Does anyone believe what they read in the paper without checking around? I reckon we generally do if it sounds like something we want to believe*. Unfortunately 80% of articles in Murdoch owned media are misleading on climate science, from emphasising the short-term trends when it suits to giving a platform to outright deniers such as Nigel Lawson or James Dellingpole. It may be pissing into the wind, but I’m going to try to do something about it. Have a look – do you think this is a waste of time or could help move opinion and attitudes?
I mentioned in a recent post that I have been in touch with a number of organisations about my idea of opening up press complaints around climate change to the public. So, this is what I’ve been up to.
The idea has evolved following conversations with John Cook at Skeptical Science, Avaaz, The Tree, Friends of the Earth International, The Climate Reality Project, the UK Press Complaints Commission and with Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute.
I sent them an email describing where I’ve got to, below:
Idea as it stands
A web page will be put together (host to be agreed, possibly Climate Reality) allowing members of the public to identify press articles that appear to be factually inaccurate, misleading or biased on the subject of climate change.
A volunteer base will be set up to:
 List the inaccuracies, bias and misleading content, with reference to a database of the scientific facts (e.g. that of Skeptical Science in Australia, the Carbon Brief in the UK and/or Media Matters in the US).
 Draft an official complaint template letter to the relevant independent authority. In the UK this would be the Press Complaints Commission. The scheme would start with the US, UK and Australia but could be built with a mind to opening this up at a later date.
 An expert volunteer would check the template letter and list of inaccuracies.
The public would then be asked to write an email to the editor, facilitated by the site, with their own personally written content. Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute said that he thought that this would work. If the emails are identical, they will be ignored, and similarly if there is only one purporting to represent a lot of voices.
The site would also collect individual public endorsements of the template complaint, and allow comments with a view to updating the content if necessary.
If the editor has not agreed to publish an apology or redaction prominently, then after a few weeks and before the time limit relevant to the local press complaints body (2 months in the UK) the template complaint will be submitted to that authority and taken from there.
The number of people who sign up plus statistics on numbers of biased etc articles by paper could be published online.
Benefits / outcomes
The main benefits and hoped for outcomes would be:
 Reference point for each article for the truth.
 Actively engage and empower more people to be able to speak out.
Background about complaints to the UK Press Complaints Commission
On speaking with Simon Yip of the UK PCC and with Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute (who has raised 5 complaints in the past), I understand the following about the procedure in the UK:
 The PCC look for the complaint to be dealt with in correspondence with the editor, possibly facilitated by them. It is only as a last resort that a complaint is taken forward.
 If an article is identified as opinion and acknowledges there are other different points of view, it will generally not be upheld if it gets that far. If the editor offers to print a letter from the complainant then that will be seen as sufficient.
 If there are several complaints, then one will be chosen by the PCC at their discretion to represent all of the others. They will judge this based on whether all of the points are covered and whether they feel they will be able to work with and reach a compromise with the complainant.
 The total number of complaints has no bearing on the outcome and is not reported by the PCC. Or so I was told. You can understand my surprise when the total number of complaints on the Daily Mail article about Ed Milliband’s was announced on Newsnight.
Do you reckon it could work?
* As a little aside, a little tongue-in-cheek anecdote about someone trying not to let their own predication influence their thoughts – this from my brother, describing his new flat in Qatar:
So it’s a bit more comfy, plus there’s beer in the fridge for me, a rice cooker for Noy and a cupboard of new toys for the little one (and for me actually; I’ve been itching to get stuck into that lot! I remember one time in Kuwait, when the ladies were in Thailand, I still ended up racing two cars across the tiled floor – good fun! And no one could beat the silver car because really I didn’t want it to lose, and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t pushing it just that little bit harder… and if you just angle it slightly into the other car, the other car might just spin off a little bit and go under the cupboard; and wehey! Silver is champion again!)
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John I liked your response