When the word 'saintly' can be made a state secret

 

What do civil servants in the Department of Energy and Climate Change think about the Guardian's environmental columnist George Monbiot - and why does it have to stay secret?

I was pondering on these questions when I read a document released earlier this month by the energy department in response to an information request.

It featured in a collection of departmental files relating to "Climategate", the incident in 2009 when large quantities of emails belonging to climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were hacked and published on the internet.

The major controversy that followed focused on concerns about how some scientists were operating. In the aftermath, officials involved in government energy policy were worried about how it would affect public opinion on policies to tackle climate change.

In June 2010, DECC's then head of science Dr Nafees Meah gave an internal presentation to colleagues about communicating climate science.

In it, he noted that Monbiot had called for the resignation of Professor Phil Jones, head of the university's Climatic Research Unit, who featured prominently in the hacked emails.

Monbiot later regretted this, when an inquiry cleared Prof Jones and his colleagues of manipulating data, while stating that they should have been more open about their work. But at the time, many considered it striking that a leading environmentalist had criticised Prof Jones to such an extent.

Dr Meah's reference to Monbiot (who he called "Mombiot") was preceded by some description of him, which was removed from the disclosed text of the speech:

Redacted document

What could he have said that demanded such secrecy, amidst the release of a large collection of government documents which contained much revealing material?

DECC has now told me that the missing words are "the saintly".

"The decision to redact the wording was made on the basis that, in printed form, the comment could have been misconstrued in the absence of the speaker's intonation," the department said.

"On reflection, however, it is considered that this approach was erring on the side of caution."

So now we know that Monbiot was described as "saintly", even if we still don't know the intonation with which this epithet would have been uttered.

And perhaps we have learnt something else - that when government departments respond to information requests, sometimes extracts are redacted for unnecessary and rather peculiar reasons.

 
Martin Rosenbaum, Freedom of information specialist Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    19 little old me

    Nonsence the BBC run far more labour points of view than any other .
    If they run a coalition piece, it is without fail tempered with labours counter argument , if they do not lead with labours reaction in the first place .
    Whereas any labour piece is generaly unquestioned .

    Look at Robinsons piece . Millibland - Churchill or attle I didn't know there was a comedy section .

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 23.

    @20 Little_Old_Me

    I don't believe that I err at all. The BBC is not only required to report on political decisions, as part of its charter, it's also required to do all that it can to ensure accuracy and impartiality. The information that was not reported, it's possible to argue, was both important and relevant to the implementation of government policy, and is only now becoming public.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 22.

    Could it be that Civil Servants are "on side" about alleged Global Warming,and can now freely label those who actually DISBELIEVE the IPCC party line as GW Deniers?
    If that is true,then there must be a massive conspiracy between ALL political Parties (and it seemscivil servants), which have conspired to remove money put aside to prevent pensioners freezing and donate it to "windfarm millionaires"

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 21.

    20.Little_Old_Me
    Yes it is and was. Once the BBC had proper open format messageboards for news and current affairs as well as specialist subjects/programme ones. Further it does open HYS topics on very legally tricky subjects when it suits them, hence pages of removed comments often related to legal cases. Mods waste most time over PC infringements. Dump a celeb or two, all costs covered.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 20.

    14.Under-Used

    Ultimately the Beeb has to employ staff to monitor comments on HYS, because legally they are liable for anything that is libellous etc.

    How much more are you willing to pay on top of your existing license fee to have enough mods (each of whom needs some extent of legal training) to fully monitor the comments?

    I wish every topic was open, but it just isn't feasible.....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    12.Under-Used


    Your mistake is looking at this as an isolated scenario - the Beeb always gives more air time to what whichever party is in power's MPs/Ministers are saying because the public want more info from them & only a little from the opposition, because those in power have the most influence.....it was vise versa when Lab was in power.....

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 18.

    @03 'the-moog'
    ~~
    Don't worry yourself about moderation. I've had lots of posts removed. It may depend if your post is reported; or who may be on Mod duty at a particular time on a debate.

    I don't 'report' other's posts - I only rate or don't rate. We all type stuff, I know I have when impassioned - it's human nature. However, I do agree with others that the choice of HYS debates is too narrow.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 17.

    It seems that the only people not entitled to an honest response are those who are paying the bills.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 16.

    @13 'BluesBerry'
    ~~
    Yes, you are right. A lot of 'redaction' went on during our MPs expenses scandals.

    I, think 3 years ago, there were so-called 'vexacious' requests under the Freedom of Information Act that annoyed various government departments.

    Well, the public are now very vexed. As public services are increasingly privatised - there will be no gov department nor politican accountable.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    The Department of Energy and Climate Change? When/why did these two departments merge? Oh, yes, I see, £billions in carbon tax revenue for HMG and carbon trading.

    Time to use those carbon taxes to build more mixed power stations in UK pronto. What's the point of electric cars without UK independent secure electricity supply?

    Local authorities pay huge amounts in carbon tax - guess who pays?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 14.

    The strongest form of redaction that affects users of this site is the simple process of writing a piece, that is clearly of importance to the population, and then providing no means of response to that public via HYS or other comment sections. I find it odd when sections of the site that usually provide a way of reply suddenly don't and for no apparent reason. Business and Politics sections etc

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    And here I thought there was only one reason for redaction, & that reason is: this is the critical part, most crucial part - the part that Govt, or someone else wiht lots of power - does not want read, especially not by YOU. This is especially true when a "debate" of sorts is going on, questions being asked, and the redaction helps the perceived "wrong" side of the debate.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 12.

    @6 Little_Old_Me

    Did you read it? Because if you did it would be hard to claim that the BBC, in this instance, had acted impartially. Far from offering both sides of the story it seems to have communicated an extremely narrow view that benefited one side of the argument over another.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 11.

    I thought in these days of open government and public accountability, anyone was entitled to an answer, to any reasonable question put to a public servant.

    I've asked for an explanation, as to an apparently erroneous planning decision, stemming from a dishonest application. Result? A wall of silence. It's as if there's no rule of law: instead, arbitrary power and unaccountability. Inexcusable.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    9.ciconia - "Why would anyone take Monbiot seriously anyway?"

    Because he never shoots from the hip - he always bases his opinions on well researched facts.....I by no means always agree with his conclusions, but at least he believes in evidence based policy making, not using gut instinct, which is more often wrong than right in us human beings.....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    Why would anyone take Monbiot seriously anyway?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    Again it seems that the way information is released and reported is more newsworthy than the information itself.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    3.the-moog - "Maybe 'REDACTED' could be the Mods new nickname! It's what they do best!"


    Nope, wouldn't work - the Mods don't "edit or revise" (the definition of redacted) peoples' postings, they simply remove those posts flagged up by other readers as breeching the rules, if the agree the house rules gave been broken in any given case......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 6.

    4.john

    Do grow up - giving air time to both sides of the debate is called impartility. Not favouring your side of the arguement is called imprtiality.

    Whilst I agree the Coalition "reforms" willd devestate the NHS, is was not for the Beeb to take that line, theur job is just to report what both sides say, which they did......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 5.

    This comment was redacted because the moderators found it broke the house rules

 

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