"Remember to watch the Equinox programme tonight 9.00 p.m. for a non-hysterical opinion of GM crops." - Dr Alan Dewar (20th March 2000), entomologist at IACR and a leading researcher in the UK's GM farmscale trials (for more on Dewar see Professor Bullsh*t's guide to the farmscale trials)
"Any fair-minded person, I am sure, will draw his/her conclusion that
the Equinox programme was not only unfair to me but also that they rendered
disservice to science generally and to the scientific debate on GM-food particularly." - Dr Arpad Pusztai
"Channel Four Television... should be ashamed for allowing themsleves to be so manipulated into trying effectively to emotionally blackmail the UK public into using GE." - Dr. Tewolde Gebre Egziaber of Ethiopia on behalf of multiple signaturies
"So what do you do with a director with a record like this, who has
brought your channel into disrepute, who has misled both his contributors
and his audience? If you are Michael Jackson, the head of Channel 4, you
commission him to make more programmes." - George Monbiot
George Monbiot, Guardian, Thursday March 16, 2000
In October 1998, a television producer named Martin Durkin took a proposal
to the BBC's science series, Horizon. Silicone breast implants, he claimed,
far from harming women, were in fact beneficial, reducing the risk of breast
cancer. Horizon commissioned a researcher to find out whether or not his
assertion was true.
After a thorough review, the researcher reported that Mr Durkin had ignored a powerful body of evidence contradicting his claims.
Martin Durkin withdrew his proposal. Instead of dropping it, however,
he took it to Channel 4 and, astonishingly, sold it to their science series,
Equinox. To help him make the programme, Durkin hired Najma Kazi, a highly
respected TV researcher and producer who was previously a research biochemist.
two weeks she walked out. "It's not a joke to walk away from four or five months' work," she told me, "but my research was being ignored. The published research had been construed to give an impression that's not the case. I don't know how that programme got passed. The only consolation for me was that I'm really glad I didn't put my name to it."
But the programme was broadcast, in May last year. Silicone implants, it insisted, appeared to reduce the incidence of breast cancer. Women claiming that their operations had caused severe health problems were dismissed as cranks, malingerers and compensation-chasers. The researchers who believed that there was a problem were accused of practising "junk science".
Mr Durkin has often been accused of taking liberties with the facts. In 1997 he made a series for Channel 4 called Against Nature, which compared environmentalists like me to Nazis, conspiring against the world's poor. No one would suggest that green claims should not be subjected to critical examination, but the people he interviewed were lied to about the contents of the programmes and given no chance to respond to the accusations the series made.
The Independent Television Commission handed down one of the most damning
verdicts it has ever reached: the programme makers "distorted by selective
editing" the views of the interviewees and "misled" them about the "content and purpose of the programmes when they agreed to take part". Channel 4 was
forced to make a humiliating prime time apology. After the series was broadcast, I discovered that the assistant producer and several of its interviewees worked for the rightwing libertarian magazine masquerading as Living Marxism, which has just been successfully sued by ITN. All the arguments Against Nature made had been rehearsed in LM.
So what do you do with a director with a record like this, who has brought your channel into disrepute, who has misled both his contributors and his audience? If you are Michael Jackson, the head of Channel 4, you commission him to make more programmes.
On Monday, Channel 4 will broadcast a 90-minute Equinox programme about
genetic engineering, made by Martin Durkin and called, appropriately enough,
Modified Truth. Already it appears that the programme has suffered from Mr Durkin's characteristic approach. "I feel completely betrayed and misled", reports Dr Mae-Wan Ho, a geneticist whom Durkin interviewed. "They did not tell me it was going to be an attack on my position."
Neither Martin Durkin nor, extraordinarily, Charles Furneaux, the commissioning editor of the Equinox science series, has a science background. They don't need one, for science on Channel 4 has been reduced to a crude manifesto for corporate libertarianism.
