14 Feb PCC Complaint. The Daily Mail, 5th February 2011 – NOT UPHELD

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected]
Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 7:40 PM
Subject: Complaint against The Daily Mail, issue dated 5th February 2011

Dear Sirs,

"One in eight cannabis dealers is aged under 18", The Daily Mail, 05-02-11

I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1353917/One-cannabis-dealers-aged-18.html

I make the complaint on my account but also in my capacity as the Speaker of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, a political party, of P.O.Box 674, Salfords, RH1 9BN. For the purposes of correspondence, please use my personal address as below. Please acknowledge receipt of this complaint.

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 confuses comment, conjecture and fact.

3. In the fifth paragraph, the article says: "Critics say the statistics lay bare how younger and younger children are being sucked into the drugs culture, and blamed the previous Government for downgrading the classification of cannabis." This is misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact. The facts are that after the Labour government downgraded the classification of cannabis from B to C, consumption actually declined. According to the British Crime Survey published on 25th October 2007, "…the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who had used cannabis in the past year fell from 25% when the change in the law was introduced to 21% in 2006/07"

4. In the sixth paragraph, the article says: "Experts said children were 'playing Russian roulette with their mental health' as cannabis can cause irreversible damage to the brain and has been linked to psychosis and schizophrenia.". This is misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact. The statement tries to assert itself as fact by saying "Experts said…" but no experts are identified, neither would any true expert make such an inaccurate or misleading statement. The risk of Russian roulette is a chance of one in six, i.e. one loaded chamber in a six cylinder revolver. By the latest research, the risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia as a result of using cannabis is at least one in 7500 and perhaps as little as one in 30000.

Professor Glyn Lewis of the University Of Bristol reviewed all the published evidence on the subject in 2009 and says that 96% of people can use cannabis without any risk of psychosis at all and in the remaining 4% the risk is statistically tiny. Even if direct causation of schizophrenia by cannabis was accepted (which is clearly not proven) then on Prof. Lewis' figures that would amount to approximately 800 additional cases per annum. Based on the Home Office's figure of six million regular cannabis users that amounts to a risk of one in 7500. In fact, while there is evidence of some correlation between cannabis use and mental health problems there is very little of causation. There is, in fact, much stronger evidence of correlation between tobacco smoking and mental health (more than 90% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia smoke tobacco) but no one is claiming that tobacco causes schizophrenia.

Prof Lewis' report states that among light cannabis users "…it would be necessary to stop over 10,000 young men and nearly 30,000 young women to prevent one case of schizophrenia."

5. The article is also misleading and confuses comment, conjecture and fact in that it quotes Charles Walker, Marolin Watson and David Green, all of whom take an essentially anti-cannabis stance. No balance is provided by any commenter who is not evidently anti-cannabis.

6. The overall effect of the article is inaccurate and misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact. The journalist and editor concerned have failed in their "duty to maintain the highest professional standards".

I would be grateful if you would deal with this complaint at your earliest convenience. I shall be happy to provide any furrther information required or to give oral evidence in support.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Reynolds

—– Original Message —–
From: Charlotte Dewar
To: [email protected]
Sent: Friday, April 01, 2011 6:20 PM
Subject: Commission's Decision — 110917 (Daily Mail)

Commission's decision in the case of
Reynolds v Daily Mail

The complainant raised several concerns about the article under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. He said that it was misleading to attribute several statistical trends – an increase in the number of under-18 cannabis dealers caught by police, an increase in the number of children receiving treatment for cannabis misuse, and an increase in the number of under-18s being found guilty of possession of cannabis – to the decision to downgrade the drug from class B to class C between 2004 and 2009. Further, he complained that the use of the phrase "Russian roulette" in the context of the article was misleading, and said the article had raised a breach of Clause 1 by quoting only individuals who take an "anti-cannabis stance".

Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code states that publications must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and that the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

The complainant was concerned that the newspaper has misled readers by stating that "Critics say the statistics lay bare how younger and younger children are being sucked into the drugs culture, and blamed the previous Government for downgrading the classification of cannabis." The complainant accepted that the statistics quoted were accurate but considered that the newspaper had misled its readers by failing to make clear that other statistics showed that overall cannabis consumption had fallen after it was downgraded.

The Commission emphasised that the newspaper had been entitled to present concerns about the rise in cannabis use among young people to its readers; this was a matter of legitimate public scrutiny. The article had contained some substantiation for the claim that critics had attributed the increases to the change in the law, in the form of quoted remarks by Charles Walker MP, who had obtained the figures. Mr Walker's comments had clearly been presented as expressing his own views. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

The complainant said that the use of the phrase "Russian roulette" to refer to the potential dangers posed to the mental health of children who use cannabis was misleading. He cited sources which put the risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia as a result of using cannabis at between one in 7500 and one in 30,000, whereas the risk of being shot in Russian roulette was one in 6. The Commission noted that phrase had been attributed to a representative of a drugs charity, who commented further, "The drug affects different people in different ways". The Commission did not accept that in the context of the article the phrase would have been understood by readers as a specific claim regarding the mathematical probability of a genetic vulnerability to the ill effects of cannabis. Rather, it appeared to express the idea that children using cannabis risk serious harm, a view that the speaker was entitled to express, and the newspaper to present to its readers. This did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

Finally, the complainant was concerned that the article had quoted three individuals who take an "essentially anti-cannabis stance" with no balance provided by a commenter who was not anti-cannabis. The choice of commentators was a matter of selection, at the discretion of the editor, so long as it did not otherwise raise a breach of Clause 1. The Commission considered that the article had made clear that other points of view on the matters discussed existed – the article had referred to the "controversial" decision to reclassify cannabis from class B to class C, and Mr Walker had noted (albeit in a critical context) that some argue cannabis should be legalised. The newspaper had been entitled to present a particular point of view; readers would not have been significantly misled by this. There was no breach of the Code