Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

A Small Victory Against Misleading Reporting on Cannabis in the British Press

with 3 comments

The peculiar relationship between drugs policy and evidence in Britain is caused largely by inaccurate, misleading and sensationalist reporting in the press. Our politicians’ inability to deal with this subject, even to engage in serious debate about it, is all about their fear of being dubbed ‘soft on drugs’ by the newspapers.

At last, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has upheld one of my many complaints about inaccurate reporting. This was a particularly egregious example of distortion and twisting of facts to suit a newspaper’s anti-cannabis agenda.

In January 2021, the Daily Telegraph published an article headlined “’Super skunk’ cannabis led to surge in mental health crisis”. This old trope, that cannabis causes mental illness, is now confined almost exclusively to our corner of North-West Europe. The Irish also suffer under this myth and to a lesser extent, so do Australia and New Zealand but everywhere else in the world a far more balanced and realistic view is taken.

There is no evidence to support it as a direct causal effect, only that it may, in some instances, be one of a number of component factors. Science shows that cigarette smoking and traffic pollution may be far more potent factors, not to say general adolescent angst and many other issues of modern life.

Nevertheless, in Britain, the press and therefore our politicians are obsessed with the idea and regard it as fact. It is this wicked prejudice that for decades has held back access to cannabis as medicine and still does so today. Our most senior clinicians have shown themselves incapable of separating fact from fiction and in a wider context, this myth is probably still the most important factor in holding back general drugs policy reform.  Because of politicians’ weakness in the face of newspaper sensationalism, they have enabled a massive £6 billion market to develop under the control of organised crime which now causes enormous harm throughout society.

My complaint read as follows:

“This article asserts that “cannabis has contributed to a record 100,000 people admitted for NHS treatment for drug-related mental health problems”

In fact, in deliberately misleading and sensationalist fashion, figures for primary diagnosis and secondary diagnosis have been combined. Total figure for primary diagnosis in relation to all drugs is 7,027, secondary diagnosis accounts for the other 93,000+ and means that for 90% of these admissions, the primary reason may have been nothing to do with drugs.

The 100,000 figure is clearly associated with cannabis yet the actual figures for cannabis show a decline from 1135 in 2018/19 to 1087 in 2019/20.

It is crystal clear that this presentation of the data is deliberately designed to mislead and sensationalise.”

What has always surprised me in running many of these complaints is the vehemence with which the newspapers have tried to defend what are nothing more than lies.  The Daily Telegraph did exactly the same this time, trying to adduce a large volume of irrelevant information that had nothing to do with its inaccurate journalism but was just about pushing its anti-cannabis agenda. As I wrote to IPSO at one stage:

“The Telegraph is entitled to publish as much one-sided, cherry picked evidence as it wishes except that if it does not do so accurately or distorts it to the point that it is misleading, it is in breach of clause 1 of the Editors’ Code.

I have no doubt that the newspaper will continue its current policy until the flood of money into the cannabis sector reaches such a level that it will be acting against its own self-interest.  That day is now very close and then the Telegraph will face the challenge of explaining to its readers why it has misled and deceived them for so long.”

So, IPSO has upheld my complaint and its full decision can be seen here. On the face of it, the result will just be another small correction that few people will read. But I hope that the time and money it has cost the Telegraph to deal with this might have some impact in future.

I’ve just heard that the Telegraph has appealed against IPSO’s decision which demonstrates just how keen it is to continue misreporting about cannabis!

 

 

 

Written by Peter Reynolds

July 26, 2021 at 5:46 pm

3 Responses

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  1. You ignored IPSO’s request to treat the ruling as confidential until they had published it themselves? Now the Daily Telegraph has appealed, so it could be overturned.

    >

    David Smith

    July 26, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    • IPSO made no such request to me. Evidently you must be from or connected to the Daily Telegraph, so it’s no surprise to see you telling lies to advance your case. It’s the way you do business.

      If you can prove that IPSO did make such a request, do so.

      Why would they? When George Floyd’s murderer was convicted, despite the inevitability of appeal, the verdict was widely reported.

      And it’s not so different. The British press and its dishonest pursuit of the drug war has contributed to thousands of lives lost and ruined by the UK’s disastrous drugs policy.

      Peter Reynolds

      July 26, 2021 at 7:15 pm

      • do you remember when “news” papers ran stories on “gangs” and “thugs” using knun chukas! completely made up and lead to the butchering of bruce Lee films in the 80s! this shit reporting has always been their bread n butter!
        glad you got a result fir once!

        Stephen Brophy

        July 26, 2021 at 8:05 pm


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