PCC Complaint. The Independent, 4th June 2011 – NOT UPHELD
“Richard Ingrams: If there really is a war on drugs, then it’s a phoney one”, The Independent, 04-06-11
I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/columnists/richard-ingrams/richard-ingrams-if-there-really-is-a-war-on-drugs-then-its-a-phoney-one-2292845.html
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. Although the article is presented as a comment piece, that does not absolve the publishers of their responsibility “…not to publish inaccurate, misleading and distorted information”
3. In the fourth paragraph, the article states “And there is certainly no treatment for those poor people who have been permanently brain-damaged by smoking cannabis.” This is an entirely false statement for which there is no basis in science. This is not a matter of opinion but of scientific fact – http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20030701/heavy-marijuana-use-doesnt-damage-brain
4. A study in monkeys in the 1970s alleged that such damage was caused but it was later revealed that the monkeys had suffered oxygen starvation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
5. In fact, it is now known that the endocannabinoid system, the physiological system at which cannabis operates, facilitates neurogenesis of hippocampal brain cells, the birth of new cells, the very opposite of brain damage.
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.
Commission’s decision in the case of
Reynolds v The Independent
The complainant, leader of the political group Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), was concerned that the article contained the inaccurate assertion that “there is certainly no treatment for those poor people who have been permanently brain-damaged by smoking cannabis”. In his view, this was misleading to readers as there was no conclusive scientific evidence that smoking cannabis damages the brain. In fact, the endocannabinoid system actually facilitates the creation of new hippocampal brain cells.
The Commission considered the complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy). It noted that the article was a first person opinion piece posited in the “Notebook” section of the newspaper’s website, the headline of which clearly stated that the views contained within were those of Richard Ingrams.
A comment article would, by its nature, necessarily contain the subjective views of its author. This is, of course, permitted by the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) which state that newspapers are entitled to present individual comment, provided it is clearly distinguished from fact.
The newspaper argued that the dangers and risks associated with cannabis use are a matter of ongoing public debate and the columnist was entitled to hold his view that permanent brain-damage can be caused by smoking cannabis and the damage cannot be treated.
The complainant rejected the research cited by the newspaper in defence of the article, saying that a study of just 15 men could not be considered exhaustive and further investigations are necessary.
The impacts and benefits of cannabis use was plainly a subject for ongoing robust debate and scientific research. While it acknowledged the complainant’s genuine concern about Richard Ingrams’ assertion, the Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had demonstrated his grounds for making the statement. Moreover, it was not in dispute that studies exist, however limited, that have found cannabis to have a damaging impact upon the cells of the brain. In the Commission’s opinion, readers generally would have recognised that the article represented the columnist’s subjective view on drug use and would not have been misled into believing that there was no alternative view on the matter.
The Commission concluded that there was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) on this occasion.