Thursday, July 9, 2009

Brian Deer thumbs his nose at the PCC

Some of the mystery surrounding the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) recent action in the matter of Brian Deer's reporting in the Times has been clarified. As I mentioned before it appeared that the PCC had requested that the Times remove the articles written by Brian Deer until the matter was resolved. The Times complied with the request and removed the articles.

But now they are back up with a weakly worded warning that "[t]his article is subject to an on-going Press Complaints Commission complaint". Or basically, the Times appeared to have decided to not obey the request from the PCC.

It has been suggested that it was Dr Wakefield's claim that the PCC "ordered" the Times to take down the articles was not accurate and that the PCC merely "asked" the PC to do so and this is given as the reason that the articles were reposted.

It seems that this claim is at least partly true. There is the original press release from Thoughtful House that does use the phrase "interim order" but now there are some further details about the case available. These details include what appears to be the text of the informal decision.

I suggest you go read the full e-mail trail included on that page to get the full context.

I am sure that this grouping of e-mails is not the entire story but there is one thing that I think can be cleared up - the Times was not "asked" to remove the stories, the PCC told them to. The exact wording is -
Given the ongoing nature of the dispute, the articles should be removed from the newspaper’s website until this matter has been concluded. This would not be an admission of any liability on the part of the newspaper.
That doesn't sound like "asking" to me which means that Dr Wakefield's claim that the PCC ordered the articles down is more or less true - the word ordered might be a little overstated but it certainly wasn't merely an informal suggestion.

If read further you get the impression that the reason the articles were reposted was that the Times and Brian Deer were n0t happy about Dr Wakefield publicly announcing the PCC's request/order -
In the light of the actions of Dr Wakefield and/or his representatives, and the inaccurate "spin" which has been put on the PCC request, my client feels that it is entirely inappropriate and prejudicial to keep the articles down. My client will therefore be reinstating the articles onto its website, but will be tagging them to make it clear that they are subject to a PCC complaint which is ongong.
I wouldn't be happy if I were them either. But that doesn't mean the Times should disobey the PCC just because taking down the articles makes them look bad.

Finally, if you look at the last e-mail in the chain you see Brian Deer writing directly to who I am assuming is a lawyer representing Dr Wakefield and almost gleefully talking about his articles being republished. He accuses Dr Wakefield of making "false claims", "misleading the public", and of being "dishonest". I have to wonder if he has looked in a mirror lately.

If I were Brian Deer's lawyer I think I would be telling him to shut up right about now and stop getting involved. But then again Mr Deer has a history of writing inappropriate things so his e-mail doesn't come as a shock.

Given the overall tone of Mr Deer's letter I think it is reasonable to say that he as a personal beef with Dr Wakefield that could very easily be affecting his objectivity and judgement in the matter.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the PCC does in response to the Times reposting the articles. I would be willing to bet that they will take no real action - I am not even sure that they have any action that they can take besides telling them to take it down again.

Time will tell.

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