PCC Complaint. The Burton Mail, 10th May 2011
“Smoking mixture on sale sparks a ‘legal highs’ row”, The Burton Mail, 10-05-11
I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/News/Smoking-mixture-on-sale-sparks-a-legal-highs-row-10052011.htm
I make the complaint on my own account but also in my capacity as the Leader of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), a UK political party, of P.O.Box 674, Salfords, Redhill, 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 fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
3. The article is presented as a news story, not an opinion piece. It should therefore be concerned only with facts – unless comment or conjecture is clearly distinguished.
4. The article concerns a smoking mixture on sale at Burton Market. Although the mixture is called “Super Skunk”, the article makes it clear that it is not cannabis and is thought to be what is known as a “legal high”. However, the article then goes on to make several misleading and distorted comments about drugs in general, about legal highs and about cannabis. It fails to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. The journalist and the editor concerned have failed in their duty to maintain the highest professional standards. The result is a muddled article which exacerbates misunderstandings and confuses the facts concerning cannabis, legal highs and other drugs.
5. The article is so unclear as to what it is talking about and when that it creates confusion. There is no effort made at all to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. Addiction should not be spoken of in connection with cannabis as although there is some evidence of the possibility of mild dependence, there is no evidence of addiction.
6. The references to a “slippery slope” are also confusing and are not supported by the facts. The “Gateway theory”, as scientists call it, the idea that the use of one drug leads to use of more harmful drugs, has been comprehensively disproved consistently by all credible scientific studies. In fact, it has been shown that it makes as much sense to say that mother’s milk leads to heroin as to say that cannabis leads to cocaine. These are matters of statistical correlation rather than causation.
7. Finally, the last sentence in the article states “The long-term effects of smoking cannabis include paranoia, schizophrenia and mental health problems”. This statement is not within quotation marks and is not distinguished as comment or conjecture. It is presented as fact. As such, it is inaccurate, misleading and distorted.
In 2009, specifically in response to tabloid scare stories, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) commissioned Keele University to look at the evidence. The study looked at almost 600,000 subjects and concluded that despite increased consumption of more potent cannabis, “the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychosis was either stable or declining”. Also, just last month, Professor Glyn Lewis of the University of Bristol,one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, said “…there is no certainty of a causal relationship between cannabis use and psychosis”.
Ever since the “Reefer Madness” scare stories of the 1930s, there have been dozens of studies looking at links between cannabis and mental illness. Despite this, there is still no concrete evidence. It is time that newspapers stopped their irresponsible and speculative stories, particularly when they are dressed up as fact. It is time that the Press Complaints Commission took a stand against such inaccurate, misleading and distorted reporting.
I would be grateful if you would deal with this complaint at your earliest convenience. I shall be happy to provide any further information required or to give oral evidence in support.
On 13th August 2011, the Burton Mail published the following letter: