BRYAN LEYLAND AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2308

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

Bryan Leyland complains that the New Zealand Herald lacks balance in its treatment of dangerous man-made global warming (generally referred to as climate change) specifically for not publishing the information that global temperatures have not risen in the past 16 years.

Background
In December 2012 the New Zealand Government announced that it would not sign a global treaty to take over from the Kyoto Protocol. The New Zealand Herald ran a significant number of articles on aspects of, and responses to, this decision. The underlying assumption of these articles was that man-made global warming is a known fact.
Also in December 2012, the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre (specifically studying and advising the UK government on climate change) readjusted its projections for global warming after temperatures were found not to have increased in the past 16 years.
Mr Leyland, a member of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition and an electrical engineer with experience in computer modelling, offered an article in which he noted the revised projections and questioned the widespread acceptance of the theory that increased carbon dioxide concentrations have caused the world to warm steadily. He argued, on the basis of the new data, that the world is not warming. As climate modelling predicts warming is the only outcome of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there must be alternative explanations for the changing climate – apart from that of man-made causes. His article called for a scientific response from the proponents of the man-made global warming theory to the failure of climate modelling to predict the non-rising recent global temperatures.
This was the second article offered by Mr Leyland on this subject and the second rejected by the Herald. The earlier article was subsequently accepted for publication by another newspaper and Mr Leyland says it stimulated large debate.

Complaint
Mr Leyland contended that the newspaper has an obligation to provide balance and it is not doing so. He argued that the newspaper misinformed readers by omitting the new information about static global temperatures and the problems that causes for climate change models. The articles were all based on the assumption that climate change was man-made and therefore the coverage lacked balance.
He argued that this was a matter of very active public interest - as evidenced by the number of reader comments following the newspaper’s publication of an opinion piece on the Kyoto decision. He noted that readers were almost equally divided between those who did and those who did not believe in dangerous man-made global warming.
He believed to meet the standard required for balance, the newspaper would need to inform readers of the latest information regarding global temperatures but this had not happened. He emphasised that none of the arguments favouring Kyoto mentioned the latest information that the world has stopped warming.
He did not complain about the non-publication of his article.

Newspaper’s Response
The newspaper made a brief response saying it relied on the existing and overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that it was under no obligation to run contrary views to the consensus. The newspaper stated that this argument applied “especially to the views of those who cannot claim to have credentials or expertise in the field of climate science.”

Further Arguments from the Complainant
Mr Leyland argued that none of the articles mentioned the fact that the world has stopped warming. “They seem to have completely forgotten that the object is not to promote renewable energy or carbon trading or transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor but it is to “fight” (currently non-existent) man-made global warming.”
Addressing the newspaper’s reliance on overwhelming scientific consensus, Mr Leyland argued that such a defence presents many problems.
“Consensus is all about politics and religion and not about science. Galileo was against the consensus of the time. Many scientific breakthroughs have been against the consensus. It has been said “It takes just one ugly fact to destroy a beautiful theory””
Mr Leyland argued the main “ugly fact” is that the world has not warmed in recent years contrary to all predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By its failure to mention this absence of warming, the newspaper had been misleading its readers.
Mr Leyland pointed the newspaper in the direction of web-based articles which indicate that many climate scientists do not believe in dangerous man-made global warming in particular www.petitionproject.org in which over 30,000 signatories (“sceptical scientists qualified in climate and related disciplines”) disagree that global warming is man-made.
Mr Leyland says this is proof that an “overwhelming consensus” does not exist though he concedes there is much debate on the subject and, given that the science is far from settled, the newspaper should report from multiple viewpoints including those who are sceptical.
Mr Leyland also provided endorsement of his credentials from an Australian-based academic Professor Robert Carter.

Newspaper’s Reply
The newspaper recognised its need for balance in coverage but argued that balance needs to be in proportion.
“Just because someone holds an eccentric view, it does not mean they are entitled to run in the paper.”
In rejecting Mr Leyland’s argument that there is debate over man-made global warming, the newspaper reiterated its belief in “the state of the debate in peer-reviewed scientific literature, not the media”.
“There may well be debate in cyber space and among letter writers but it is not occurring where it counts – peer reviewed scientific journals. “
It quoted The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full.) - an article carried in Science Magazine regarding the debate and referred to the website: skepticalscience.com/global warming-scientifc-consensus-intermediate.htm
The newspaper also noted that the real debate has long since moved from whether climate change is occurring to the questions of what should be done about it. This has rightly been the focus of the discussion in the Herald.


Discussion
Climate change, and the degree of man’s hand in it, will continue to be a contentious topic. There are strongly held views on both sides of the debate and one “expert” opinion can be traded endlessly against another.
The newspaper says it has placed its faith in “peer reviewed scientific literature” which confirms that the science is decided and on this there is no room for further debate. It regards Mr Leyland’s views as “eccentric” and therefore the normal obligations regarding balance can be put to one side. And furthermore, the newspaper argues it has carried a variety of opinions.
However, the majority of articles published by the newspaper contain little if any scientific references and are not peer-reviewed scientific literature. They are opinion pieces in which the only science is the World Bank Project which is quoted to predict that temperatures “are on track to rise by up to 4C by the year 2100”.
The other quoted science is merely opinion credited to U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres: “We know that science tends to underestimate the impacts of climate, and if so anything, that gap continues to grow.” This in relation to the goal of the U.N. to keep temperatures from rising more than 2C, compared to preindustrial times something which is already impossible as they’ve already risen by 0.8C above that level.
Mr Leyland argues that he is not an eccentric and possesses sound credentials for his perspective to command some regard. He is not complaining about the non-publication of his article but at what he sees as the refusal of the newspaper to bring balance into its reporting by not alerting readers to new information.
New information, such as that of non-warming global temperatures, should be put before the public and while the newspaper has kept readers informed of many aspects of the subject it appears that it has not specifically highlighted this.
The significance of this omission depends on the weight given to the information. The world has not warmed in the past 16 years therefore has global warming stopped? No, say the “climate changers” it merely means that due to the natural variability of the Earth’s climate, global temperatures will rise but at a fractionally slower rate than expected. Yes, say the “climate change sceptics”, such as Mr Leyland who point out that the “ugly fact” of recent non-warming has destroyed the credibility of the man-made warming theory.
Mr Leyland claims this is a crucial issue when it comes to providing balance on the subject. His thoughtful and reasoned arguments will have no doubt prompted a rereading of recent information regarding global temperatures, and if it has not, it should have. The newspaper’s readers would be well-served by an explanation as to how this latest information fits into its accepted theory of dangerous man-made global warming.
Principle 1 requires, among other considerations, that publications be bound by the need for balance and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.
This principle also requires that with articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view however the Press Council accepts that in certain circumstances out-lying views can fall outside that requirement.

Decision
While it does not appear to the Press Council that Mr Leyland’s view is accurately described as an “eccentric” one, the newspaper has based its coverage on what it considers established science and therefore what it regards as the most useful material on the subject within that theory. It has not gone out of its way to overlook or suppress new information and in accepting that the science is settled, its coverage is based on the need to look to the future implications of man-made climate change. It can not be expected to cover every dissenting opinion on a subject as broad as global climate change.
The latest information from the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre regarding current global temperatures will almost certainly feature as part of the on-going coverage even if the perspective on its significance is not the same as Mr Leyland’s.
Therefore the complaint is not upheld.


Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.