The British government's decision to circulate Al Gore's film about climate change to all English secondary schools was challenged in court Thursday by a school governor who believes it is inaccurate and biased.
Paul Downes, a lawyer for the claimant — Stewart Dimmock, 45, from the city of Dover — opened the High Court hearing in London by criticizing "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary that won Gore, a former U.S. vice president, an Academy Award.
"Given the serious inaccuracies in the film and the misrepresentations it contains, the film is irredeemable," Downes told Judge Michael Burton.
The lawyer said that, even though the movie had already been distributed and may have been shown to pupils, it was not too late for the High Court to declare the government had acted unlawfully and quash the decision to authorize distribution.
The project was announced in February by the government's education and environment departments. It was planned that the DVD would go to more than 3,500 secondary schools in England as part of a "sustainable schools year of action."
Then-Education Secretary Alan Johnson said that influencing the opinions of children was crucial to developing a long-term public view on the environment.
'30 percent pure politics'
Downes said he hopes to convince the court the film constitutes "just over half scientific material, 30 percent pure politics and about 20 percent sentimental mush — mush there to soften up the viewer for persuasion."
Scientifically, "the majority of the arguments advanced are false, or falsely exaggerated on the basis of the government's own evidence," the barrister said.
He said the key flaw of the film is that it is partisan, aimed at influencing rather than informing, and lacks balance. The government set out to disseminate "what we say is political propaganda into schools."
Guidance notes drawn up by the British government that accompany the movie pack "go nowhere near correcting these flaws. Indeed they don't even set out to do that," said Downes.
The government's counsel, Martin Chamberlain, said the guidance notes distributed to schools with the DVD warn against political indoctrination and will ensure the documentary is presented in a balanced way.
Although teachers can present the film in any way they wish, they are under a duty to provide balance, he said. For instance, teachers can explain to pupils that some of the views expressed in the documentary are political and ask: "What do you think about it?" said Chamberlain.
'Climate change is important, but...'
Dimmock, a truck driver from Dover, a port city in southeastern England, has children aged 11 and 14 and works part-time as a volunteer school governor.
Before Thursday's hearing, he said: "I wish my children to have the best education possible, free from bias and political spin, and Mr. Gore's film falls far short of the standard required."
"Climate change is important,' he added, "but it should be taught to children in a neutral and measured manner. Indoctrinating school children in this manner is unprecedented and unacceptable."
Downes said that "scaring children into a particular point of view" over the alleged effects of global warming should not have any place in schools.
Judge Burton is to view the film, and Downes said he would provide clips of Web site references to various organizations around the world that do not accept the politics of "An Inconvenient Truth."