media

Many complaints about “unfair” and “biased” BBC programme on Balcombe anti-fracking protests

2013 Balcombe protests DoD

Protests outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site in Balcombe in 2013. Photo: DrillOrDrop

A radio programme which claimed it would to set the record straight about reporting of 2013 anti-fracking protests in Balcombe has itself attracted “many complaints” about accuracy and bias.

People made formal complaints about What Really Happened In Balcombe both before and after it was broadcast on Radio 4 this morning.

The programme, in the series The Corrections, sought to revisit a news story which, it said, left the public with the wrong idea about what really happened.

The broadcasters argued that the media reported protests against fracking in summer 2013 even though the site operator, Cuadrilla, was not fracking at Balcombe at the time.

But listeners were quick to accuse the programme of ignoring factual evidence about Cuadrilla’s intentions for Balcombe.

The presenter, Jo Fidgen, said:

“We had many complaints about this programme before it was even aired”.

The editor, Richard Knight, said:

“Some accused us of being put up to making this programme by the oil industry. Not true, for the record. And there were some more measured ones, explaining why residents of Balcombe might have had reason to fear that fracking in the area was, and perhaps still is, the ultimate goal.”

Within minutes of the programme’s closing credits, one Balcombe resident said:

“I am going to send v strong letters of complaint to the programme and the BBC feedback programme and I know my friends and relatives will too.”

Another villager, Emeritus Professor Lawrence Dunne, sent a formal complaint this afternoon. He said the programme had given the wrong impression. It should have set out the chronology of events before the protests, he said.

“It does not capture at all the anxiety and worry felt by residents in Balcombe about Cuadrilla’s clearly stated intention to frack. This is unfair and bad journalism.”

Another listener tweeted “Incredulous to hear extraordinary bias of @BBCRadio4” She asked: “Why were genuine concerns belittled, obfuscating the real threats to us all?

190927 Anna Lewington tweet

A writer who spent several decades working in BBC news and current affairs, and who specialised in energy and the environment, described What Really Happened In Balcombe as a “trivial and rather silly programme, sloppy and poorly researched.”

Frack Free Sussex, which continues to campaign against oil operations in Balcombe, described the programme as “erroneously smug” and

“this acutely ironic highly irresponsible piece of so-called journalism, which claims to be a correction”.

190927 BBC Slider


BBC Broadcasting House. Photo:Zizzu02 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cuadrilla’s intentions

There is documentary evidence that before the protests Cuadrilla saw the need to frack at Balcombe.

Cuadrilla planning application appendix

Extract from Cuadrilla’s planning application

In the 2010 planning application for operations at Balcombe, Cuadrilla included an appendix which said:

“There may be a need to stimulate a stage which flows gas/oil but at a low rate to ascertain if the gas was being held back by poor porosity or permeability or lack of natural fracture or a combination of all three.”

The appendix explained:

“Stimulation is carried out by pumping water under pressure into the the natural fractures in the shale formations to open them up to allow the gas to flow more freely. In some cases silicone sand is then pumped in to hold open the fractures once the water is removed.”

In 2011, the Cuadrilla company which held the Balcombe licence, then called Bolney Resources, wrote to the government about the need to frack:

“Bolney will need to rely, to a significant degree, on being able to undertake hydraulic fracture stimulation(s) of this unconventional reservoir.”

Cuadrilla letter

Extract of letter from Bolney Resources to the then Department of Energy and Climate Change

Six months later, in January 2012, the Guardian reported on a public meeting at which, the paper said, Cuadrilla outlined its intention to frack.

It was only after drilling the well in summer 2013 that Cuadrilla appeared to change its mind.

In January 2014, the company told villagers in a letter that analysis of samples from the well had confirmed that the target rock was naturally-fractured and fracking would not be needed.

The programme did not include this history.

Kathryn McWhirter, another villager, said in a letter to the programme editor:

“There was no fracking in Balcombe that summer because protesters held them up, and the initial planning permission ran out on September 30th 2013, before they were able to frack or to test in any way. And by January the F word had become unspeakable.”

“Unfair bias”

There were also objections to the programme’s use of an interview with Cuadrilla’s site manager in which he described campaigners spitting at staff.

Professor Dunne said:

“[This] should have been counter-balanced as it left the impression that many protesters were violent when this was not the case at all. Many of the protesters were pensioners and young parents with children. Again, the bias in your programme is unfair and bad journalism.”

The programme did not include interviews with people who protested at Balcombe. DrillOrDrop has seen correspondence before the programme was broadcast in which Balcombe residents asked the editor for the opportunity to put their case.

DrillOrDrop asked the BBC how many complaints had been made before the programme was broadcast. A spokesperson said:

“We don’t give out complaint numbers, but we do publish a fortnightly complaints bulletin of issues where we get over 100 complaints. You will be able to access this at the end of next week here.

Future plans at Balcombe

Cuadrilla cleared the Balcombe site six years ago today. Since then it did no more than routine maintenance work before handing over the operation to Angus Energy last year.

Angus gave notice on Tuesday that it would be applying next month for planning permission to carry out an extended well test at Balcombe.

In a statement to investors, the company said this would not include fracking:

“Angus do not need to use this technique because we will be producing from a limestone reservoir within the shale”.

But this has not reassured local people opposed to onshore oil and gas operations.

Since 2013, the official definition of fracking has changed to one based on a minimum volume of injected fluid. Campaigners are concerned that operations which would once have been called fracking could now slip under the threshold. There are also concerns about the use of dilute acid to release oil from limestone and sandstone formations.

17 replies »

  1. What you are stating is total nonsense
    I live close and it is not a problem the real problem is the people that are stating rubbish like you are doing… Get your facts correct please

  2. In my view it amounted to a journalistic biased view, and declared it had no investigative intention or ability. The broadcast concentrated almost exclusively on the journalistic handling of the words and the concept in etymological terms, rather than any investigation at all in the issues other than the usual journalistic references to methane burning taps and spitting protesters, none of which was investigated in any way.

    There was a long dismissive interview with Cuadrilla’s site manager who accused protesters of spitting and intimidation which put protest in a bad light, and that was not verified or investigated or refuted at all, merely left hanging as if it was true.

    There was only one journalist commentator, all the others having refused to attend or comment (why?). The report then merely commented how the issues are engineered to a particular journalistic copy hungry agenda and no interviews other than sound bites with the residents or protesters. No attempt at verification or refuting anything.

    I would expect much the same from a deliberate industry minimisation and marginalisation of the relevant issues into mere word play and inconsequential journalistic process. Not the effect or impact on peoples lives, health, homes and safety, and the effects upon democracy, law by injunction, compromised government and crippled and compromised regulators, real damage from earthquakes, damage to property, pollution of air and water, climate change degradation or the cause, it was only about journalists, and we know what bend with the wind copy seekers they are. Only one reference to climate change and instantly claimed that was not the intention to investigate.

    So yes, a journalistic biased and frankly an irrelevant empty program, a wasted inconsequential opportunity, but perhaps that was all that they were allowed to do by the BBC?

    Here is the link such as it is worth:

    Radio 4 27-09-19

    Have a great weekend.

    • Ooops! Butter fingers! Apologies Ruth and Paul, Drill or Drop journalistic perspicacity and honesty totally excepted of course, i was referring to tabloid journalists….sorry!

      Oh well, thats me off the Drill or Drop Christmas list!

  3. No one is interested in your view PhilC. Unlikely the BBC got it wrong as they are staffed by greenie arts graduates and very few scientists.

    • Paul Tresto
      ‘No one is interested in your view PhilC’…this is factually incorrect and should read ‘I am not interested in your view PhilC’. Do I need to make a programme about this?

      • Hi Sherwulfe, yes very sad isn’t it, another typically bizarre and bitter bile soaked display from the usual suspect.

