Animal Testing: Monkeys, Rats and Me, BBC Two, 27 November 2006

BBC Trust Ruling, published 15 October 2008: http://www.bbc.co.uk/…/july.pdf

The complaint was made on behalf of an organisation called Europeans for Medical Progress (EMP).  EMP believed the programme had made claims about the benefits of animal experimentation without challenge. The complainant also stated that some of the claims were inaccurate, breaching BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. The complainant also suggested that a contributor had been treated unfairly. In the course of its passage through the BBC’s complaints process the complaint had already been upheld in part by the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) with regard to impartiality.  However, the complainant appealed to the ESC to consider the other issues of accuracy and fairness not upheld by the ECU.  The complainant also asked the ESC to consider the action taken by the ECU with regard to the upheld element of the complaint and the allegation that the BBC denied the level of complaints the programme received.

The Committee concluded:

  • a complaint of unfairness could be made only by those who have directly featured or participated in a BBC programme.
  • that as the issue concerned someone who was not associated to EMP and had not complained himself it was not appropriate to consider the editorial guidelines relating to unfair treatment in respect of this complaint.
  • that it would not consider a request by the programme team to review the ECU finding on impartiality as it was not within the ESC’s remit to review a decision to uphold a complaint by BBC management at the request of the programme makers.

 

Accuracy

  • that the finding on impartiality by the ECU had been correct, but the lack of a challenging argument had not rendered the programme inaccurate.
  • the contributors were entitled to express their views and their comments were duly accurate.

Accountability

  • the action by the ECU had been appropriate and the ECU’s requirement that the programme should not be repeated in this form was sufficient censure.
  • the complaint had been handled correctly and in a timely manner.
  • that the time taken by ECU had been reasonable given the complexities of the complaint.
  • the ECU had been accurate in stating the number of people who had complained to the ECU about the programme.  However, it recognised that there may be occasions when it is relevant for the number of complaints to stage 1 of the complaints process to be mentioned.

The Committee endorsed the ECU finding regarding impartiality.  The other complaints regarding accuracy and accountability were not upheld.
1.          The programme
The programme focused on the work on primates by Professor Tipu Aziz and his colleagues in Oxford and the controversy it has attracted. The programme set out to explore the efficacy and ethics of animal experimentation for medical purposes.
2.         The complainant

This complaint was brought by the organisation Europeans for Medical Progress (EMP), which describes itself as: 

An independent, not-for-profit organisation of scientists and medical professionals. Our goal is to protect human health by promoting human-specific medical research. There is overwhelming evidence that animal experiments provide results that, when applied to humans, can prove misleading or fatal. These tests exhaust precious research funding, waste valuable time, produce ineffective solutions, and delay progress toward human cures.

3.         Summary of the complaint to BBC Information (stage 1 and the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) (stage 2)

  • The programme was biased in that claims about the benefits of animal experimentation were allowed to go unchallenged, and that some of the claims were inaccurate, breaching BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.
  • An opponent of animal experimentation, Mel Broughton, had participated in the programme on the basis of assurances about balance, which were not made good: “The BBC appears to have its own opinion on animal experimentation and refused to challenge anyone speaking in its favour.”
  • “Worse still, the BBC routinely misrepresents all opponents on animal experimentation as violent and/or ignorant and misanthropic anti-science extremists.”
  • The complainant stated that the major theme of the programme – that treatment such as deep brain stimulation would not have been possible without experiments on monkeys – was pure fiction “…deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease and dystonia was pioneered in patients not monkeys (see New Scientist, vol 183 issue 2457, 24 July 2004, page 40).”
  • “The claim was made many times that all medical breakthroughs have come from animal research, without which medical progress would be impossible. This is a ludicrous claim, which is patently false.”
  • The complainant stated that the issue of animal experimentation was totally misrepresented: “It was portrayed instead as a simple matter of dispute between altruistic scientists and ignorant animal rights protestors: a “clichéd ‘emotion versus reason’ impasse.”

 

4.         Response from the programme team, on behalf of BBC information (stage 1)

The programme was made by the independent production company Hardcash Productions by film-maker Adam Wishart.

