Martin Durkin

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Martin Durkin

Martin Durkin (born 23 January 1962) is a television producer and director. Through his production company Kugelblitz, he has made several television documentaries for Channel 4 in the UK which have caused controversy over their anti-environmentalist stance. He is managing director of WAG TV, a London-based independent TV production company. Durkin has links with the LM network (explored below).

Contents

Background

LM network resources

Martin Durkin 'studied ancient and medieval history at University College London and economic history at the London School of Economics.'[1] According to a biographical note:

He worked as a financial journalist before joining the current affairs department of London Weekend Television in 1989. In 1994 he became a director of RDF Television, where he produced and directed some major documentaries and helped devise a number of shows, including Scrapheap Challenge (aka Junkyard Wars) and Shipwrecked. In 1999 he became managing director of Wag TV.[1]

Television programmes

Against Nature: 1997

In 1997 Durkin and his TV company Kugelblitz made a series for Channel 4 called Against Nature which targeted environmentalists, presenting them as "the new enemy of science" and comparing them to the Nazis. They were responsible, the series argued, for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World.[2] [3]

John Vidal, environment correspondent of The Guardian, described the series' message as follows:

The list of charges is long: "environmentalists" put millions of lives in danger; they come from the same stock as Hitler and Goering; doom people to live in abject poverty; want misery to continue; peddle a system as pernicious as 19th century imperialism. Moreover, these "environmentalists" control the White House and are immensely rich; are backward looking; fear change; stop people using their resources; and are linked to xenophobic movements.[4]

Vidal sought to identify the perspective from which the programmes had been made:

I only know of one broad group which consistently uses this sort of argument about "environmentalism". The Far Right. In the US, the Wise Use Movement is linked to the militias and its members beat up environmentalists who they call commies. In South America and Asia, corporations and landowners spend millions killing them and bribing or influencing politicians against their arguments. Against Nature appears to peddle their line, yet C4 either can't see it or approves.[5]

Vidal's conclusion was understandable as the series provided a platform for a whole string of contributors from the far right, but those behind Against Nature were not the usual right-wing suspects. Rather, as Guardian columnist George Monbiot noted, the critical links were to a network then centered on the magazine LM, formerly known as Living Marxism, the monthly review of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).

Monbiot writes:

The assistant producer of Against Nature, Eve Kaye, was one of the principal coordinators of the RCP/LM. The director, Martin Durkin, describes himself as a Marxist, denies any link with LM, but precisely follows its line in argument. The series starred Frank Furedi, previously known as Frank Richards, LM's regular columnist and most influential thinker, and John Gillott, LM's science correspondent, both billed as independent experts. Line by line, point by point, Against Nature followed the agenda laid down by LM: that greens are not radicals, but doom-mongering imperialists; that global warming is nothing to worry about; that 'sustainable development' is a conspiracy against people; while germline gene therapy and human cloning will liberate humanity from nature.[6]

Channel 4 had to broadcast a prime-time apology after Against Nature drew the wrath of the Independent Television Commission, which ruled:

Comparison of the unedited and edited transcripts confirmed that the editing of the interviews with [the environmentalists who contributed] had indeed distorted or misrepresented their known views. It was also found that the production company had misled them... as to the format, subject matter and purpose of these programmes.[7]

Durkin's hidden agenda and controversial methods did not stop Channel 4 from making further use of his services, as Private Eye noted in February 2000: "What does Channel 4 do with programme makers condemned by the TV watchdog, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), for using underhand editing techniques? The answer is, er, hire them to make another programme."[8] Despite the damning ITC judgment, the programme was seen at Channel 4 as something of a triumph, and science programmes commissioning editor Sara Ramsden received high praise. Durkin was soon back with TV company Kugelblitz to make more science documentaries for Channel 4.

Storm in a D-Cup: 1999

Contributors to a Durkin-directed Equinox programme about breast implants (broadcast in May 1999), which argued implants reduce the incidence of breast cancer, complained of the programme makers' deceptive tactics. Sally Kirkland and Ilena Rosenthal of the Humantics Foundation for Women, a US-based support group for women who have had breast implants, wrote in a letter to The Guardian:

In discussions with Martin Durkin's 'Kugelblitz' crew as to the content of their proposed 'science documentary' on silicone breast implants last year, we were totally and unequivocally misled as to the intent and content of that piece. Never would we have agreed to participate in what was little more than implant advertising for British plastic surgeons replete with overstuffed bouncing balloons and breasts. Hardly 'science'... We will report the deceptive and abhorrent actions we experienced to the ITC [Independent Television Commission].[9]