        What makes that display even more irrational, is that Paul Tresto, by commenting at all in such a way, clearly displays an interest himself, and totally contradicts his own comment…..how very odd….

        It is remeniscent of a script of “Spitting Image” by of Luck and Flaw……(Frack and Law)

        Remember the vicious Norman Tebbit puppet in Spitting Image? Maybe the new Spitting Image will have an appropriate puppet template to illustrate the fossil fuel fools.

        Laugh? We nearly did!

        Have a good weekend.

  4. BBC doing what they do best, promoting the view of the few, ie the Establishment over the well-being of the many, ie. worried citizens.

    Drill or Drop doing what they do best, promoting the concerns of the many about the actions of the Establishment, who instantly commence squealing on the comments section.

    • Peter K Roberts

      Who do you consider to be the ‘Establishment’ who instantly start squealing on this comments section?

      By the bye, the BBC comes in for opprobrium in the East Midlands for their pro remain biased reporting ( the supporting of the remain establishment in London ). The many worry that the few we’ll prevail.

      I must listen to the programme, but for now the delights of the vale of Pickering call ( where the failure of Sirius Mining to float $500 million in junk bonds has caused some angst ).

  5. Ever since Blair neutered the BBC and his dodgy relationship with the MSM, the BBC has been a biased mouthpiece for the ruling government. It’s really swung to the far right over the last few years and even employs/ platforms fascists; only have to look how it selects QT audiences! They prop up whatever neoliberal, ridiculous analysis, or outright lie that suits the current status quo.

  6. I listened to the programme.

    No bias at all, simply reporting the journalism around the subject-for instance, the way the ex Guardian journalist admitted he wrote an article and knew there was no fracking at Balcombe and then someone else simply created a fracking headline because Cuadrilla were involved in fracking elsewhere. The objectives of the programme were made perfectly clear, although some seem to have missed that bit or just ignored it as it was inconvenient.

    Still going on around the Weald. Still seems to excite a few, but others just see it as poor journalism. See it all the time these days, with journalists posting “Greta stared down Trump”, except on review, you can see her staring at his back! Poetic licence to some, to others just poor journalism.

    No squealing, Peter. I listened to the programme and found it a decent review of how journalism has been utilised for this subject, from journalists perspectives. If you think that shocking or a surprise to many away from DoD, then I think you are incorrect. I know a whole load of people who might sit and watch the main “News” from BBC or Sky and still realise that there can be 25% News and 75% Speculation-and recognise which is which. But, with all media competing with the Internet that is the inevitable result. Many people do realise that. In this instance, it was interesting to get the journalist perspective.

    • Apparently the issue of fracking not being declared as a proposed method of extraction is incorrect, since the evidence for the intention to frack right from the start in Balcombe by Bolney Resources the previous incarnation of Cuadrilla, is clearly stated and outlined above in Ruths report.

      As usual it is necessary to correct the claim that fracking was not intended at Balcombe, when clearly it was at the time of the protests and the suspicion was quite correct that the intention to frack was still on the cards and it was only that the “f” word that was to be avoided and hence the intention was denied subject to a later exploration by Cuadrilla.

      Always better to clarify the situation as it was then with the written evidence of the truth, rather than descend into misleading misinformation and spurious speculation isnt it.

      Apologies Ruth and Paul for the copy and paste below, but it is necessary, as you can see:

      —–

      “In the 2010 planning application for operations at Balcombe, Cuadrilla included an appendix which said:

      “There may be a need to stimulate a stage which flows gas/oil but at a low rate to ascertain if the gas was being held back by poor porosity or permeability or lack of natural fracture or a combination of all three.”

      The appendix explained:

      “Stimulation is carried out by pumping water under pressure into the the natural fractures in the shale formations to open them up to allow the gas to flow more freely. In some cases silicone sand is then pumped in to hold open the fractures once the water is removed.”

      In 2011, the Cuadrilla company which held the Balcombe licence, then called Bolney Resources, wrote to the government about the need to frack:

      “Bolney will need to rely, to a significant degree, on being able to undertake hydraulic fracture stimulation(s) of this unconventional reservoir.”

