Following my dissatisfaction at the way the Guardian have handled my complaint so far, I was planning to write to the PCC on Wednesday 29th June, copying in the Editor of the Guardian.
However Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott has finally returned from holiday and is looking set to resolve the situation:
I have returned from holiday today after 10 days away. Our plan had been to run a Response column to deal with your concerns-shared by many readers-that the statement osteopathy “helps” asthma goes well beyond such scientific evidence as there is. What I propose is that we should run a link from the article to Martin Robbins’ blog and that we should run a clarification setting this out. The column is a first person piece and it would have been accurate if the piece had suggested that some people “believe it has helped them”. But the broader claim should have been appropriately qualified or backed up or not run at all. I don’t think we did so in this case. I think Tim Lusher’s original response was just that-a first response to criticism, but now that I have returned we have discussed it and come to a more considered view I think we have to take action. I don’t think he had any intention to be rude and once you had declared that you were going to the PCC we normally stand back and let the PCC decide whether they wish to pursue the complaint or not. In this case I think we can move more quickly but I would appreciate knowing whether you intend to pursue the complaint with the PCC as this may yet mean that we have to let the complaint run its course.
I will be happy to drop the PCC complaint as long as the Guardian agree to my demands. This is how I replied:
Thank you for your reply.
While I understand that you have been away, I think it’s disappointing that it has taken so long to get a considered response from the Guardian, especially taking into account the number of complaints and the fact that at least one of those has gone to the PCC. This delay, coupled with Tim Lusher’s ill-considered comment, has unfortunately exacerbated the problem and led complainants such as myself to feel frustrated and ignored. It has also meant that the original article has remained online and uncorrected for two weeks.
I don’t have much experience of complaining to newspapers and have never complained to the PCC before. I did so in a bid to be taken seriously. I also felt that although the article was a first person piece and uncritically promotional, the Advertising Standards Authority were likely to tell me this was outside their remit (which they have done). I strongly feel that had this been a matter for the ASA, they would have ruled that the article was in breach of the CAP Code with respect to substantiation. This is of particular concern because readers are more likely to believe claims and implications made in a newspaper article than in advertising. As I said in my original complaint, I think articles such as this are irresponsible because they lend credibility to practitioners such as Katz where it is not deserved – which can lead some readers to make poor decisions regarding their health. To more sceptical readers such as myself, articles like this can be damaging to the image of the Guardian as a reputable newspaper.
I would hope that in future greater care will be taken to do some simple fact-checking before running an article such as this. As I have said before, it did not take long for me (or Martin) to find the lack of evidence to support any benefit of osteopathy in the treatment of either asthma or pneumonia.
Ultimately, it may be accurate to say some people ‘believe it has helped them’ but this would be in my opinion deliberately misleading readers. I think you agree this is not a position the Guardian should take.
I will be happy to drop my PCC complaint providing:
– There is a follow up in print. I think the plan you suggest to run a Response column is a good one. A URL here for Martin’s blog is essential.
– There is a clarification to the online article, together with a link to Martin’s blog.
I would be happy for you to print any of my emails as part of the ‘Response’.
Yesterday, I received the following from Chris Elliott, Readers’ Editor at the Guardian:
Thanks for your email. Things don’t quite work the way that you suggest. As I suggested I am happy to run a clarification and link it to the piece and link Martin Robbins piece. We are currently looking for someone to write a Response but we tried that last week and the doctor we asked was unable to do it because he had to go to see a sick relative-this is partially the reason for the delays. I will try to run a clarification Wednesday for Thursday
I have just replied:
While unfortunate, I accept that there has been a delay in running the printed Response. I look forward to reading this and the imminent clarification.
Once these have come about, I will formally drop my complaint with the PCC.
A clarification was published yesterday together with a link to the Lay Scientist follow up piece. Since the clarification mentioned only asthma but not pneumonia, I have emailed firstname.lastname@example.org again. I am awaiting further developments before blogging this.
Following my email, the clarification has now been amended to also mention pneumonia and the Guardian are looking for someone to write a Response column about asthma.
I received an email from the PCC yesterday asking if, following my correspondence with Chris Elliott, I still wanted them to consider my complaint. I replied to say that I’m confident the Guardian will be able to resolve my complaint without PCC involvement.