In another letter to The Guardian, Peter Melchett, then executive director of Greenpeace, wrote that Greenpeace had refused to take part in the Equinox programme based on its last encounter with Durkin in his Against Nature series. Melchett, in his role with Greenpeace, had been among the complainants to the Independent Television Commission (ITC) about misrepresentation of their views in Against Nature. The ITC had upheld these complaints and ruled that Durkin had "distorted" the views of interviewees "by selective editing".[10]

Durkin's proposal for the programme had earlier been rejected by the BBC, as George Monbiot writes in The Guardian, because it "ignored a powerful body of evidence contradicting his [Durkin's] claims". Najma Kazi, a respected TV researcher and producer who was previously a research biochemist, was hired by Durkin to help him make the programme but resigned because:

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.[11]

Modified Truth – The Rise and Fall of GM: 2000

Modified Truth: The Rise and Fall of GM was broadcast on March 20 2000. It presented GM food as perfectly safe and as much needed to feed the starving in the Third World. Dr. Tewolde Gebre Egziaber of Ethiopia was among multiple signatories from the Third World who complained in a joint letter following the programme that it was a propaganda vehicle that made use of the Third World's rural poverty to support the monopoly control and global use of genetically modified food production by transnational corporations and emotionally blackmail the UK public into using GM[12].

Two scientists critical of genetic engineering who were invited to contribute to the programme, Dr Arpad Pusztai and Dr Mae-Wan Ho, both subsequently complained that they were misled about the content and were not given a chance to reply to attacks on their positions[13]. Dr Ho said, 'I feel completely betrayed and misled. They did not tell me it was going to be an attack on my position.'[14]

The Great Global Warming Swindle: 2007

In 2007, Channel 4 aired The Great Global Warming Swindle (GGWS) directed by Martin Durkin. Billed as a documentary, it suggested that there is no human-caused global warming. Mark Lynas, author of the book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, summed up the programme in an article for The Telegraph (UK) as follows:

Not only was the viewing public left with the erroneous impression that solar activity can explain current climate change, but bold scientific-sounding statements were made (such as the 'fact' that volcanoes release more CO2 than humans, or that temperatures were higher than now in the Middle Ages) which are simply flat wrong.[15]

Like Durkin's previous series attacking environmental science, Against Nature, the GGWS came in for criticism from the broadcasting regulator Ofcom. In 2008 Ofcom ruled that the GGWS treated two scientists (Sir David King and Professor Carl Wunsch) and an organisation (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) unfairly.[16].

Those who attempted to engage in debate with Durkin about the content of the GGWS say they have met with little success. According to Lynas, Imperial College biologist Dr Armand Leroi contacted Durkin immediately after GGWS was broadcast, pointing out that Durkin's graphical data showing an apparent correlation between solar activity and global temperatures was based on a 1991 paper since revealed as flawed.

Lynas writes: "Durkin's response was, so to speak, somewhat curt: 'You're a big daft cock'."[17]

Lynas adds that in response to another scientific critic, Simon Singh, Durkin responded "with this devastating intellectual put-down: 'Go and f**k yourself.'"[18]

GGWS been shown in many countries around the world -- maybe a record for this type of documentary produced by an unknown player (Wag TV) with a patchy record. Furthermore, American, British and Australian right-wing politicians have made many copies of the video to distribute to high schools and to politicians who take the global climate change seriously.[19]

After GGWS was broadcast in Australia, a public forum called “Debunking 'The Great Global Warming Swindle'” was held at the Australian National University in Canberra on 13 July 2007. At the event, scientists from the Australian National University, Stanford University, USA, and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies exposed what they described "as the scientific flaws and half-truths in the claims of climate change skeptics"[20].

Furthermore, Tony Jones, one of the principal journalists on Australia's ABC TV, interviewed Durkin, debunking many of the claims made on GGWS. Jones also drew attention to Durkin's highly selective use of data: for example, he used old and out-of-date charts in preference to up-to-date charts from the same source[21].

GGWS was produced by a virtually unknown production company (Wag TV) but it certainly was not made just for a limited viewing on Channel 4. In most Western countries, GGWS has been used to counter films like Al Gore's climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Indeed, the section of Durkin's Wag TV website dedicated to GGWS describes GGWS as "The definitive response to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth"[22]. The distribution of the film around the world suggests that it is part of a larger campaign to discredit scientific findings on climate change.

