PCC Complaint. Sunday Mercury, 7th March 2011 – NOT UPHELD
“Tyndale: Why Britain will pay the price for soft line on Cannabis”, the Sunday Mercury, 07-03-11
I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.sundaymercury.net/news/midlands-news/2011/03/07/tyndale-why-britain-will-pay-the-price-for-soft-line-on-cannabis-66331-28284611/
I make the complaint on my account but also in my capacity as the Leader of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, a political party, of P.O.Box 674, Salfords, RH1 9BN. For the purposes of correspondence, please use my personal address as below.
1. This article breaches the Editors’ Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
2. It also breaches clause 1.iii) in that it confuses comment, conjecture and fact.
3. In paragraph eight the article states “…cannabis is also likely to make you mad…”. This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. In fact, all the scientific research proves that cannabis is highly unlikely to cause any mental health problems.
Professor Glyn Lewis of the University Of Bristol reviewed all the published evidence on the subject in 2009 and says that 96% of people can use cannabis without any risk of psychosis at all and in the remaining 4% the risk is statistically tiny. According to Prof. Lewis, the risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia as a result of using cannabis is at least one in 7500 and perhaps as little as one in 30000.
In Britain in 2009, the ACMD commissioned a study by Keele University into the trends in schizophrenia specifically to test the claims in the media of a link between it and cannabis. It looked at almost 600,000 patients and concluded that “..the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining” despite alleged increased use of allegedly more potent cannabis.
5. Towards the end of the article it states “…there is also the unquestionable evidence that using cannabis leads to a higher risk of progressing to other illegal drugs.” This is known as the “gateway theory” and has been comprehensively and repeatedly disproved many times over the last 50 years. The US Institute of Medicine in 1999, the American Medical Association in 2003 and the University of Pittsburgh in 2006 all concluded that the idea cannabis leads to the use of other drugs is a myth.
In 2008, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated: “In 2002, the Council concluded that it was not possible to state, with certainty, whether or not cannabis use predisposes users to dependency on Class A drugs. Nevertheless, it considered the risks to be small and certainly less that those associated with the use of alcohol and tobacco. No further convincing evidence has been identified by the Council to alter this conclusion.”
This is, therefore, yet more inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
6. The language used and the tone of this article is very close to abusive and offensive. Throughout it fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. The journalist and the editor concerned have failed in their duty to maintain the highest professional standards.
I would be grateful if you would deal with this complaint at your earliest convenience. I shall be happy to provide any furrther information required or to give oral evidence in support.
—– Original Message —–
From: Charlotte Dewar
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 5:32 PM
Subject: PCC Complaint 111427 – Commission’s decision
Commission’s decision in the case of
Reynolds v Sunday Mercury
The complainant, who is the Leader of Cannabis Law Reform, said that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code by publishing the claim that “cannabis is… likely to make you mad”, which he considered to be seriously inaccurate. The complainant was also concerned that the language and tone of the article were abusive and offensive, and that it generally failed to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code states that publications must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and that the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
The complainant said that scientific research shows that cannabis is highly unlikely to cause mental health problems, and quoted a 2009 review that had concluded that 96 per cent of people can use cannabis without developing psychosis or other mental health problems.
The newspaper said that the article did not purport to be a news item and clearly reflected its author’s point of view on the subject. It acknowledged that conflicting evidence on the dangers of cannabis exists, but said the article had been informed by a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, which – in the columnist’s words – had “revealed that youths are twice as likely to experience psychotic episodes if they use cannabis”. The newspaper noted that the study had concluded, “Cannabis use is a risk factor for the development of incident psychotic symptoms. Continued cannabis use might increase the risk for psychotic disorder by impacting on the persistence of symptoms.”
The Commission made clear first that it considered readers would have understood that the article as a whole expressed the views of the columnist, whose name and profile were prominently displayed at the top of the article, and who began the article by describing those who see “cannabis… as the acceptable face of drugs” as “idiots” and, later, “twerps”. The columnist had been entitled to express his views on the potential dangers of cannabis use – which was a matter of significant public interest – and in doing so, he had been entitled to present to readers evidence that supported his argument.
Taking into account this context, the question for the Commission was whether the columnist’s claim that cannabis is “likely” to make you “mad” had been significantly misleading or had represented a failure to distinguish conjecture from fact in a manner that would represent a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).
In considering this point, the Commission noted that the columnist had cited evidence from a study in the British Medical Journal to support his position and had described its methodology and conclusions in some detail, reporting that it had found that “youths are twice as likely to experience psychotic episodes if they use cannabis”; the complainant did not appear to dispute the accuracy of the article’s description of the study. Readers therefore would have been aware of the specific magnitude of the increased risk to which the columnist had referred. Furthermore, despite being written in robust terms, the article had explicitly acknowledged opposing ideas, albeit in a critical context (“The research also appears to nail the lie that cannabis alleviates psychosis and that sufferers should turn to it to self-medicate”). The Commission understood the basis of the complainant’s concerns: the claim to which he objected was a particularly strong interpretation of the evidence. It welcomed the newspaper’s decision to publish a letter from another reader who opposed the columnist’s conclusions and provided another perspective on the issue. On balance, however, the Commission could not find a breach of the Editors’ Code on this occasion.
The complainant had also expressed concerns about the tone of the article, which he had found inappropriate and offensive. The Commission noted in this regard that the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence. The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code, which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not compromised. To come to an inevitably subjective judgement as to whether such material is offensive would amount to the Commission acting as a moral arbiter, which can lead to censorship. The Commission could not consider this issue further.