Sunday Times Defies Press Complaints Commission – News Release

Following a formal complaint to the UK Press Complaints Commission in 2009 The Sunday Times failed to substantiate its published claims of “data fixing” by Dr Wakefield.

The UK’s Press Complaints Commission notified the Sunday Times to remove the stories containing those claims from its website:  Sunday Times Ordered ‘Remove Wakefield MMR “Data Fixing” Story’.

All The Sunday Times had to do was produce the evidence to show it had checked the facts sufficiently before it had published.  For a leading national and international newspaper title that should have been child’s-play. To date The Sunday Times has still failed to substantiate its claims.

There were exchanges of emails [quoted in full in the following article] showing the author of the claims had ample opportunity to clear the matter up by producing the evidence to back up the claims.  It seems he failed to do so.

The original CHS article now follows.

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Thoughtful House – Center for Children

News Release

July 9, 2009

Contact: James C. Moore

USA Tel 512.300.9232

media@thoughtfulhouse.org

Sunday Times Defies Press Complaints Commission

Paper Notifies Media Oversight Agency that it Will Not Remove from its Website False Stories about MMR and Dr. Andrew Wakefield

(Austin, Texas) – The Sunday Times of London, a Rupert Murdoch News Corporation paper, has defied direction from the UK’s Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to remove from its web site controversial stories it has failed to substantiate, which allege Dr. Andrew Wakefield “fixed” data relating to the MMR vaccine.  The reports by correspondent Brian Deer are the subject of an extensive complaint filed with the PCC by Wakefield.

The PCC last week issued an unpublished directive that the stories be removed (see below).  They were taken down immediately, unannounced, but the Sunday Times has now defied the PCC by putting the stories back online after complaining Dr. Wakefield publicly announced the PCC’s directive.

Stephen Abell, Deputy Director of the PCC, wrote in his unpublished directive,

Given the ongoing nature of the dispute, the articles should be removed from the newspaper’s website until this matter has been concluded.”

The Sunday Times has an obligation to “cooperate swiftly” with the PCC in the resolution of complaints under the UK’s PCC Code, which states it is “the cornerstone of the system of self-regulation to which the UK [press] industry has made a binding commitment.”  The PCC is a non-statutory self-regulatory body run by the press.

Lawyers for the Sunday Times contacted Abell to inform him that the stories were to remain published on the website.  According to Amali de Silva of the Wiggin law firm, the paper’s management decided to return the stories to its web pages, after they had been previously removed, because Dr. Wakefield publicly announced the PCC’s directive to the Sunday Times.

My client feels that it is entirely inappropriate and prejudicial to keep the articles down,” Ms. de Silva wrote to Abell.  “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 ongoing.”

Deer, the author of the articles that are at the center of Wakefield’s PCC filing, immediately contacted the Wakefield legal team with further unfounded accusations.  He also boasted of the paper’s defiance of the PCC language, which stated,

“The Commission asked that the newspaper now confirm that the articles will be temporarily removed from the website……..”

“In fact,” Deer seemingly brags in an email, “all of my stories concerning him [Wakefield] are available at the Times Online website.”

The PCC have decided not to issue a complete ruling on Wakefield’s complaint against Deer and the Sunday Times until the GMC announces its findings.  This decision was taken even though the focus of Wakefield’s complaint is Deer’s “fixing data” story; following an extensive investigation by the GMC, “data fixing” is not the basis of any charge against Dr. Wakefield.  Deer and the management of the newspaper have chosen to defy the PCC at a precarious time for UK journalism as parliament contemplates a regulated media and the Media Standards Trust is closely scrutinizing the industry.

(Email correspondence texts in full are listed chronologically below.)

See also Media Standards Trust news release about failing self-regulation of the media :

A More Accountable Press

About Thoughtful House: Thoughtful House advocates a multi-disciplinary treatment approach to treating autism and supports a ’safety-first’ vaccination policy. The research program at Thoughtful House is dedicated to understanding the biological origins of childhood developmental disorders and establishing best practices in treating children affected by these disorders.

____________________________

30th June 2009

Dr Andrew Wakefield

By Email

Dear Dr Wakefield

I write further to our correspondence.  The Commission has now given an initial consideration of your complaint and has authorised the terms of this letter to you.

It has decided that it will temporarily stay its investigation until the conclusion of the GMC inquiry, which is apparently likely to be in August 2009.

It considers that the conclusion of the inquiry will place into the public domain information necessary to inform its decision.    The Commission considered that – while the GMC was not specifically considering the charge that you had “fixed”, “changed”, “misreported” or “manipulated” data – its remit covered the manner in which the data was obtained and then published in the Lancet.  The central claim in the article (and several of the related claims that have been challenged in the complaint) appeared to be the newspaper’s – and journalist’s – own interpretation of the process behind the Lancet article; the GMC was itself looking at that process.

The Commission considered it appropriate to await the conclusion of the GMC process before considering all of the points made in the complaint.

