global warming.

Of more than 100,000 hours of programmes the channel has broadcast since 1990, Monbiot cherry-picks five and a half hours that were critical of the green movement and claims this demonstrates "a recurring antagonism towards environmentalism" on Channel 4's behalf. In fact, the overwhelming majority of our output - and the UK media as a whole - reflects the consensus on climate change. He disregards recent polemics, including his own film Greenwash, Marcel Theroux's The End of the World As We Know It, and our recent transmission of The 11th Hour. He ignores Channel 4 News's high-quality coverage and our planned transmission of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

It is arguable that it is not the Great Global Warming Swindle that has bred public scepticism, but the desire of some environmentalists - evidenced by the identikit complaints orchestrated against the film - to stamp out dissenting voices. This intolerance undermines confidence in the rightness of the cause. As does Monbiot's selective reporting of Ofcom's ruling.

Ofcom found the film did not materially mislead viewers and that we were within our rights to broadcast it. The regulator stressed the importance of broadcasters being able to challenge orthodoxies. This is, in large measure, what the channel is for.

Ofcom scrutinised this film in unprecedented detail and it is now possible to dismiss Monbiot's allegations with authority. He claims that the programme manipulated graphs and fabricated data, but, having acknowledged a few unintentional errors, Channel 4 showed that none of the scientific data was materially misleading and Ofcom agreed. He reports Professor Carl Wunsch's claim that his contribution was "grossly distorted by context". Channel 4 showed his contribution was not unfairly edited and Ofcom agreed.

Channel 4 submitted ample evidence to Ofcom that Martin Durkin is not "a discredited filmmaker", but a respected international director.

The most scurrilous allegation is that "10 of the protagonists have either been funded directly by fossil fuel companies or have received paid employment from lobby groups" and so were compromised in the views they expressed. We have shown this is a gross exaggeration that can be traced to blog gossip.

Global warming may be the biggest danger presently facing humanity. But people are rightly suspicious of broadcasters or newspapers that simply hector and campaign. Channel 4 believes in engaging with the debate in its fullest form, rather than closing it down. That is why this film was a valid contribution.


Robot recruited in war on illegal immigrants to Britain

A robot the size of a briefcase is flushing out illegal immigrants trying to smuggle themselves into Britain.

Fitted with powerful searchlights and high-resolution video cameras, the robot - codenamed Hero - carries out detailed searches of the undersides of lorries and coaches. It is also used inside the vehicles as its four-wheel-drive enables it to scramble it over obstacles while looking for concealed people. The robot can also be fitted with heartbeat detectors as well as sensors to identify chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials being smuggled into Britain.

News of the device comes only days after a group of stowaways was found after entering the country hidden on Army vehicles. The battery-powered robot, which costs about $12,000, was on display at the Farnborough Air Show last week. It has been adapted by the armaments company BAE Systems from devices used by troops in Afghanistan to search buildings or examine suspected bombs and mines. British border guards at Calais have tested it and senior officials may now introduce the robot at other ports.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: "Last year over one million lorries were searched and we stopped a record 18,000 people. New technology is crucial in the fight against illegal immigrants."


British State schools join the revolt against 'too easy' High School exams

Fifteen schools yesterday became the first state schools to ditch A-levels for a more traditional rival. A total of 50 schools – including 15 state-maintained schools and colleges – will offer pupils the new Cambridge Pre-U, designed along the lines of the pre-coursework A-levels with tougher essay-style questions, when it becomes available for the first time in September.

The new exam poses a threat to the Government's A-level reforms, which will see the introduction of an A* grade for the first time for students starting their course in September. Supporters of Pre-U claim the reforms are "too little, too late".

One school, King Edward VI grammar in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, a 500-pupil boys' school, will abandon A-level English on the ground that it no longer prepares pupils for university study, according to its headteacher, Tim Moore-Bridger. The school may also switch pupils to Pre-U in German and French. "I have for a long time been dissatisfied with the present structure of A-levels," he said. "I am sure what we're giving pupils at the moment [with A-levels] is not good preparation for university success – in particular the fact that they can go up without having written an essay to speak of." He said that the new modern languages syllabus for A-levels – also to be introduced in September – had cut out the study of literature to concentrate on speaking and listening skills. "New A-levels have pretty well removed literature totally from modern languages," he added.

