Michael Bodey and Matthew Warren | July 14, 2007
THE TV debate following the ABC's hit The Great Global Warming Swindle was hijacked by members of a nationalist political party.
As the national broadcaster was yesterday celebrating the news that the documentary questioning man's contribution to climate change averaged 1.1 million viewers in the five capital cities, and a further 500,000 in regional areas on Thursday, it emerged that a post-program audience discussion was dominated by members of the Citizens Electoral Council of Australia.
The CEC, which has links to US conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, maintains global warming "is a political campaign spearheaded by Al Gore and piloted by the same people pushing globalisation".
Half the audience members given the floor by host Tony Jones were members of the CEC. "Fifteen of our members got into the audience," said Craig Isherwood, CEC national secretary. "We were rather surprised ourselves that we got so many in."
The members unexpectedly introduced carbon 14, eugenics, Plato's cave and Nazism into the already confused debate, one member noting the global warming fear was "Hitler-Nazi race science and this will destroy Africa".
"There's a certain tolerance level of what can be said on TV and he didn't come within coo-ee of that," said the executive producer of the ABC broadcast, Erik Dwyer.
"I'd love to say it was a brilliant piece of audience casting but all I can say is I'm glad I didn't stand in front of the doorway at the ABC because I would have been crushed by people wanting to be a part of the show."
The CEC, which is funded by local donations and subscriptions, has more than 3500 members, said Mr Isherwood.
Mr Dwyer said the questions from the floor could not be anticipated but were handled smoothly by Jones.
"When you invite the public in, that's basically all you can do," said Mr Dwyer. "They were bloody keen to have a go."
The documentary by filmmaker Martin Durkin stirred controversy long before it was shown because of its premise that man-made climate change was "unmitigated nonsense".
Climate change critic Bob Carter praised the ABC for screening it but criticised the discussion involving a panel of eight experts.
"You should give full marks to the ABC for showing it," he told The Weekend Australian.
But the debate "missed the whole point. They wanted to assess the motives and the characters of the people involved and they weren't talking about the scientific issues."
WWF chief executive Greg Bourne said the discussion involving the panel of experts and the participation of audience members was appropriate as it raised issues other than the science of climate change.
"I think it moved the debate away from a science debate and towards a management of risk issue. Had that (documentary) been shown raw it would have been an unbelievably biased piece of journalism."
The documentary was the ABC's 14th-highest-rating program of the year. It helped push the ABC's ratings share past the Ten Network's and into third place on the night.
"That says it's an issue we know young people are interested in and if we present things well, younger viewers will come to the ABC," said director of ABC TV, Kim Dalton. He added that despite the controversy, the ABC was happy with the response.
"I was never all that concerned about the criticism. The argument that you can't trust the audience and you've got to be careful what you show them is paternalistic and patronising.
"But at the same time we would have been due the criticism if we just played the documentary without the debate."