Dear Mr Steel
Thank you for your letter of 1 February 2008.
I appreciate your explanation that you were required to give the programme-makers and their editorial management the oppportunity to comment on your draft ruling on our complaint. I also appreciate that your decision to uphold two of our complaints was not altered by the letters from Professors Blakemore and Page. I would like to reiterate my sincere belief that this is greatly to your credit and I applaud you for it.
I am, however, confused as to why it took eleven weeks between receiving those letters and issuing your ruling – given that we had already been led to expect a ruling by 5 and then by 21 March – if those letters were not having any influence. It looks as though your ruling must have been postponed because of them and although, of course, I accept that they did not alter your decision, it is hard to imagine that they had no influence on the "great deal of discussion within the BBC" to which you said our complaints gave rise.
Irrespective of whether these two letters had any influence on any aspect of the BBC’s deliberations, there was another external influence in the shape of the pharmaceutical industry-funded pro-animal testing lobby group the Research Defense Society (RDS), who intervened in the complaints process and made representations to the BBC before the ruling had been drafted. Indeed, it was the RDS who, with the approval of the production team as well as BBC executives, solicited the letters from Professors Blakemore and Page. Both letters were sent to George Entwhistle, then Head of Current Affairs – the department that commissioned the programme in the first place. The Current Affairs department, along with Hardcash Productions, raised concerns about your decision to uphold our complaints, so it is clear that the Current Affairs department, at least, was influenced by these interventions from powerful organisations with enormous commercial vested interests in defending animal experimentation.
The question of external intervention seems to hinge on whether information or opinion from the RDS (either directly or through their influence on the production team) exerted any influence on your decisions. What I cannot understand is why you upheld my complaint regarding accuracy on the grounds of balance, rather than accuracy. It seems very confusing that you have upheld, on the same grounds, two separate complaints made on quite different grounds. On what basis did you decide that my complaint regarding accuracy was invalid? It was, after all, the first and most important point that I made, saying that: "the major theme of the programme: that treatments such as deep brain stimulation, which can restore mobility and dignity to patients such as Sean Gardner, would not have been possible without experiments on monkeys, is pure fiction." You noted that the programme-makers had not addressed the question of accuracy but I am concerned that you also took the decision not to address it, particularly when this was my key complaint – which you upheld "irrespective of what might be said about the accuracy of the claims." I am anxious to know on what grounds you dismissed my complaint that the whole premise of ‘Monkeys, Rats and Me’ was dishonest and allowed the announcement of your ruling on the BBC website to say that "the issues raised were of balance rather than accuracy" when that is so patently untrue.
This most crucial point has not been addressed at any stage in correspondence with me, despite the fact that I sent proof of my claim in the form of an article from New Scientist in which Professor Benabid described how he discovered deep brain stimulation serendipitously in a patient in 1987. This is a matter of the historical record and shows clearly that the discovery was a ‘eureka’ moment – out of the blue – ie. not expected or predicted (or even investigated) by any prior experiments in monkeys or indeed any animals. What explanation can the BBC give for systematically ignoring this most outstanding aspect of EMP’s complaint: that the documentary was built entirely on a falsehood?
Please could you also explain why you did not provide me with the background information to this case, which I requested from you on 13 August and which the BBC’s guide to making an appeal says I am entitled to see and comment upon? There are several points within the programme team’s responses that I would have commented on as part of my appeal, had this information not been withheld from me. Unfortunately for me, it is now too late for me to raise these issues without going back to stage 1 of the process all over again. There certainly does not seem to be a level playing field in terms of provision of information to all parties – with the complainant being the only party denied access to the background information, despite repeated requests to see it. I would greatly appreciate it if you would now send me a copy of Professor Blakemore’s letter, which is part of the background material to this case and which, as such, I am entitled to see.