28 Apr BBC Responds To CLEAR Complaints On Cannabis Coverage

Hyde Park, 20th April 2013 Hyde Park, 20th April 2013

The Hyde Park 420 event on 20th April 2013 was not a success for the British cannabis campaign. It may have been an enjoyable social event for some but its effect has been to associate the legitimate campaign for cannabis law reform with the spectacle of hundreds of children smoking weed in public.

This is not the way to advance our cause and those responsible for organising and promoting children and teenagers to participate have shot themselves in the foot. Responsible adult users and particularly those who need cannabis as medicine have been seriously set back by this event.

It’s not surprising that the media coverage was largely negative. Estimates of attendance range from a few hundred to 10,000. Neither is true. I don’t know but from the photographs and having attended other events in the same location I would guess at around 5,000. That’s not the point though. What it has done is present the British cannabis campaign as irresponsible and juvenile. That makes it all the more difficult to complain about the media stories and, more importantly, to achieve positive, supportive coverage.

Nevertheless, CLEAR submitted formal complaints to the BBC about its website article and about Mary Brett’s appearance on Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz show. We have also made a PCC complaint about the Daily Mail’s coverage.

Website complaint

This article is unbalanced and gives credence and space to wildly inaccurate, sensationalist and scaremongering comments from Mary Brett. No counterbalancing information is given.

Cannabis cannot by any scientific or medical evidence be described as ‘dangerous’. It is a generally benign substance although it does offer some potential for harm, only if used by children. This is clearly shown by the vast amount of published, peer reviewed evidence on the subject. Compared to almost any other substance it is far, far safer – much safer than aspirin according to the government’s chief drugs advisor, Prof Leslie Iversen.

‘Skunk’ is a specific strain of cannabis. It accounts for a tiny fraction of the market, not 80%. It is the same substance as was around in the sixties and seventies and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise.

To describe any strain of cannabis as ‘horrific’ is absurd and has no basis in science, medicine or any evidence. That the BBC gives Ms Brett licence to distribute her false, misleading propaganda is a disgrace.

Radio London complaint

The opportunity given to Mary Brett to advance a line of argument that is disproven by all published research was disgraceful.

Her casual use of the word skunk as a derogatory and scaremongering term was inaccurate and misleading. Skunk is a single strain of cannabis which accounts for a fraction of a percent of the cannabis used in the UK.

The THC percentage figures given by Ms Brett were inaccurate. The allegation that cannabis “dumbs the brain down” is false and has no basis in evidence. In fact, cannabis promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus and has been used for millennia by artists and writers as an aid to creativity.

It was inaccurate to claim that all people in Hyde Park were teenagers. There were people of all ages, many of retirement age and many who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. There is no scientific basis for describing cannabis as dangerous. Compared to all other drugs, even aspirin, it is far less harmful. Evidence proves that in the UK alcohol is six times more likely to be associated with mental health problems than cannabis.

Ms Brett was also allowed to misrepresent two studies concerning the Lambeth cannabis experiment in the same way as recently published in the press which has been challenged by the authors of the studies and are subject to PCC complaints. It is absolutely false to state that more ‘kids’ are in treatment for cannabis than for alcohol. Ms Brett is a misguided promoter of false science and has no place on the BBC.

We have yet to receive a response concerning Radio London but Laura Ellis from the BBC News website has replied:

I have looked again at the story and I believe it is a balanced and factual account of the event – a mass gathering at which hundreds of people were breaking the law as it currently stands.

We feature a range of comments, including a tweet from the London Cannabis Club. There are also clear links to a picture gallery of the global marijuana march, which includes information about the potential medicinal aspect of cannabis, as well as an article with the headline ‘Cannabis makes pain more bearable’.

Best regards, and thanks for your feedback which is much appreciated.

We’re not leaving it there though!

Dear Ms Ellis,

I am dismayed at your response to my complaint which fails to address the issues I raised at all.

As for your suggestion that it is a “balanced” account of the event, that is preposterous and just does not stand up to analysis.

Your response and indeed the article itself is predicated on your description that it was “a mass gathering at which hundreds of people were breaking the law as it currently stands”.

Is that how you would have covered a protest about the ‘bedroom tax’ or changes to planning law? Of course not. You would have looked at the issues involved, not just resorted to prejudice and dismissal of widespread public concern about the injustice of the present laws against cannabis.

I am afraid that your response really shines a light on gross bias and distortion of this story in the BBC. A recent Ipsos MORI poll shows 53% of the British public want cannabis legalised or decriminalised: http://transform-drugs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/new-ipsos-mori-poll-shows-53-of-gb.html

What is truly appaling though, which you have completely overlooked and is in brazen defiance of the requirement on the BBC to be balanced is your unchallenged repetition of Mary Brett’s falsehood and misrepresentation of the scientific evidence about cannabis.

In my original complaint I referenced specific inaccuracies but you have simply ignored them. I am afraid your blandishments cut no ice. Such misleading, inaccurate and prejudiced coverage is what we expect from the Daily Mail but not from our national broadcaster which is paid for out of public money.

Please address my complaint properly. If you will not publish a prominent correction and apology and re-balance your coverage, I fully intend to take this to the Editorial Complaints Unit.