Dianthus Medical Blog Archive

Burzynski Clinic in the Observer: PCC response

You may remember that last month I blogged about a hideously irresponsible article in the Observer. To refresh your memory, I said I'd reported them to the Press Complaints Commission and that I'd let you know of any developments.

Well, I now have a development to report. The PCC have considered my complaint, and have ruled that the Observer article, while it was indeed misleading, did not breach the code, because it was somebody's opinion rather than a factual article.

I'm not sure what the point of a code prohibiting misleading information is if there is such an easy get-out clause for newspapers who wish to breach it. I do hope Lord Justice Leveson is listening.

The PCC's full judgement is as follows:

The complainant considered the article, a column piece on the newspaper’s decision to print an earlier article relating to the Burzynski Clinic in Texas, had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The columnist had omitted important information about the activities of the clinic in a way that had been misleading.

The Commission made clear that under the terms of Clause 1 (i) of the Code newspapers must “take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”, and that under Clause 1 (iii) newspapers whilst “free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”.

The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s position that the article had been misleading in not citing important concerns with regard to the medical treatments offered by the Burzynski Clinic. However, the Commission noted the article had been written as an opinion piece, intended to allow the columnist to express his views on the controversy that had been stoked by an earlier article about a family who had decided to use the clinic’s services. The commission made clear that columnists are entitled to express their personal views and comments – however controversial they might be – provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact. The Commission considered readers would have understood that the article had not been intended as a piece of factual investigative journalism into the Burzynski Clinic and its activities. Furthermore, the Commission noted the article had highlighted concerns with regard to the treatments offered by the clinic; specifically highlighting the view that the treatments would not satisfy the regulatory requirements of the UK. As such, the Commission considered readers would have understood that significant controversy existed with regard to the activities of the clinic. While acknowledging the complainant’s concerns, the Commission considered the article had been clearly distinguished as comment and as such did not establish a breach of the Code.

Update 7 Feb:

I forwarded the PCC's judgement to the Leveson Inquiry. I have had a nice little email back from them thanking me for sending it and telling me that my comments have been noted by the inquiry team. I doubt that it will be the only piece of evidence they receive that may suggest that the PCC is not fit for purpose.

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