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University of East Anglia spent over £100,000 managing media storm surrounding ‘cimategate’ scandal

18:43 24 April 2012

The  climatic research unit at the UEA. Picture: Nick Butcher.

The climatic research unit at the UEA. Picture: Nick Butcher.

Archant © 2010

It has been revealed that the media storm surrounding ‘climategate’ at the University of East Anglia at the end of 2009 cost the university over £100,000.

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"Given the momentous issues at stake and the need to focus on them while continuing to support essential communications activity to our schools and faculties, I believe that we took the right decision in bringing in external advice."

UEA vice-chancellor, Prof Edward Acton.

The scandal broke out in November 2009 following the leak of thousands of emails which climate change sceptics claimed showed data had been manipulated in favour of man-made climate change.

This left the UEA at the centre of an international media storm, which came to be known as ‘climategate’.

This meant that the UEA needed to draft in press relations experts to help manage the situation, which led to a consultancy called Outside Organisation taking control.

The managing director of the PR firm, Neil Wallis, was subsequently arrested in July 2011 and bailed without charge as part of the on-going police investigation into phone hacking, due to his former role as deputy editor of the News of the World newspaper.

It was confirmed at the time of the arrest that Wallis did give the UEA advice following the scandal - which last year saw Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit, cleared by a committee of MPs of hiding or manipulating data to back up his own science.

But now a Freedom of Information request by MP Graham Stringer has found that £112,870.71 was paid to Outside Organisation

The UEA had tried to resist releasing the FOI request, citing the commercial interests and confidentiality of Outside Organisation, but the Information Commissioner’s Office disagreed and the figure has now been released.

A UEA statement said: “The Outside Organisation provided consultancy services on all aspects of our engagement with the media and with the broadcast enquiries at which senior members of the university were witnesses.

“The work included advice and guidance on the acceptance, arrangement and conduct of individual and parliamentary interviews and press conferences, and on statements to the media.

“It also included work to monitor press activity as a supplement to the work being carried out by our own press office, to rebut incorrect and misleading reporting and, in some cases, to secure retractions and apologies.”

UEA vice-chancellor, Prof Edward Acton, added: “I sought communications advice from a large PR company to address the distortion and misinformation still rife in the wake of the unauthorised publication of emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit.

“The company assigned Neil Wallis and another colleague to us for this purpose.

“No university would have had the capacity to deal with the media storm to which we were subjected and it would have been irresponsible not to have mobilised additional assistance to defend our reputation and to safeguard colleagues whose reputations were also at risk.

“Given the momentous issues at stake and the need to focus on them while continuing to support essential communications activity to our schools and faculties, I believe that we took the right decision in bringing in external advice.”

david.freezer@archant.co.uk

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