21 Jul The Metaphor For Poison That Is The Press Complaints Commission

I must say immediately that this is not a personal attack on any of the individuals that I have dealt with at the PCC. Without exception they have been polite, charming, professional and mostly, very helpful.

But the decision that has come down today from the Independent Reviewer perfectly demonstrates why the PCC is, in fact, a fatal solution to the need for press regulation. The relevance is far wider than just to our own cause, to make the truth about cannabis clear, it demonstrates the fundamental flaw – the PCC doesn’t seek to enforce the Editors’ Code, it defends the press against allegations of breaches of the code.

The complaint was about my darling, charming friend Mr Peter Hitchens and his use of the phrase “sinister poison” to describe cannabis. I had acknowledged that “sinister” is clearly his opinion but that “poison” is factually incorrect. I presented comprehensive scientific evidence to show that cannabis cannot possibly be described as poisonous. My complaint was rejected.

You can judge the detailed arguments for yourself here.

There is no right to appeal against a PCC decision. All you can do is complain to the Independent Reviewer about the way your complaint has been handled.

My argument held some sway. I appreciate the courtesy and attention of Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Willcocks to my complaint. We have more business to do with each other as I have a second complaint pending.

“Poison”, as used by Mr Hitchens is, apparently, a “metaphor”. A metaphor for what I am not sure. Here are the exact words:

“Nevertheless, I do recognise that you have a point where a defence of comment is concerned. The PCC can indeed rule that a comment (even, as in this case, clearly distinguished as such) should not be published if it is based on an inaccuracy or misleading statement, and you have, I believe, demonstrated that cannabis cannot accurately be described as a poison in the technical sense. The question then becomes, would readers be misled by the use of the term in what was clearly a comment piece by an individual? In this instance, the Commission decided that they would not, taking the view that the use of the word “poison” was a metaphor based on the opinion of the columnist, in much the same way as many people call drink “poison”. I find this a common-sense application of the Editor’s Code of Practice, and not one that requires revisiting.”

I have to make the point that “drink” is a poison “in the technical sense”.

Dare I say that the truth is clear?

The Press Complaints Commission, honourable as it may be, is not fit for purpose.