  • Mr Wishart responded that the programme team did try to set out the ‘scientific arguments’ as promoted by the organisation Europeans for Medical Progress.
  • Mr Wishart’s response also stated that they had filmed an interview with the EMP spokesperson (the complainant) as well as a former director of the US National Cancer Institute who had refuted the EMP’s argument. Several other scientists were also interviewed but in the end these interviews were not used: “We simply did not have the time in the programme to delve into these complicated arguments.”

 

5.         Response from the ECU (stage 2)

The ECU considered three claims:

CLAIM 1
The programme was biased in that claims made on behalf of the necessity of animal experimentation and its efficacy, were allowed to go unchallenged and were not balanced by views to the contrary.

The ECU responded:

  • “Having set the terms of the debate, it is not acceptable to exclude one side of it because you have difficulty fitting it in. Nor is it acceptable to argue that upon examination, one side of the argument did not stand up and so did not merit inclusion in a film which, after all, had presented itself from the outset as a journey of enquiry.”
  • “With the discursive scope having been narrowed, it was even less appropriate to allow the wide and more controversial claim to go without reply….. I believe the programme makers having decided to include the claims of Professor Aziz and Caroline Lacey, but not to include [the EMP representative], should have found another way of representing an appropriate range of views.”

 

CLAIM 2
Some of the claims made on behalf of the necessity of animal experiments were themselves false.

  • The ECU responded that there was no balancing view or challenge.

 

  • “I therefore take the view that the problem is not that such claims were included in the programme, but… that they were included without any balancing view or challenge.  I am upholding your complaint on that ground, irrespective of what might be said about the accuracy of the claims.”

CLAIM 3
Mel Broughton’s participation in the programme had been obtained by deception, as it had been contingent upon assurances he was given that this debate would be reflected in the programme.

  • The ECU did not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

 

ECU ruling as published on the BBC Complaints website
ECU ruling: Monkeys, Rats and Me, BBC Two
Publication date: 09 Jul 2007
Complaint
Monkeys, Rats and Me (BBC 2, 27 November 2006) focused on the work on primates by Professor Tipu Aziz and his colleagues in Oxford and the controversy it has generated. The programme set out to explore the efficacy and ethics of animal experimentation for medical purposes.
Shelley Willetts complained on behalf of Europeans for Medical Progress (EMP) that the programme was biased in that claims about the benefits of animal experimentation were allowed to go unchallenged, and that some of the claims were in fact inaccurate. Two other viewers complained in broadly similar terms.
Ms Willetts also complained that an opponent of animal experimentation, Mel Broughton, had participated in the programme on the basis of assurances about balance which were not made good.
BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s ruling
The programme included strong claims by scientists about the efficacy of animal experimentation which were not challenged. As these claims lay within the range of scientific opinion, the issue they raised was one of balance rather than accuracy.
Although the programme-makers had recorded material critical of the scientific case for animal experimentation, they did not use it because their research had led them to conclude that the criticisms were not sufficiently substantial.
However, irrespective of the scientific merits of the case against animal experimentation, the area of exploration proposed by the programme was such that a way should have been found to reflect it appropriately. The complaints were upheld to that extent.
Although Mr Broughton had been led to understand that scientific arguments against animal experimentation would be reflected in the programme, he had not made this a condition of participating. This aspect of Ms Willetts’ complaint was not upheld.
Further action
The issues arising from the finding have been discussed at length with the programme’s senior team, and the programme will not be repeated in its present form.

  •       Further points made to the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC)      (stage 3)

Fairness to contributors

  • The complainant said that Mel Broughton was assured at the outset that scientific objection to animal research would be represented as an important focus of the programme and therefore agreed to participate on this basis.
  • She concluded that although there was no “intentional deception at the outset” he was deceived as “Mr Broughton’s participation was secured through deception – even though that deception may not have been intentional.”

Action as a result of the complaint being upheld by the ECU

  • The complainant claimed that she was told that action would be taken as a result of their complaint being upheld.
  • “Yet the only action the BBC intends to take is to desist from repeating the programme in its present form.”
  • The complainant claimed that many thousands of people would have watched the programme and based their opinions on animal experimentation upon it. Virtually none of these people would have been aware that the complainant’s complaint had been upheld.

