25 May PCC Complaint. The Swindon Advertiser, 13th May 2011 – NOT UPHELD

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 3:51 PM
Subject: Complaint against the Swindon Advertiser, issue dated 13th May 2011

Dear Sirs,

“Police raid wakes cannabis grower”, The Swindon Advertiser, 13-05-11

I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/9027590.Police_raid_wakes_cannabis_grower/

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. 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 fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

3. It also breaches clause 12.i) in that it makes prejudicial and pejorative reference to the individual’s alleged illness of addiction.

4. The article is presented as a news story, not an opinion piece. It should therefore be concerned only with facts – unless comment or conjecture is clearly distinguished.

5. The article starts by saying “A drug addict got a rude awakening…” There is no evidence that the man concerned is a drug addict so this is comment or conjecture but it is presented as fact. Addiction should not be spoken of in connection with cannabis as although there is some evidence of the possibility of mild dependence, there is no evidence that cannabis is addictive. This is, therefore, inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. Even if the newspaper is entitled to express an opinion about whether cannabis is addictive, no effort as been made to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.

6. The article then goes on to quote a series of extremely abusive, prejudicial and pejorative remarks attributed to PC Stephen Yeates. It is wholly improper that a police officer should make such comments and irresponsible for a newspaper to repeat them. They amount to misleading and distorted information and have not been properly distinguished as comment. Readers, noting the prominence given to them and that they come from a police officer, may mistakenly regard them as 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 further information required or to give oral evidence in support.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Reynolds

—– Original Message —–
From: Elizabeth Cobbe
To: [email protected]
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 1:43 PM
Subject: PCC Ref 112411 (Swindon Advertiser)

Commission’s decision in the case of
Reynolds v Swindon Advertiser

The complainant was concerned that the article referred to the subject of the arrest as a “drug addict” without providing evidence to support the assertion, and published “extremely abusive, prejudicial and pejorative remarks”, attributed to a policeman, which had not been adequately distinguished as conjecture.

The Commission made clear that newspapers are entitled to publish the comments and opinions of individuals, provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact. In this instance, the comments had clearly been presented as direct quotes and been attributed to PC Stephen Yeates. Readers would be left in no doubt that the quotes reflected the policeman’s experience of the arrest and the state of the house. He was entitled to express his views and recount his experience of the raid. Given that the comments had been very clearly presented as direct quotes, and the newspaper was fully entitled to publish such comments, the Commission did not consider that readers would be in any misled by their publication. There was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

In regard to the reference to the individual as a “drug addict”, the Commission would not be in a sufficiently informed position to come to a view on the accuracy of such a description without the involvement of the individual to who the article related or that of his official representative. In the absence of such a complaint, the Commission could not establish that the description misrepresented him. As such, it could not comment on this aspect of the complaint further.