When Michael Jackson arrived at Channel 4, he cancelled a series called Global Raiders, on which a quarter of a million pounds had already been spent. It would have examined the adverse impacts of big business around the world. Since 1989, according to the research group 3WE, Channel 4 has reduced its international factual output by 56%. Holiday programmes have boomed, but "ecological programming now appears to be virtually extinct".
The station, in other words, is censoring not just a few ideas, but entire subject areas. Serious coverage of science, the environment, the developing world and, above all, abuses of corporate power, have been all but stamped out. The Mark Thomas Comedy Product is a glowing exception, but I suspect it is allowed on air only because it makes people laugh.
Perhaps intellectual honesty is too fusty, too boring, for the chic,
postmodern Channel 4. But perhaps there is something else at work; perhaps
we should question whether senior staff have come to identify themselves
with the companies providing their revenues, and are, as a result, seeking
to modify the truth. If so, then it is hardly surprising that they have
handed so much work to a charlatan.
using Southern scientists to make Europeans feel guilty for not supporting
Joint letter organised by Dr. Tewolde Gebre Egziaber, in protest at Channel Four's "Equinox" and a Times article
What does Channel 4 do with programme makers condemned by the TV watchdog,the
Independent Television Commission (ITC), for using underhand editing
The answer is, er, hire them to make another programme.
Director Martin Durkin had his wrists slapped by the ITC over the 1997 documentary 'Against Nature', which argued the case for genetically modified food. The ITC ruled that four of the experts interviewed, including the head of Greenpeace, Lord Melchett, and the campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper, were "misled as to the content and the purpose of the programmes when they agreed to take part" and that their interviews had been "distorted by selective editing".
Despite the damning ITC judgement the programme was seen at Channel
4 as somthing of a triumph, and science programmes commissioning editor
Ramsden recieved high praise. Now Durkin is back with TV company Kugelblitz to make another programme in defence of genetic modification for Channel
4's 'Equinox' series. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have turned down requests for interviews.....
You shouldn't be suprised about Durkin and LM magazine. They are after
connected to the Revolutionary Communist Party, a secretive and
fundamentalist Marxist group (ie: one that takes the word of Marx as
literal truth, rather than engaging with it in a intelligent and critical
manner, as any sensible Marxist would).
Their stance is entirely strategic. They believe in a society of total
equality where everyone will have everything they need and where mankind
will have total mastery of nature. They take completely literally Marx's
teleological (end-directed) view of history, whereby capitalism will cause
its own collapse by destroying the foundations on which it rests. They thus
work on a day-to-day basis to increase the obnoxiousness of capitalism,
with the aim of speeding the day of the revolution. They thus advocated
voting for Thatcher, they condemn social welfare and giving money to
charities or the homeless, as this would only delay the inevitable
collapse. This opposition to any ameliorative or reformist measures extends
to environmentalism, which they also regard as delaying man's inevitbale
mastery of the natural world, without which the workers will not be able to
provide themselves with the standard of living they deserve.They share this
view of environmentalism as backward witht the neo-liberal right, it is
just that the right want capitalism to continue for ever. Where they are
particularly clever is in tactically adopting the slogans and patterns of
right-wing libertarian ideology to cloak their deeper motivations. And this
is where in some ways, I quite admire them - because they have huge numbers
of right-wingers totally fooled. They take the most ridiculously extreme
neo-liberal positions, and the right love them even more. Charles Moore and
Auberon Waugh of the Daily Telegraphy are always praising LM magazine. And
this is where they get a lot of their cash too. This is why Durkin was so
frustrated when George confronted him - he did not want his actual beliefs
exposed as revolutionary communist when so much of their strategic plans
rely on them being seen as right-wing economic libertarians. They don't
want hteir funders to know that in the RCP-envisaged future, they will be
first up against the wall when teh revolution comes! Hence their use of
Nazi slogans too. They want to be seen as the most obnoxious right-wingers
possible, when they are in fact stupid and unthinking fundamentalists
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PROFESSOR B: INDEX