BBC denial of complaints

  • The complainant claimed that nothing appeared on the BBC website concerning the upholding of the complaint until 8 months after the programme was transmitted.
  • The complainant also claimed that in the adjudication, the BBC said two other viewers complained but she contests this.
  • “This is remarkable. It may be that only two other viewers complained to the ECU but I know that a significant number of people complained to BBC Information – don’t their views count?”

Accountability

  • The complainant said that animal experimentation was not simply an issue of concern over animal rights, as repeatedly portrayed by the BBC. It is also an issue of importance in human health and medical progress, and that there is a significant strand of scientific opinion that animal experimentation is largely irrelevant and frequently harmful to human health.
  • The complainant said she hoped the BBC would amend “…the extraordinarily unbalanced output to date on the subject of animal experimentation, by making or commissioning a programme dealing specifically with scientific challenges to animal testing.”

 

7.         Applicable Editorial Standards

Section 3 – Accuracy

Introduction
We strive to be accurate and establish the truth of what has happened. Accuracy is more important than speed and it is often more than a question of getting the facts right. We will weigh all relevant facts and information to get at the truth. Our output will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We will be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation.

We aim to achieve accuracy by:

  • the accurate gathering of material using first hand sources wherever possible.
  • checking and cross checking the facts.
  • validating the authenticity of documentary evidence and digital material.
  • corroborating claims and allegations made by contributors wherever possible.

Section 4 – Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion

Introduction
Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences.
The Agreement accompanying the BBC’s Charter requires us to produce comprehensive, authoritative and impartial coverage of news and current affairs in the UK and throughout the world to support fair and informed debate. It specifies that we should do all we can to treat controversial subjects with due accuracy and impartiality in our news services and other programmes dealing with matters of public policy or of political or industrial controversy.

  • we seek to provide a properly balanced service consisting of a wide range of subject matter and views broadcast over an appropriate time scale across all our output.
  • we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.
  • we can explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed, but in doing so we do not misrepresent opposing views. They may also require a right of reply.
  • we must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects.
  • we must rigorously test contributors expressing contentious views during an interview whilst giving them a fair chance to set out their full response to our questions.
  • we should not automatically assume that academics and journalists from other organisations are impartial and make it clear to our audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint.

SECTION 17 – Accountability
The BBC is accountable to its audiences. Their continuing trust in the BBC is a crucial part of our contract with them. We will act in good faith by dealing fairly and openly with them.

We are open in admitting mistakes when they are made and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them.

We will use the BBC’s online presence to provide proper reporting to the public on complaints we have received, and actions we have taken.

8.         The Committee’s decision

The Committee considered the complaint against the relevant editorial standards, as set out in the BBC’s editorial guidelines. The guidelines are a statement of the BBC’s values and standards.

In reaching its decision the Committee took full account of all the available evidence, including (but not limited to) the Editorial Adviser’s Report and the subsequent submissions from the complainant, the programme team and the ECU.

The Committee noted that the ECU upheld this complaint with regard to a breach of the guidelines on impartiality. The appeal asked the Committee to consider the following outstanding issues:

  • the claims made in the programme were in breach of the obligations for accuracy.
  • the action as a result of the complaint being upheld by the ECU.
  • the BBC’s denial of the level of complaints the programme received.

 

The Appeal also raised issues requiring consideration of the editorial guidelines relating to accuracy and accountability.

The Committee noted that the appeal also raised the issue that the programme was in breach of the guideline on fairness to contributors.

The consideration of unfair treatment to contributors applies only to those who have directly featured or participated in a BBC programme.

As this issue concerns the contribution from another individual not associated to the EMP, and the contributor in question had not himself complained, the Committee confirmed that it was not appropriate to consider the editorial guidelines relating to unfair treatment in respect of this complaint. 

Complaint from the programme team

The Committee also noted a request by the programme team to review the ECU’s finding, upholding the complaint regarding impartiality.  The Committee concluded that it was not appropriate to review a decision to uphold an element of the complaint by BBC management and this request was not considered. 

  • Accuracy

 

The Committee considered the complainant’s claim that the programme was inaccurate, and that this aspect of the complaint had been overlooked by the ECU.

