25 Sep BBC Executive Complaints Unit, Stage 3 Complaint Re: Interview Claiming ‘Cannabis More Harmful Than Heroin’.
CLEAR has submitted a formal complaint to the BBC concerning its broadcast of the interview with Lousia Kulukundis in which she claimed that using heroin was safer than using cannabis.
BBC complaints are outsourced to Capita and are not actually considered by the BBC itself until they reach Stage 3, the ‘Executive Complaints Unit’.
1. Please review the decision made in respect of this complaint. The correspondence including complaints and responses at stages 1a and 1b are attached to this email.
2. The complaint concerns an interview with Louisa Kulukundis, a psychotherapist, a member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The interview was broadcast as part of ‘Newsbeat Documentary Cannabis:Time for a Change’ which was repeated frequently on the BBC News channel and is available online. It was also included within the ‘Newsbeat Debate: Cannabis’ also broadcast on the BBC News channel and also available online.
A formal complaint about Ms Kulukundis’ conduct has also been made to the BACP.
During the interview Ms Kulukundis made the statement:
“I would say give me a room full of heroin addicts than skunk addicts. I remember saying to my older son I would prefer you to take heroin than to smoke skunk. There will be generations of kids with severe mental health issues.”
1.The points of complaint raised at 1b that need reconsideration are:
a. In broadcasting these comments which are dangerous, irresponsible and directly contradicted by all scientific and medical evidence, the BBC has acted negligently and endangered the lives of vulnerable, easily-influenced young people at whom this programme was targeted.
b. The relative danger and/or harms of heroin and cannabis cannot be justified as a matter of opinion or of ‘balance’ because they are clearly established scientific fact.
c. It is essential that the BBC should broadcast a correction with equal prominence and repeated as many times as the original programme. The BBC owes a duty of care to its viewers, particularly in the case of programmes for the young. It must make clear that Ms Kulukundis’ words were incorrect, that heroin is hundreds of times more dangerous than cannabis to both physical and mental health and can lead to death.
Broadcasting this interview breaches the BBC Editorial Guidelines as follows:
a. “…we must give our audiences content made to the highest editorial and ethical standards. Their trust depends on it.” 1.1
b. “ We must therefore balance our presumption of freedom of expression with our responsibilities…to provide appropriate protection for our audiences from harm.” 1.1
c. “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth.” 1.2.2
d. “…we balance our right to broadcast innovative and challenging content with our responsibility to protect the vulnerable from harm…particularly in relation to the protection of children.” 1.2.5
e. “We will be rigorous in establishing the truth of the story and well informed when explaining it.” 1.2.6
f. “We will always seek to safeguard the welfare of children and young people…while ensuring their dignity and their physical and emotional welfare is protected during the making and broadcast of our output. Content which might be unsuitable for children will be scheduled appropriately.” 1.2.9
g. “…accuracy must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.” 3.1
h. “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right… we should check and cross check facts…corroborate claims and allegations made by contributors.” 3.1
i. “The BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead its audiences. We should not distort known facts, present invented material as fact or otherwise undermine our audiences’ trust in our content.” 3.2.3
j. “We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct them quickly, clearly and appropriately.” 3.2.4
k. “ In all our content we must check and verify information, facts and documents, where required to achieve due accuracy.” 3.4.2
l. “We should not automatically assume that the material is accurate and should take reasonable steps, depending on how it is to be used and if necessary to achieve due accuracy, to seek verification.” 3.4.3
m. “We must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences with our content.” 3.4.11
n. “We should consider the emotional impact pictures and personal testimony can have on perceptions of risk when not supported by the balance of argument. If a contributor’s view is contrary to majority opinion, the demands of due accuracy and due impartiality may require us to make this clear.” 3.4.21
o. “We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct such mistakes quickly, clearly and appropriately. Inaccuracy may lead to a complaint of unfairness. An effective way of correcting a mistake is saying what was wrong as well as putting it right.” 3.4.26
p. “When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’…Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.” 4.4.7
q. “…when personal view programmes…cover ‘controversial subjects’…we should:…retain a respect for factual accuracy.” 4.4.30
r. “The BBC must apply generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material.” 5.2.1
s. “We must not broadcast material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of children and young people.” 5.2.2
t. “…deal with all aspects of illegal drug use…with due accuracy.” 5.4.42
I am happy to provide further information, evidence or detail on any aspect of this complaint.