Calling all bloggers – Help beat the gag on the BBC

Reposted from Don’t Get Fooled Again:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Late last week the BBC chose to delete from its website a damning Newsnight investigation into the Trafigura scandal, following legal threats from the company and its controversial lawyers, Carter-Ruck.

Previously, other media outlets including the Times and the Independent, had withdrawn stories about the case, amid concerns that the UK press is choosing to engage in self-censorship, rather than risk a confrontation with such a powerful company in the UK’s archaic and one-sided libel courts.

The BBC is a dominant player within the UK media, and its independence – supposedly guaranteed by the millions it receives from licence-payers each year – is vital both to its public service function and its global reputation.

Freedom of speech means very little without an effective and independent media – if it’s true that the BBC’s independence can so easily be compromised by legal threats, then this sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.

The mainstream UK media has so far assiduously avoided reporting on the BBC’s climbdown. Yet it’s an issue that raises serious questions about the state of press freedom in Britain, at a time of unprecedented attacks on the media.

To help subvert this latest attempt to muzzle the press, please embed this video on your blog, and link to this PDF of the original story.

Sorry about merely reposting Richard Wilson’s words, time was short – but here is a link to the Minton report that Trafigura was so anxious to stop the world from knowing about.

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A Carnival of B**** Chiropractic

[BPSDB]At the Quackometer, Andy Lewis is organising a Carnival of B**** Chiropractic (insert your own B-word there). This is an opportunity, I think, not only to do some serious investigation and make some serious points about the validity of chiropractic and the claims that are made for it, but  also to make fun of the absurd English libel law. Please visit the Quackometer.

Simon Singh and the back quacks

[BPSDB]I’d like to support Simon Singh in his current legal difficulties but I have no intention to join Facebook. (I did start signing up once but I read the terms and conditions and changed my mind.)

If there are some who don’t know what this is about, Dr Singh is a victim of the broken libel laws of England. He wrote an article criticising chiropractors for the following claim by the Brtish Chiropractic Association (BCA): “There is evidence to show that chiropractic care has helped children with the following symptoms: Asthma Colic, Prolonged crying, Sleep and feeding problems, Breathing difficulties, Hyperactivity, Bedwetting, Frequent infections, especially in the ears”.  Dr Singh and his colleague Edzard Ernst studied the evidence thoroughly and found none that supported the claim.

However, the BCA did not withdraw the claim (although the original leaflet is no longer on the BCA website) and did not produce any evidence for the claim. Instead, it sued Dr Singh for libel.

The BCA has put out a highly misleading statement. The BCA has not been “vindicated” as the trial has not yet taken place (and may yet not happen). It is important to remember that damages in a libel case are awarded as compensation for loss of reputation. The BCA has not been awarded damages, only costs of the hearings so far.

What has happened is that the judge has put an obstacle in Dr Singh’s way by insisting that, to win his case, he must prove something that he didn’t mean in the first place (and apparently, even the BCA did not claim that he meant it). He has to prove that the BCA dishonestly promotes unproven treatments. Jack of Kent has further details from a lawyer’s point of view.

The English libel law is a litigant’s delight, but reputation is not only a matter of the law. It is likely that the BCA will come to regret its actions. The fact is that they made the claims about chiropractic (even though they have taken the document off their web site) and they have failed to provide any evidence to support them, opting for legal action instead. Suppose that the BCA  had come forward with evidence. I am sure that Dr Singh would have withdrawn his criticism graciously, and if he had not, there might then have been grounds for a libel action.

As it is, going straight to law (or threats of legal action) without first publicly answering criticism may well become widely thought of as a distinguishing mark of the quack, especially when the matter is one of scientific evidence. See Quackometer and the Society of HomeopathsDavid Colquoun and Ann Walker, and Ben Goldacre and Matthias Rath – if you follow these issues through, you will see that the quacks lost in each matter. A legal ruling can offer only a monetary remedy, but trying to suppress criticism sets in process a whole series of consequences which may never have been intended.

And as far as I’m concerned, the BCA has demonstrated its lack of integrity, and also why you should never touch a chiropractor with a bargepole – or, rather, never let them touch you.