07 Dec PCC Complaint. The Independent, 26th – 28th November 2012

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected]
Sent: Friday, December 07, 2012 7:54 PM
Subject: Complaint against The Independent and various articles concerning cannabis. Reference 125303

Dear Sirs,

Complaint against The Independent and various articles concerning cannabis. 26th – 28th November 2012. Reference 125303

I wish to make a complaint concerning a series of articles, front page banners and website banners variously titled but all promoted as part of the series ‘Schizophrenia – the cannabis link’ . Evidence of the print and online banners cannot be provided but the articles concerned are still available online at:

A. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/is-this-the-tobacco-moment-for-cannabis-8349054.html

B. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/the-demise-of-the-asylum-and-the-rise-of-care-in-the-community-8352927.html

C. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/henry-cockburn-i-was-trying-to-listen-to-my-shoes-i-thought-i-was-going-to-be-put-in-a-straitjacket-8352929.html

D. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/henry-cockburn-if-i-say-im-schizophrenic-people-reply-so-youvegot-a-split-personality-8360497.html

E. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/the-stigma-of-the-hidden-schizophrenia-epidemic-8360498.html

F. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/editorial-we-are-failing-sufferers-of-mental-illness-8364820.html

G. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/schizophrenia-the-shame-of-silence-the-relief-of-disclosure-8364870.html

H. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/henry-cockburn-i-like-to-be-liked–and-finally-ive-found-friends-who-really-like-me-8364937.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. My originating email dated 29th November 2012 forms part of this complaint and shows my efforts to work with the newspaper to resolve my concerns before making a formal complaint including submission of a 700 word article.

2. The articles and banners breach clause 1.i) of the Editors’ Code in that they publish inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.

3. They also breach clause 1.iii) in that they fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. In reality they do exactly the opposite, deliberately confusing the three to mislead and distort.

4. They also breach the requirement in the preamble to the code to maintain the highest professional standards in that they breach the code recklessly and irresponsibly as set out in this complaint.

5. I request that this complaint be dealt with in the spirit of the Leveson report, adjudicated independently, without the bias of journalists or editors whose newspapers are also frequently engaged in publishing misinformation about cannabis, and that any corrections agreed or ordered should be published in equivalent size and with equivalent prominence as the articles and banners in question.

6. In article A, the first pararaph states that: “For cannabis it is the “tobacco moment”” equating it with the moment that “scientific proof of a connection between smoking tobacco and cancer became so strong that no serious doctor or scientist could deny it.”. In stating as a matter of fact that there is proof that consuming cannabis causes schizophrenia that “no serious doctor or scientist could deny”, the newspaper published inaccurate, misleading and distorted information and failed to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

6.a. Professor Glyn Lewis, internationally recognised as one of the leading experts on the causes of psychosis and a member of the team at Bristol and Cardiff universities that has probably published the most papers on the subject of cannabis and psychosis, stated in March 2011: “I think it is also important to note that we cannot be certain that there is a causal link between cannabis use and psychosis at present.”

6.b. Hickman et al 2009 ( a review of all published evidence so, by definition, not cherry picked) states that no causal link can be proven between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia so considers the risk of correlation between the two. It shows that the risk is infinitesimally small, ranging between 0.013% and 0.003%. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19832786

7. In article A, the second paragraph states: “evidence of its [cannabis] toxicity as shown in a mounting number of scientific studies.” This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. There is no evidence of cannabis being significantly toxic. The therapeutic ratio (the scientific measurement of toxicity – ED50: LD50) of cannabis is so high as to be impossible to determine although it is thought to be between 1:20000 and 1:40000.

8. In article A, the third paragraph states: “Sir Robin Murray, Professor of psychiatric research at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, says that studies show that “if the risk of schizophrenia for the general population is about one per cent, the evidence is that, if you take ordinary cannabis, it is two per cent; if you smoke regularly you might push it up to four per cent; and if you smoke ‘skunk’ every day you push it up to eight per cent”. This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. There are no such studies showing such levels of risk. It is a ridiculous claim because there is no accepted definition of “skunk”.

9. In article A, the ninth paragraph states: “belief that only a minority of cannabis users is at risk [which] is now in doubt according to new research…the study, published in August 2012, examines 1,000 people in Dunedin, New Zealand.” The article then goes on to discuss this study in more detail but it has nothing to do with schizophrenia. It concerns ‘neuropsychological decline’. The article falsely conflates the evidence of this study with schizophrenia. In doing so, it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information and fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. This sloppy use of evidence, twisted and distorted to support the author’s predetermined agenda is characteristic of this entire series of articles.

10. In article A, the penultimate paragraph states “no government would ever license a drug that sends at least two per cent of its consumers insane.”. This is absolutely false, scurrilous and a blatant lie. There is no evidence at all to suggest that cannabis causes 2% of users to become insane. This is an appalling falsehood, an example of the very worst journalism and I call on the commission to condemn it as such.

11. I accept that the newspaper is entitled to be partial in its opinion of cannabis but in article A its selective use of evidence is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort the evidence and to mislead readers. There is at least as much evidence of cannabis having positive therapeutic effects on those diagnosed with schizophrenia and that cannabis improves cognitive functioning in schizophrenia and psychosis. http://healthland.time.com/2010/09/09/the-great-pot-debate-does-marijuana-improve-schizophrenics-mental-function/

12. In article B, the first sentence of the preamble states “Henry Cockburn was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002. Before that he was a heavy cannabis user.” The article itself mentions nothing about cannabis yet it is predicated on this misleading and distorted statement which fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

12.a. Article B was promoted by printed and online banners “Schizophrenia – the cannabis link” which is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort information and mislead readers.

13. Article C mentions nothing about cannabis yet it was promoted by printed and online banners “Schizophrenia – the cannabis link” which is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort information and mislead readers.

14. Article D mentions nothing about cannabis yet it was promoted by printed and online banners “Schizophrenia – the cannabis link” which is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort information and mislead readers.

15. Article E mentions nothing about cannabis yet it was promoted by printed and online banners “Schizophrenia – the cannabis link” which is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort information and mislead readers.

16. In article F, the second paragraph states “the role of cannabis as a cause of schizophrenia”. As stated in 6 – 6.b. above there is no proof that cannabis causes schizophrenia. This statement is inaccurate, misleading and distorted information and fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

17. In article F, the third paragraph states “The risk is still small, perhaps 2 per cent for occasional smokers and rising to 8 per cent for regular users of skunk.” This is false. There is no evidence supporting this grossly exaggerated statement of risk. It is a ridiculous assertion because there is no accepted definition of “skunk”.

18. Article G mentions nothing about cannabis yet it was promoted by printed and online banners “Schizophrenia – the cannabis link” which is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort information and mislead readers.

19. Article H mentions nothing about cannabis yet it was promoted by printed and online banners “Schizophrenia – the cannabis link” which is to fail to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the result of which is to distort information and mislead readers.

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.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Reynolds