The relevant guidelines on accuracy state:

The BBC’s commitment to accuracy is a core editorial value and fundamental to our reputation. Our output must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We should be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation.

We will weigh all relevant facts and information to get at the truth.  Our output will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language.

We should not distort known facts, present invented material as fact, or knowingly do anything to mislead audiences.

We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct mistakes quickly and clearly.

The Committee considered the following statements from contributors to the programme:

Presenter:
“Why Tipu, why do you think animal experimentation is so important?”

Professor Tipu Aziz:
“Well, you see, I don’t think there’s an issue to that.  I don’t even think that there is a debate on that, because every medical therapy that exists today has come out of animal research, whether it’s the tablets you buy in a pharmacist’s, or whether the major heart surgery they undergo, or the brain implants I do, all of it has come out of animal research.”

And later in the programme:

Presenter:
“Seeing a rat with a wire in its head seems a long way from benefiting human patients, but for hundreds of years it’s basic experiments like this that have given doctors the foundation on which to build new therapies.”

Caroline Lacey:
“It’s at this stage that all medical advances are made.  It’s often not in a doctor’s surgery or hospital, it’s at this stage the medical advances are made.  And I think there’s little awareness of that in the public. And we’re not being cruel to animals in order to do this, but we’re trying to help everyone with our medical research.”

The Committee endorsed the ECU’s adjudication that there should have been a challenging argument, but it did not believe the lack of that argument rendered the programme inaccurate. It was satisfied that the contributors, Professor Aziz and Caroline Lacy, were professionally qualified and competent, and therefore entitled to express their views that all medical therapies and advances related to animal research; the main issue was that a counter argument was not represented, and this had been dealt with by the ECU’s upholding the complaint previously on the grounds of a breach of impartiality. The comments were duly accurate.

Finding: Not upheld regarding accuracy

Accountability

The Committee then considered the complainant’s further concerns: the action as a result of the complaint being upheld by the ECU; the BBC’s denial of the level of complaints the programme received.

The Committee considered these issues against the BBC’s editorial guidelines relating to Accountability, which state:

The BBC is accountable to its audiences. Their continuing trust in the BBC is a crucial part of our contract with them. We will act in good faith by dealing fairly and openly with them.

We are open in admitting mistakes when they are made and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them.

First the Committee considered the action taken by the ECU. It noted that the complainant felt the action resulting from the ECU’s decision to uphold two aspects of the complaint on impartiality did not go far enough. It considered the points raised by the complainant, including:

“…the only action the BBC intends to take is to desist from repeating the programme in its present form.”

“the damage done by Monkey’s Rats and Me must be rectified by screening a programme dealing specifically with scientific challenges to animal testing. The BBC owes it to its licence payers to redress the shameful balance of its output on this subject to date.”

The Committee concluded that the action taken by the ECU was appropriate. The Committee was satisfied that to prevent a further repeat was sufficient censure following its decision to uphold the complaint regarding impartiality. The Committee also noted that the complaint was handled correctly and in a timely manner at all stages.

The Committee then considered the issues concerning the finding published by the ECU on 9 July 2007. The Committee noted the concerns raised by the complainant including: the finding was published eight months after the programme was broadcast; the finding stated that “two other viewers complained in broadly similar terms”.

The Committee considered the complainant’s response to this:

“This is remarkable.  It may be that only two other viewers complained to the ECU, but I know that a significant number of people complained to BBC Information – don’t their views count?”

The Committee recognised the ECU’s published ruling was referring to the number of complaints the ECU had handled at stage 2 of the complaints process and agreed that this was therefore an accurate representation of the complaints received by the unit.

The Committee, however, also recognised that at stage I of the complaints process well over 100 people had complained of the programme’s bias in favour of animal testing. It agreed that when a finding referred to the number of complaints there may be occasions where complaints at stage 1 were also relevant.  

With regard to the length of time it had taken to publish the finding of the ECU, the Committee was satisfied that given the complexity of the complaint the time taken for publication had been reasonable following the ECU’s procedure to share a draft finding with all parties for comment ahead of a final ruling and later publication. 

Finding:  The complaint was not upheld regarding accountability.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/text/ecu_aprjun07.html

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