Update 15/05/2012: The PCC have finally replied, helpfully acknowledging that the Daily Mail’s correction was incorrect, yet somehow concluding that the error was “not significantly misleading”, they therefore plan to do nothing about it.
Press Complaints Commission’s decision in the case of
Williams v Daily Mail
The complainant considered that an article, which reported a recent study by the University of Bristol into the effect of CP55940 on the brains of rats, was a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. In addition, the newspaper’s published clarification of 4 April in relation to the article was not sufficient to address his concerns: the content of the statement was in itself inaccurate.
The terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) state that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. The complainant considered that that the article had inaccurately reported the study, suggesting that it demonstrated a causal link between cannabis use and the development of serious mental illness, when this had not been the study’s aim or outcome.
The study had looked at the effect that CP55940 had on the brains of rats. CP55940, a synthetic cannabinoid analogue of THC, mimicked the effects of naturally occurring THC, which was one of the psychoactive compounds found in cannabis. The study had found that the effect of CP55940 on rats was similar to the cognitive dysfunction seen in schizophrenia patients.
The complainant said it was fundamentally misleading to present a study that looked at the effect of a synthetic cannabinoid on the brains of rats as evidence that cannabis could lead to schizophrenia. The Commission agreed that the article’s reference to researchers “look[ing] in detail at the changes in the brains of cannabis users” had the potential to be misleading. However, it had to have regard for the fact that the article had made clear – including in a headline reference – that the study had been conducted on rats. In addition, the article had included comments from Dr Matt Jones, the lead author of the study, who expressly drew conclusions from the research about the effects of cannabis on the brain of human users. The researchers who conducted the study considered that it had implications for humans; the Commission considered that the newspaper had been entitled to report their conclusions in this regard to its readers.
The main concern for the Commission was that the headline to the piece had gone further and claimed that cannabis can cause schizophrenia. The Commission has previously ruled that headlines should be considered within the context of the article as a whole, as due to space restraints, they can only represent a limited summary of a potentially complex set of facts. However, in this instance, it did not consider that the body to the piece sufficiently clarified or substantiated the headline. The study had not found a causal link between smoking cannabis and the development of schizophrenia. Accordingly, the Commission established a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code. The Commission considered that the newspaper’s clarification and amendment to its online article was appropriate. It was satisfied that this course of action was sufficient to remedy the original breach.
The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s position regarding the accuracy of the statement. However, it did not consider that the reference to “the active ingredient in cannabis” could be said to raise a further breach of Clause 1. The study had used CP55940, which the complainant accepted was an artificial compound of THC, an active ingredient in cannabis. Given the artificial compound was used in the study to mimic the effects of THC, the reference to it as the active ingredient in cannabis was not significantly misleading. The Commission accepted that it would have been preferable to refer to the compound as “one of” the active ingredients in cannabis. However, it did not consider that readers would be significantly misled in this regard.
The complainant had raised concerns regarding the article’s reference that rats had been given cannabis “in a similar dose to a person smoking a joint”. The Commission had contacted the author of the study who had made clear that he did not wish to formally pursue the matter. Without the involvement of the researchers behind the study, the Commission was not in a sufficiently informed position to rule on the accuracy, or otherwise, of the dosage claim. In this instance, the Commission declined to make a ruling under the terms of the Code.
Reference No. 114998
Yesterday, the Daily Mail published a “correction” for an article published in October last year. I wrote in January that this is something I didn’t expect ever to see because “the Daily Mail’s editor Paul Dacre also happens to be chairman of the Press Complaints Commission Editors’ Code of Practice Committee”.
After a protracted six month long campaign to the PCC by two complainants (1) (2), we have finally received a correction and the correction is wrong. The study did not use cannabis or any chemical present in cannabis.
Kucewicz MT, Tricklebank MD, Bogacz R, & Jones MW (2011). Dysfunctional prefrontal cortical network activity and interactions following cannabinoid receptor activation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31 (43), 15560-8 PMID: 22031901 (PDF).
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