      Cuadrilla letter
      Extract of letter from Bolney Resources to the then Department of Energy and Climate Change
      Six months later, in January 2012, the Guardian reported on a public meeting at which, the paper said, Cuadrilla outlined its intention to frack.

      It was only after drilling the well in summer 2013 that Cuadrilla appeared to change its mind.

      In January 2014, the company told villagers in a letter that analysis of samples from the well had confirmed that the target rock was naturally-fractured and fracking would not be needed.

      The programme did not include this history.

      Kathryn McWhirter, another villager, said in a letter to the programme editor:

      “There was no fracking in Balcombe that summer because protesters held them up, and the initial planning permission ran out on September 30th 2013, before they were able to frack or to test in any way. And by January the F word had become unspeakable.”

      —–

      There, that is as clear and irrefutable as it can get isnt it. Fracking was indeed intended right from the start, and the suspicion was quite correct in that fracking would still be a fall back alternative at any time should it become necessary, since it had already been declared as an intention right from the very beginning.

      so the residents and the protesters were perfectly correct and suspicion that Cuadrilla was merely trying to avoid the “f” word was perfectly justified.

      No speculation required or employed, unless of course it suits a contributor to erroneously and endlessly repeat a favourite fixated trigger word in every contribution.

      • Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, its Sunday again and its another frack free Sunday too. There has been much going on in Parliament being de-prorogued, sort of a Prorogue One situation perhaps? Politics has descended in bitter feuds and foul abuse?

        Ordure! Orduuurrre!

        Honestly ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, are these the sort of people we want to have to rely upon when the approaching All Hallows Eve prospect of England’s most embarrassing retreat since the exact reverse was attempted to enter Europe against great odds all those years ago?

        The words “not fit for purpose” spring, or rather autumn to mind. Perhaps it is time for that all parties coalition to be formed before they come to blows and declare war upon eachother? But perhaps they did that decades ago? And this is all bread and circuses for the masses and means nothing other than to throw us all off the scent of the growing protest for the climate issues to be honestly dealt with.

        Brexit, as i said before is nothing more than fake noise, the UK has entered into an irreversible Defence Union with France and hence the EU. So our armed forces will never now be independent but under the control of the EU which is itself turning militaristic.

        Just this morning that was suggested as being the case. Brexit in name only and UK a poor offshore waste dump. Maybe all this bizarre Parliamentary chaos is just internal power base factions fighting for control of what will, or will not be sold off the American, Russian and EU/Chinese owned corporations?

        What interesting times we live in?

        Wel, thanks to the Martian Chronicles i was reminded that i had not posted any poetry recently, so here is a little something for the children and adults of the future:

