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Amazongate: Round two

Posted by Richard Friday, July 16, 2010

Extended negotiations with The Guardian on the matter of George Monbiot, detailed in my previous post, have got nowhere beyond the stiff apology offered on the offending blog post and a promise of "right of reply".

The newspaper has decided that the comments made fall within the defence of "fair comment" and have thus refused any further remedy – which may explain the Moonbat's cockiness.

However, the Moonbat (pictured) is a tad premature in heralding what he states is my threat to sue. This is for a piece he says: "I wrote criticising his stance on global warming." In fact, the lad did a trifle more than that, accusing me of "peddling inaccuracy, misrepresentation and falsehood". That is a leeetle bit more than just straight criticism. But then the Moonbat's grasp of reality was always slight, which may account for him being a warmist.

What I had always stated, and made very clear to the paper, was that I wanted to attempt an informal resolution, failing which I would then take it to the next stage, with a submission to the Press Complaints Commission. Only then, if need be, would I consider a legal case, keeping my options open all the way through. To take a newspaper to the High Court is the last resort and, in any event, the Courts expect plaintiffs to have sought all possible avenues of remedy before going to law – which is precisely what I am doing.

However, there is another issue here which, when you think it through, is at the heart of the problem. That is the unnecessary and wrongful retraction of its original "Amazongate" story by The Sunday Times. Bizarrely, the paper has retracted a correct assertion, that the IPCC's claim on the Amazon was unsubstantiated, and replaced it with a statement that the claim is supported by peer-reviewed scientific literature, which it is not.

There can be few occasions where a correct statement published by a newspaper has been removed and subject to an apology, and replaced by an inaccurate statement. And, in being inaccurate, it breaches the Press Complaints Commission code.

Thus, the most logical step at the moment is to make not one but two complaints to the PCC, one against The Sunday Times and one against The Guardian. This is what I have done. The complaint went in this morning, and the text is accessible here (42 pages PDF).

We are now in the unusual position of making a complaint to the PCC about the action of a newspaper, which was, as will be recalled, taken ostensibly in response to a PCC complaint by Dr Simon Lewis.

In fact, the newspaper took the action without there being a formal adjudication, and seems to have acted rather precipitately. One wonders whether it consulted the original journalist. It certainly did not contact me. Yet there is a growing awaremess that the IPCC/WWF source is not peer-reviewed, original material.

Whether the PCC can step round its original involvement remains to be seem but, as can be seen from my submission, I have asked for a preliminary ruling as to what it considers is necessary for a scientific assertion to be considered "substantiated".

Nearly three months elapsed between Simon Lewis's complaint and The Sunday Times taking action, and we may see the same timescale here. But, however long it takes, readers can be assured that "Amazongate" is very far from over. It is only just beginning.

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