17 Feb Leveson Inquiry Witness Statement

The Leveson Inquiry Solicitors Team has at last given me permission to publish my witness statement.

The Leveson Inquiry

Witness statement

Peter Reynolds 06-11-11

1. I, Peter John Reynolds of (address supplied), make this statement on my own account but also in my capacity as leader of the UK political party Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR).

2. I am a professional writer with a background as an advertising copywriter and as a journalist. I have been published in many national and specialist magazines and newspapers and have written two novels. I have been writing about and campaigning for reform of the cannabis laws for more than 30 years. In February 2011 I was elected as leader of CLEAR.

3. CLEAR’s objectives are:

i. To end the prohibition of cannabis.

ii. To promote as a matter of urgency and compassion the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.

iii. To introduce a system of regulation for the production and supply of cannabis based on facts and evidence.

iv. To encourage the production and use of industrial hemp.

v. To educate and inform about the uses and benefits of cannabis.

4. I maintain a watching brief on all UK news and media outlets for stories about cannabis. Whenever inaccuracies or false information are published or broadcast I take whatever steps I can to correct them. Since January 2011, I have made 38 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about coverage of cannabis. Presently, I have three further complaints in preparation.

5. Inaccuracy, misleading information, scaremongering, sensationalism, distortion of science and blatant falsehood about cannabis is commonplace in the British media. In particular, The Daily Mail and the Mail On Sunday pursue a systematic campaign of misinformation designed to provoke fear and consternation amongst the public and hatred of cannabis users as a social group. In fact, in the UK, 30% of all adults use cannabis in their lifetime and approximately three million people use it regularly or at least once per month (IDMU 2011)

6. Such media coverage impacts directly on politicians’ readiness to discuss and consider cannabis policy on a rational basis. The conduct of the press on this issue is the main factor that inhibits politicians from undertaking the sort of reform that nearly all experts, scientists and doctors advocate. Rational debate and discussion is impossible in the hysterical atmosphere that the press creates. This is clearly shown by the succession of politicians that come out in favour of reform when they leave office, e.g. Bob Ainsworth and reverse their pro-reform position when they assume office, e.g. David Cameron.

7. The influence of the press in this and other aspects of drugs policy is deeply corrupting, dishonest and the direct cause of harm to many millions of British citizens. The PCC fails entirely to regulate the press appropriately in this regard and so to minimise the corruption, dishonesty and harms which the press is responsible for.

8. In the process of all the complaints I have made to the PCC I have come to understand very clearly the way it reaches its decisions. It is supposed to enforce the Editors’ Code but in practice its focus is on finding excuses for breaches of the code.

9. I pay tribute to the staff of the PCC for their diligent and efficient administration of complaints. However, is clear that the leadership and the members of the commission themselves are concerned not with protecting the public but with protecting the press. In all the complaints I have made, not one has been upheld by the PCC and the excuses presented have become increasingly absurd and ridiculous even to the extent where they directly contradict published scientific research.

10. All my complaints to the PCC are under clause 1 of the Editors’ Code which states that:

1.i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information…

1.iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact

11. The first excuse that the PCC offers to all complaints is that they are the expression of comment or opinion. However, in all cases, my complaints are not matters of opinion but are determined by scientific evidence. Even though the Independent Reviewer of the PCC has ruled that “…a comment should not be published if it is based on an inaccuracy or misleading statement”, the PCC continues to reject complaints that concern blatant falsehood with a defence of comment.

12. The PCC fails entirely to enforce 1.iii) claiming that writing in the first person or enclosing remarks within quotation remarks is sufficient to “distinguish clearly”. It permits journalists to switch back and forth between fact and opinion within even the same sentence or paragraph without any effort to distinguish between the two.

13. It is evident that the PCC has no interest in truth or accuracy but in enabling the press to publish whatever lies and misinformation suit its agenda. In particular, it sanctions the most crass distortions of scientific evidence where precise language is perverted into sensationalist copy that entirely changes its meaning. Recently the PCC itself has sought to adduce scientific research to support its decisions when the research itself directly contradicts its ruling.

14. Clearly, from my perspective I am disappointed when the PCC refuses to uphold complaints. However, I am perfectly prepared to accept that not all of my complaints will succeed. What is extraordinary is that in the face of a vast amount of evidence the PCC has failed to uphold even one complaint and this is indicative of its true intent. It fails entirely to regulate the conduct of the press in a reasonable or meaningful way.

15. I understand that the substance of my complaints is not the concern of the Inquiry. The issues my complaints address are complex and often arise precisely because the newspaper concerned has simplified the issue inaccurately in a way that makes more sensational copy. However, I offer two examples to illustrate my experiences.

16. In one instance a newspaper had described cannabis as a “sinister poison”. I accepted that the word “sinister” was an expression of opinion but that the word “poison” was simply inaccurate. Initially, the PCC sought to excuse the description on the grounds that it was comment. However, I provided comprehensive evidence to prove that cannabis is not a poison (it is, in fact, less toxic, weight for weight, than raw potatoes and at least one thousand times less toxic than alcohol) which the Independent Reveiwer accepted. However, the complaint was still rejected on the basis that the word “poison” was to be regarded as a “metaphor”. Such are the absurd and ridiculous lengths the PCC will go to in excusing journalists.

17. In another instance a newspaper had published a comment from a well known anti-cannabis campaigner that “There is no doubt that cannabis can cause psychosis”. In fact, all the experts agree that there is no certainty of a causal relationship between cannabis use and psychosis, only of correlation and an increase in risk. Firstly the PCC sought to excuse this on the basis of comment despite the fact that it is clearly false. Then, in support of the statement “There is no doubt…”, it adduced scientific evidence which states “Despite the inevitable uncertainty… …confounding factors or bias cannot be ruled out…could increase their risk…”. This is typical of the distortion of scientific evidence and simplification into sensationalist copy commonly practised by the press, which tactic the PCC has itself now adopted.

18. In one instance, due to a mistake by the PCC, I received documentary evidence proving that the PCC colludes with journalists in order to defeat complaints. I received a letter that was intended for the editor of The Burton Mail but had been misaddressed to me. As well as advising the editor of my complaint it also included a copy of a page from the Lancet where a handwritten asterisk had been drawn next to a paragraph, clearly intended as a rebuttal to my complaint. A copy of this letter and the enclosures is attached to this statement.

19. I can provide many further examples of the PCC’s failure to handle complaints in good faith and evidence of its clear intent to protect journalists rather than the public. I am also ready to provide oral evidence to the Inquiry if required.

Peter Reynolds

27th October 2011, revised 6th November 2011

Statement of Truth

I believe the facts stated in this witness statement are true