        Hear the children laugh and play
        In clean green fields in sunshines ray
        The sky is blue the clouds are white
        Billowing fair in air so mild
        Flowers and trees and meadows wild
        Bees and insects birds and life
        All things thriving free from strife
        The night draws on and children tired contented
        Sleep sound peacefully free from fright
        How clear the moon and stars so bright
        The gentle dawn brings the suns warmth and welcome light
        The days the months the years that stretch
        Towards futures bright for children yet
        but it was not always such a peaceful natures state
        In past dark times were full of greed and hate
        The entire earth suffered then, all life’s anthropogenic demise
        The earth ransacked abused, polluted choking skies
        When life on earth was fading fast
        The sixth worst extinction event mans greed and lives aghast
        Man in turmoil war and hate and greed and psychopathic past
        Humans ceased to care, beset with turmoil humanities last gasps
        Love and peace and intelligence denied
        Some however fought to warn the earths demise
        But were ignored received nought but sneered despise
        Hate and greed drilled on and on
        Deep into living nightmares filled with conflict, fear and Moloch’s gong
        Caring not for anyone or anything just so long
        As profits poured into coffers fortified tax havens keep
        No care for life, for greeds slake thirst
        For hates sake, ignorance profit and greed was cheap and worse
        Exploit all resources, ransack, steal and plunder, burrow deep
        The earth it groaned, it howled its injury
        Tortured earth screamed in rage, in storming fury
        The oceans rose, ice sheets melted, methane released from permafrost mud
        To drown the coasts with waters poisoned precious blood
        Histories and legends spoke of worldwide flood
        Then at last one child stood in strike
        From Friday school for climate action
        Not mere pretty words and empty promised action
        That protest triggered many who saw
        They knew greed and hate had ruled the law
        Then joined by many many many more
        Then came the rising human tide
        Millions of children and adults of all nations far and wide
        They claimed their purpose right and would not hide
        For their present and future strife, greed and hate could not abide
        The futures must be theirs for future generations or there be none
        They marched as many, they marched as one
        No stolen wasted futures they, no squandered ignorant profits stealth
        The children struck from school for climates sake
        Better living futures than educated death
        They marched for all life on earth, adult and young alike
        The entire world eventually heard their cry and joined to demonstrate
        Bankers politicians and corporations saw their profits fall
        Discredited, demonetised demonised and failing state
        And so entrenched sour inertia, poured out bile and bitter hate
        They saw their profits threatened must not abate
        They called protest fraud claimed conspiracy out of fear
        But the people rose as one in strength their purpose clear
        Their cause was just
        Their love of earth and planets purpose trust
        Governments fragmented fought polarised and divided
        Bread and circuses diversions for the masses
        Empty words, wasted time and petty clashes
        The media and politicians sought conflict deliberate provocation and war
        Hoping sleeping sheep would follow obedient fools for more
        But it was too late
        People no longer sheeple, saw through the greed and hate
        Te warmongering the fearmongering goats horned scape
        The incestuous prattle of redundant institutions fate
        Governments fell, corporations media and control systems failed so late
        And so it was that the old suicidal ways were swept aside
        It took many generations to rebuild the earth in sanities light
        More then to repair and clean the planets ransacked state
        We still find yet more the deepest darkest secrets of that insanity yet to be revealed
        Futures now are ours to make we will seek truth and find the way
        To live in harmony with our planet, whilst our children play
        Not lost and stolen, but living and healed
        Now a living ecology, a recovering planets sentience sealed
        We are still learning
        With the grace of peace
        Sanity and love, intelligence true, we will never again forget
        How close we came to losing everything in debt
        We will keep vigilant forever for our childrens sake
        On that you may bet we state

        —-

        Have a great Sunday with family and friends.

  7. When a left leaning, green supporting organisation such as the BBC calls out the ‘protestors’ you get a nice warm feeling inside.

  8. Oh, poor little snowflakes! Did that that right wing propaganda machine, the BBC, tarnish your halos?
    No mention of-
    Blocking roads for hours on end,
    Cutting a lorry’s brake cable
    Pictures of harmless green die circulated on the blogosphere as radio-active
    The hundreds of wells drilled in England, including Balcombe, having caused NO damage to nearby communities (apart from attracting
    protest mobs)
    The millions of pounds of public money spent on policing protests, dealing with baseless objections, vexatious legal actions etc.

    Not a brilliant programme but it did get over the point that we should all be aware of hidden bias in the media on both left & right.

  9. Cuadrilla informed ALL Balcombe Residents in May 2013 that Fracking would not take place at the Lower Stumble site! It was a lot of Hypocrites turning up for a FREE Summer camp with free food and to create havoc for people using the B2036 road to get to work,school etc. A great many residents were quite happy with Cuadrilla but not THE RENT A MOB who turned up to the party ! I noticed on their wish list was a GAS WATER URN…you could not make it up how stupid these hypocrites had become!. Oh yes and the Police found drugs outside the sire! The other laughable area that was created was a kids play area next to the Cuadrilla site but continued to say the drill site was unsafe to kids health !!! The R4 programme just told the story that the media had nothing better to report on during the summer of 2013 so Fracking was an easy headline to shock…but as we know it was never going to occur !!

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.