Mr Moore-Bridger said other subjects could follow suit, with maths next in line: "Who knows? If it is successful, we could be all Pre-U in five to 10 years." He said he disliked the A-levels' "retake mentality" whereby pupils could sit a module again if they failed to make their required grade the first time.

Coloma Convent Girls' School in Croydon, south London – a 1,050-pupil Catholic school, is to become the first comprehensive to switch from A-level to Pre U, offering a Pre-U in business management. Andrew Corish, its headteacher, believes the new exam will offer pupils a better opportunity to develop a business plan than the A-level. He said A-levels did not allow pupils to develop thinking skills.

The Pre-U, devised by University of Cambridge International Examinations, includes three-hour essay-style questions. A-level questions tend to give pupils 15 minutes to develop an answer. The Pre-U will have nine different grades – including three distinctions (D1, D2 and D3) which would roughly be the equivalent of an A-grade pass in A-level – now awarded to one in four scripts. Even with the introduction of the A* grade, it would still offer university admissions tutors a better way to distinguish between high-flying candidates.

It has already won accreditation from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, which means schools can receive government funding to offer it, and the University and College Admissions Service is expected to rank it alongside A-levels.

This autumn the Government is launching specialist diplomas in five subjects, and some schools are offering the International Baccalaureate. The Government announced yesterday that it is drawing up proposals to rank schools on their pupils' well-being. In evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, it agreed that too much emphasis was being placed on test or exam results in ranking schools. The ranking for pupil well-being will take account of how much sport is played and whether children are healthy or overweight.


Anti-Israel bias at the BBC again

Initial BBC and AFP headlines ignore the victims in second bulldozer attack

Less than three weeks after a Palestinian from east Jerusalem used a bulldozer to kill three people on a busy street in Israel's capital, another east Jerusalem resident attempted to replicate the attack. The second attacker rammed his bulldozer into a bus, then began flipping cars on the street, wounding at least 16 people.

When the first bulldozer rampage took place, we were stunned to see the BBC's initial headline focusing on the fate of the driver - who was shot by Israeli security - rather than the victims of his attack. The BBC subsequently changed its headline to make it more neutral, reflecting what appeared to be a better understanding of the incident and its significance.

Or so we thought. Despite a virtual repetition of the first incident, the BBC's initial response the second time was a headline questioning whether an attack had taken place at all. The headlines on the BBC's web page went from "New Vehicle `Attack' in Jerusalem" to "New Digger `Attack' in Jerusalem," then finally settled on "Israel Hit By New Digger Attack."












It is difficult to understand how the BBC ever saw the incident as anything other than an attack. The bulldozer driver rammed into a bus, then pushed into it several more times, shattering glass and throwing the passengers into a panic. He then zigzagged through the road to harm as many motorists as possible before he was stopped. This is how the bus driver described the incident to the Jerusalem Post.

"I was driving on the main road when suddenly the tractor hit me in the rear on the right hand side," said bus driver Avi Levy.

At first Levy thought it was a traffic accident, but then the attacker struck the bus over and over, causing pandemonium as passengers shouted: "God save us" and "escape, escape."

"He made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head - he came up to my window and death was staring me in the eyes," Levy said.

"Fortunately I was able to swerve to the right [onto a small side street], otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker," he said as he stood next to the badly damaged bus, whose left-side windows were completely blown out.

In the news story beneath the headline, the BBC does not put quotes around the word "attack." However, the headline writers make the first impression with readers and undermine what otherwise could be fair coverage of the incident. But the BBC was not the only media outlet that skewed the story with its initial headline. Agence France-Presse (AFP), the third largest wire service after the AP and Reuters, repeated the BBC's shocking error from the first attack, placing all of the emphasis on the driver instead of his victims.

Although the AFP changed its headline to "Palestinian Shot Dead After New Bulldozer Rampage," its first story on the incident was headlined, "Jerusalem Bulldozer Driver Shot Dead: Police." The headline leaves out any information about victims or a rampage, leaving the casual reader scanning headlines to believe that a construction worker had been killed without cause.

There is no excuse for such a misleading headline, even as an initial report. The first paragraph of that first story already acknowledges police sources saying that the driver was killed after injuring several people, so it is impossible to argue that the headline writers didn't have the facts available. 


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