News Corp columnist and Sky News host Andrew Bolt has accused the Australian Communications and Media Authority of making “bizarre” statements that are “little more than partisan abuse”, after the body said no reasonable viewer would take his show as a considered examination of the science of global warming.

The comments came as the body considered a complaint made about the now-Sky News host when he still had a show on Channel Ten.

ACMA’s investigation followed a complaint that a graph on global warming used during a segment of The Bolt Report was inaccurate and misleading in suggesting there had been a “warming pause” in the past 18 years. ACMA’s report concludes that though scientific observation has been of a warming “hiatus” or “pause” in global mean and average surface air temperatures, other broader indicators “provide evidence that global warming is occurring”.

However, the broad term used by Bolt — “warming of the atmosphere” — was general and vague enough to only be speaking of surface air temperatures, which, as he said, have not greatly risen in the past 18 years.

Anyway, the report continued, Bolt’s language in the segment was “hyperbolic”, which indicated he was giving his personal opinion rather than a scientific one. And no one expects shows like The Bolt Report to be balanced anyway. ACMA’s report said:

“Current affairs programs such as The Bolt Report are not precluded from taking a position on any matter and are not required to be balanced or to include all information about a particular issue. It was clear from the excerpts of the comments of environmentalists, scientists and political leaders in the segment that Mr Bolt’s opinions were contentious and the evidence provided to support his views was selective. However, of itself, the factual material was accurate.”

As such, there was no breach of the broadcast licence code.

Writing on his blog on Sunday, Bolt was less than impressed with ACMA’s finding. He said the report was a demonstration of “how free-speech police operate, in effect, to harass and police only one side of the debate, and the rational one at that.”

“Why do such bodies even attempt to meddle in such important public debates? Why do they attempt to arbitrate on highly contested matters of science?”

Bolt also lashed out at the complainant, who remains anonymous, and an Age reporter who rang him to seek his comment on ACMA’s findings. He told Fairfax’s Lucy Battersby that he had not read the report and so couldn’t comment, and anyway, anything she wrote would be critical regardless. Battersby, in her piece, characterised the report as concluding Bolt had been too hyperbolic for viewers to think he was providing the “concluded scientific position” — a statement no less technically correct than Bolt’s statement on a warming pause.

“She is wrong. She was utterly, utterly predictable, writing to a mendacious and abusive script , just as I told her she would, along lines I could have dictated to her on the phone.”

The claim that his language was “hyperbolic” appears to have considerably riled Bolt:

“Hyperbolic? As in exaggerated, and not meant to be taken literally? That’s rich, given that I’m arguing against extremists who claim the world is superheating so badly that our cities will drown, all our rivers dry and humanity faces a wipeout within a century.”

Bolt’s show contained criticism of paleontologist and climate change campaigner Tim Flannery. In his response to ACMA’s report, Bolt asks why Flannery isn’t dragged before the body.

“Why weren’t any of the other shows from which I quoted — all making false and alarmist claims about global warming — investigated and criticised by ACMA?

“And why isn’t the ABC in the dock alongside Flannery, its favourite warmist talent?”

Bolt has unsurprisingly found support in the News Corp stable. Fellow blogger Tim Blair summed up the issue as: “Even when we terrible denialists are right, we’re still wrong.”

ACMA has, in the past, slapped down commentators relying on dodgy data to make claims about climate change. Last year it said 2GB had breached the commercial radio codes of practice when Alan Jones relied on an erroneous (and later corrected) report in The Australian which said global warming projections had been halved in an upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Peter Fray

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