Source: Peter Reynolds, CLEAR
7 July 2011
A few days ago I received a letter from the Press Complaints Commission. However, when I opened it I realised it wasn’t intended for me. It was for the editor of the Burton Mail against whose newspaper I have recently made a complaint. It had been mistakenly sent to my address.
Inside the envelope was a covering letter, a copy of my complaint, a print out of the article concerned and one final item which has left me reeling in shock and disappointment. It was a page from the Lancet with a paragraph highlighted, clearly offered to the editor as ammunition with which to contest my complaint.
This is an astounding development which goes straight to the integrity of the commission. I have considered it carefully but I can interpret it in no other way. It is cast iron proof of corruption and dishonesty.
The substance of my original complaint is irrelevant to what is now the far more important issue of the PCC’s conduct. In fact, the ammunition provided to the editor doesn’t even come close to rebutting my complaint but it reveals something of the mindset of the commission and the way that it allows the press to distort and misrepresent scientific research. The issue is the old chestnut of whether cannabis causes psychosis. Those wh0 are acquainted with the science will know that while there is clear evidence that cannabis use is a risk factor, there is no proof at all that it actually causes mental health problems.
Such precision though is of no interest to scaremongering and sensationalising journalists. Neither does it matter (nor perhaps is it even understood) by the PCC. Precise scientific language, carefully qualified with “might” or “could” or “may” is instantly converted into certainty by tabloid hacks. The Burton Mail published the wholly false statement that cannabis causes mental health problems. That is what provoked my complaint. In its naivete and clumsy dishonesty, the article provided by the PCC only reinforces my point that there is no certainty, no proof and no causal link. It seems that this is far too subtle a distinction for the PCC to understand. As a consequence, in complete contradiction to its purpose, the PCC permits and apparently now encourages, the publication of inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
You can download a copy of the PCC’s letter here.
I have submitted a formal complaint about the PCC’s conduct in this and all my complaints to Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Willcocks, the Independent Reviewer.
—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
Sent: Thursday, July 07, 2011 12:01 PM
Subject: Complaint about the Press Complaints Commission
Dear Sir Michael,
I am the leader of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), a registered UK political party. This year I have made 19 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the coverage of cannabis in various newspapers.
Two of my complaints have been resolved on the basis that the newspaper concerned published a letter. In a third case the newspaper published a letter but then repeated in the same edition exactly the same breach of the Editors’ Code as originally complained about.
Not all of my complaints have yet been dealt with. However, in all other instances my complaints have not been upheld.
I am not seeking to address you about the substance of any of my complaints but about the way in which the commission has handled them. Also, as a result of a misaddressed letter from the commission, I have received evidence that the commission appears to be colluding with at least one publisher in an effort to defeat my complaint. This amounts to corruption and dishonesty and necessarily raises my suspicions about the way in which the commission has handled all of my complaints. A copy of this letter is attached. You will see that it included a copy of a page from the Lancet where a handwritten asterisk had been drawn next to a paragraph, clearly intended as a rebuttal to my complaint.
My complaints have all related to the publication of inaccurate, misleading or distorted information about cannabis. Some have also concerned the failure of publishers to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. In essence they all concern newspapers’ incurable addiction to exaggerating, sensationalising and demonising the use and harms of cannabis. This is not a new phenomenon and has continued since the “Reefer Madness” scares of the 1930s. Many of the stories are almost exactly the same now as they were then. Over the last 100 years, there have been a succession of major studies into cannabis from all over the world which, without exception, have concluded that the dangers of cannabis have been exaggerated and that controls on it and criminal penaltes should be reduced or eliminated all together. Despite this, the press has continually sought to promote scare stories. Every time scientific research is published that suggests cannabis causes harm, newspapers eagerly publicise the most extreme and unbalanced interpretations of the research, almost always in isolation, without any comparison to the harms of other drugs, including alcohol, or even common foodstuffs, many of which are far more harmful than cannabis.
The easy meat that is any drugs story for the press fits neatly with the conservative, prohibitionist instincts of government. Yet recently other groups in society are realising the truth about this poisonous conspiracy and the enormous harm it causes, far more than caused by drugs themselves. Over the last few years more and more experts have called for a new approach to minimising the harms of drugs yet almost without exception, the press chooses the cheap, sensationalist scare stories. Positive stories are largely ignored. There has been a torrent of peer reviewed scientific research in recent years demonstrating the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for many conditions yet this is spurned by the British press which has failed miserably to cover these issues in a responsible or balanced way, preferring always to distort, exaggerate, mislead and publish inaccurate information.
My complaints reflect this continuing pattern of inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. However, the commission’s approach has not been to encourage more accurate reporting but instead to do everything it can to find excuses for newspapers to publish whatever they want. It seems that this is the commission’s real concern. Taken as a whole it is self-evident from my complaints that newspapers repeatedly breach both the letter and the spirit of the code in relation to cannabis yet the commission contrives to find an excuse on every occasion. The evidence of the misaddressed letter is that the commission’s intention is to see complaints defeated and that it is an essentially dishonest institution and procedure.
I would be grateful if you would deal with this complaint at your earliest convenience. It goes directly to the integrity of the commission. I shall be happy to provide further information and to give oral evidence if required.