Complaints have been made by the scientists interviewed for the The Great Global Warming Swindle, which was created by Martin Durkin. The Times[23] reports that 'two of the scientists who took part have complained that the editing gave a misleading impression of critical data and their own viewpoints'. Ofcom, which regulates broadcast media, is also reported to be examining other complaints from scientists in relation to this film.

Foreign aid bad for Africa: 2008

On 3 December 2008, Durkin gave an interview to the neoconservative FrontPage magazine in which he discusses why foreign aid was bad for Africa.[24]

Foreign food aid has also come under fire from the other end of the political spectrum, including NGOs working on the ground in Africa. But there are important differences in the stance taken by Durkin and that taken by such NGOs. In an article for The Independent (UK), Oxfam's Ken Watkins criticises food aid on the grounds that it undermines and sometimes destroys local markets by flooding them with Western government-subsidised cheap grain, often from the US. The effect is to make the recipient country dependent on food aid, a factor that Durkin also emphasizes.

What Durkin does not say in his critique of food aid is, however, significant. Food aid has become a way of disposing of American agricultural surpluses, often of hard-to-sell genetically modified crops. In such cases, the American government aid agency USAID protects US farmers' incomes by buying up agricultural surpluses for use as aid. The major beneficiaries of such aid programmes, Oxfam's Watkins points out, are "major grain corporations" which get big taxpayer-funded contracts for transferring grain surpluses overseas: "Companies such as Cargill, the world's largest grain trader, and Archer Daniel Midland took over $40m (pounds 24m) for food aid transfers to the Philippines and Indonesia in 2001."[25]

Watkins deplores the "subordination of humanitarian objectives to the pursuit of commercial advantage for large-scale farmers and corporations in rich countries." For these reasons, the EU now tries to purchase food for aid locally and avoid surplus disposal and the World Trade Organisation has seen calls for bans on food dumping.[26]

Because food aid too often has more to do with corporate welfare than humanitarian welfare, it deserves to be examined critically. But in line with the pro-corporate stance that Durkin takes in his documentaries, he does not object to the corporate welfare aspects of food aid. Instead he focuses on financial aid being "siphoned off in various ways by [Africa's] ruling elite"[27].

Durkin calls for free trade, not aid, as the solution to Africa’s problems. Again, his argument is thus far in line with that of many NGOs working in Africa, who have called for the removal of trade tariffs applied to African food imports to the West and the abolition of government subsidies to Western farmers that make Western food surpluses dumped in Africa fatally cheaper than the domestically-grown food.

But it turns out that Durkin is only in favour of free trade for Africa’s farmers if they grow the type of crop he has in mind.

First, the crop must not be organic, which he claims is a “backward” and “not very productive” farming technique[28]. This is in spite of the exhaustive United Nations IAASTD and UNCTAD reports of 2008 that emphasize huge yield gains from organic and sustainable farming in Africa and other developing countries and point to such methods as the best way to food security[29].

Second, any Durkin-approved crop for Africa must not be fair trade, which he calls a “hideous slice of colonialism” and “nothing more than a rearguard PR exercise from the greens”. People who advocate ‘Fair Trade’," says Durkin, “are just bastards”[30]. He goes on to say that fair trade dictates that Africans can only sell their food to the affluent world if they are organic and preferably cultivate small peasant farms “which are famously no good at producing food efficiently”.

But this is misleading. Many reports, including the IAASTD and UNCTAD reports cited above, show that small peasant farms are remarkably efficient at producing food in the developing world. Most importantly, Durkin is misrepresenting fair trade standards, which exist to ensure that third world farmers get a fair price for their produce, have safe working conditions, and can join a trade union if they wish. Fair trade standards do not require that a farmer is organic. And while many farmers helped by the fair trade scheme are small farmers – for the simple reason that most third world farmers farm small plots – they don’t have to be or remain small farmers to qualify for the fair trade scheme.

In fact, it's hard to see what's not to like about fair trade, which seems to be good for the farmer and good for the conscience of the consumer. Perhaps, though, fair trade is not so good for big food and agrochemical conglomerates that have a reputation for squeezing third world farmers' incomes and touting pesticides that poison farm workers, while strenuously opposing trade union activity.

So If Durkin doesn’t favour organic or fair trade crops for Africa, what sort of crops does he want? A clue may lie in his previous documentary for Channel 4, Modified Truth: The Rise and Fall of GM (see above). As of 2008 there is a massive push by GM advocates to convince the world that only GM crops can feed Africa – and that the affluent world has to accept them for Africa's sake.[31] Durkin's latest move coincides neatly with this global PR campaign for GM.

Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story: 2010

In November 2010 Martin Durkin presented a documentary on Channel 4 entitled 'Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story'.[32]

Affiliations

Contact

Web: http://www.martindurkin.com/

References, Resources and Contact

Resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Great Global Warming Swindle The director, accessed 13 November 2011
  2. George Monbiot, Crimes against Nature, Monbiot.com, 26 November 1997.
  3. George Monbiot, The Revolution Has Been Televised, Monbiot.com, 18 December 1997.
  4. This article by John Vidal, published in The Guardian on 26 November 1997, has disappeared from the web but is archived on a Friends of the Earth listserv in untitled form here, accessed December 2008.
  5. This article by John Vidal, published in The Guardian on 26 November 1997, has disappeared from the web but is archived on a Friends of the Earth listserv in untitled form here, accessed December 2008.
  6. George Monbiot, Far Left or Far Right?, Published in Prospect Magazine, November 1998, archived on Monbiot.com Nov 1, 1998, acc 1 May 2010
  7. Against Nature, Complaints Report, February/March 1998, accessed December 2008. Also see Friends of the Earth, Channel 4 Savaged by Television Watchdog over Green Stitch-Up, 2 April 1998, accessed December 2008
  8. Private Eye, February 2000.
  9. Sally Kirkland and Ilena Rosenthal, More digs at Durkin, letter to The Guardian, 22 March 2000.
  10. Peter Melchett, More digs at Durkin, letter to The Guardian, 22 March 2000.
  11. George Monbiot, Getting your science from charlatans, The Guardian, 16 March 2000, accessed December 2008.
  12. Tewolde Gebre Egziaber, Joint letter to Channel Four Television and the Times newspaper, March 2000
  13. Channel 4 Equinox programme: The Rise and Fall of GM, comments by Arpad Pusztai, Arpad Pusztai's website, accessed December 2008
  14. George Monbiot, Getting your science from charlatans, The Guardian, 16 March 2000, accessed December 2008
  15. Mark Lynas, The great Channel 4 swindle, The Telegraph, 10 November 2008, accessed December 2008
  16. http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/obb/prog_cb/obb114/issue114.pdf Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 114, 21 July 2008, accessed December 2008
  17. Mark Lynas, The great Channel 4 swindle, The Telegraph, 10 November 2008, accessed December 2008
  18. Mark Lynas, The great Channel 4 swindle, The Telegraph, 10 November 2008, accessed December 2008
  19. For example: McCollum and the global warming 'swindle', TampaBay.com, 27 December 2007, accessed December 2008.
  20. Debunking the debunkers, media release, 10 July 2007, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies website, accessed December 2008
  21. Video: ABC Australia's Tony Jones Dissects, Debunks Martin Durkin, video clips of ABC TV interview, posted on desmogblog.com 13 July 2007, accessed December 2008. A pdf transcript of the Jones/Durkin interview can be downloaded from here, accessed December 2008
  22. The Great Global Warming Swindle, Wag TV website, accessed December 2008
  23. Leake, J. (1007) Please, sir - Gore's got warming wrong The Sunday Times. 14th October 2007. Accessed 16th January 2009
  24. Jamie Glazov, How Foreign Aid Destroyed Africa, FrontPage Magazine, 3 December 2008, accessed December 2008.
  25. Ken Watkins, `Dumping' undermines local agriculture and creates a reliance on (sic), The Independent, 18 October 2003, accessed December 2008
  26. Ken Watkins, `Dumping' undermines local agriculture and creates a reliance on (sic), The Independent, 18 October 2003, accessed December 2008
  27. Jamie Glazov, "How Foreign Aid Destroyed Africa", FrontPage magazine, 3 December 2008, accessed December 2008
  28. Jamie Glazov, How Foreign Aid Destroyed Africa, FrontPage Magazine, 3 December 2008
  29. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD); Beintema, N. et al., 2008. http://www.agassessment.org/index.cfm?Page=IAASTD%20Reports&ItemID=2713; Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Environment Programme, 2008. http://www.unep-unctad.org/cbtf/publications/UNCTAD_DITC_TED_2007_15.pdf
  30. Jamie Glazov, How Foreign Aid Destroyed Africa, FrontPage Magazine, 3 December 2008
  31. See, for example, Jonathan Matthews, Jimmy's GM Food Fix, The Ecologist, 27 November 2008, accessed December 2008; also Comment by GM Freeze on Jimmy's Food Fight, GM Freeze press release, 27 November 2008, accessed December 2008
  32. About, Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story, Channel 4, November 2010, Accessed 17-March-2011
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