The Commission wished to take this opportunity – in advance of any formal ruling on the complaint – to make the following points:

  • 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.
  • The Commission wished to express its concern at the initial slowness of the newspaper’s responses. It expected that the paper would engage promptly with the PCC once the case is reopened.  A failure to deal with the matter with appropriate speed could lead to the complaint being upheld on that point.
  • The central test for the Commission will be whether there is evidence that the newspaper took “care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” at the time of publication and whether there can be established any significant inaccuracies, misleading statements or distortions.  While the subject matter is complex, the article contained statements in clear language, which would need to be substantiated.  The information due to be  provided when the GMC hearing reports is regarded as essential to the Commission’s deliberations,  and both sides will be entitled to refer to the transcripts.
  • However, the PCC will not rely solely on the outcome of the GMC inquiry, or on the hearing in its entirety, and wishes to emphasise that this hearing is important because of the information submitted to it, rather than its outcome.
  • While the Commission takes note of the complainant’s concerns about conflict of interest involving the journalist and claims about his private bias (including what he has published on his own website), it can only have formal regard for possible breaches of the Code that relate to the material published in the newspaper itself. This may include the question of whether readers would be likely to be misled by the non-disclosure of the journalist’s involvement in the GMC inquiry (which is a matter of dispute among the parties).  However, the Code does not guarantee objectivity, and newspapers are entitled to print articles that are partisan about particular issues.  In the Commission’s view, the central thrust of the accuracy complaint was summarised in the 32 statements contained in the office’s email to the newspaper of 15th May and repeated to the complainant in the email of 2nd June.

The Commission asked that the newspaper now confirm that the articles will be temporarily removed from the website and that it undertake to notify the Commission of the conclusion of the GMC process and then co-operate promptly with the remainder of the investigation.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Abell

@pcc.org.uk

Press Complaints Commission, Halton House, 20/23 Holborn, London,  EC1N 2JD Tel: 02078310022 Fax: 02078310025  http://www.pcc.org.uk

*******************

____________________________

—–Original Message—–

From: Amali de Silva [email redacted]

Sent: 30 June 2009 17:22

To: Stephen Abell

Cc: Tyrer, Bob; Brian Deer

Subject: Wakefield – PCC complaint

Importance: High

Dear Mr Abell

I am writing to add my and my client’s serious concern regarding the email received by Mr Deer from NBC News. It may be that NBC has misunderstood the position, but the PCC asked my client to take the down only the articles complained of strictly on the basis that it would be temporary pending the outcome of the PCC’s consideration of Dr Wakefield’s complaint, and that such action should not be construed as an admission of liability. In these circumstances, it is seriously prejudicial to my client and Mr Deer, as well as highly misleading about the PCC, to allow the suggestions that the PCC has made a ruling against my client and directed that all Mr Deer’s reporting on Dr Wakefield to be removed, to remain uncorrected.

In the light of this, I would be most grateful if you would confirm that you will be contacting Dr Wakefield immediately to do the following:

1 – Clarify what statements he and/or his publicists or other representatives have made to third parties regarding the PCC’s letter today, and the identity of those third parties.

2 – If Dr Wakefield and/or his publicists or other representatives have suggested to any third parties (including NBC News) that the PCC’s letter today constitutes a ruling against my client and/or that my client has been directed to take down all Mr Deer’s reporting regarding Dr Wakefield, that Dr Wakefield should contact those third parties again immediately, retract such statements and inform them of the true position.

3 – Impress upon Dr Wakefield that the PCC has made no ruling against my client, that the request to take down just the articles complained of is a temporary measure pending the outcome of the PCC’s consideration of Dr Wakefield’s complaint, that it does not in any way constitute either a ruling against my client or any admission of liability and that he should not be suggesting otherwise.

Yours sincerely

Amali de Silva

____________________________

Original Message—–

From: Amali de Silva [email redacted]

Sent: 03 July 2009 16:16

To: Stephen Abell

Subject: FW: Wakefield – PCC Complaint – URGENT

Dear Stephen

I am writing further to our previous correspondence and our telephone conversation earlier this afternoon. As you know, this is an issue that my client feels particularly strongly about. The circumstances in which the PCC requested my client take down the articles in question are very different from those that subsist now. 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 ongoing. In this way, anyone reading the articles will be informed of the current position.

I would like to impress upon the PCC that this is not a decision which my client has taken lightly. As you know it would, in normal circumstances, co-operate with all requests made by the PCC during the course of an investigation (as can be seen from my client’s prompt action in taking the articles down in the first instance). It has had no option but to take these measures because of the very unfortunate course of conduct which Dr Wakefield and/or his representatives have chosen to pursue. The fact that my client has felt forced to take these steps is not intended, and should not be construed, in any way as a lack of regard by my client for the authority of the PCC.

Regards

Amali de Silva

____________________________

—– Original Message —–

From: Brian Deer <email redacted>

To: Joanna Bower <email redacted>

Cc: Ryland, Anissa

Sent: Mon Jul 06 13:12:00 2009

Subject:

Ms Joanne Bower,

RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP

Dear Ms Bower,

Your client, Dr Andrew Wakefield, has published, and caused to be published, on his website, thoughtfulhouse.org, and on other sites, false claims that the Press Complaints Commission has issued an “interim order” concerning my investigation into his conduct.  Dr Wakefield claims that The Sunday Times has been ordered by the PCC to remove my stories about him from its website.

I understand that the PCC has written to your client to point out that these claims are untrue.  In fact, all of my stories concerning him are available at the Times Online website.

thoughtfulhouse.org is unquestionably controlled by Dr Wakefield, and his publication there has caused similar untruths to be published on websites either directly controlled for his interests, such as cryshame.org, which, as you may know was set up by Mrs Isabella Thomas, the parent of two of the children anonymised in the now-infamous Lancet MMR paper, or indirectly controlled for his interests, such as ageofautism.com, operated to promote and profit from concern over children’s vaccines.

It is, of course, nothing new for Dr Wakefield to mislead the public, and especially the parents of autistic children.  He has faced the longest ever proceedings before a General Medical Council fitness to practise panel, following the GMC’s reinvestigation of my journalism. In due course, I’d expect he will face a hearing of the PCC, covering much of the same ground on a significantly different evidential base.

However, you may feel it advisable to explain to your client that either he accepts the untruth of his latest claims and takes them down, or he maintains them in publication, in which case his conduct would not merely be wrong, but would be dishonest.

With best wishes,

Brian Deer

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