Why does the BBC link to JABS?

May 20, 2008 at 4:39 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Media) (, , , , )

I’ve been corresponding with the BBC with regard to their linking to the anti-vaccination pressure group JABS. This was my original complaint:

You have two “related internet links” on your MMR story. One is to a single journal that has a single article (plus one letter) relating to MMR (and that single article is regarding uptake rather than safety). The other is a link to a pressure group called JABS. Why, given the number of sites that have reliable information on the MMR vaccine, have you used these two links and ignored better quality / more relevant sites? The quality of ‘information’ on JABS is appalling – the site is
utterly partisan and has a shocking disregard for evidence. The ADC site contains only one relevant document and that is relevant only to a single, specific issue – that of vaccine uptake.

http://www.cdc.gov/od/science/iso/concerns/mmr_autism_factsheet.htm

http://www.mmrthefacts.nhs.uk/
[Name], England

BBC URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7226763.stm

This was the initial response:

Dear Mr [Name],
Many thanks for your message, and interest in the site.
I have added the MMR facts link to our story.

Kind regards,
[Name & Position]
BBC News website
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/

I followed this up with another email:

Good Afternoon,

I’ve been reading the JABS forum on-and-off for a while now and felt I should follow up a previous comment I submitted to your site:

I really think that giving JABS a platform for their views and linking to their site is a bad idea. It may seem like the BBC is “providing balance” by linking to anti-vaccination sites, but I don’t think that is really the case – I feel that the BBC is not just plugging a minority view, it is plugging a minority view that does not accord with the evidence. It is a bit like writing a piece on the Earth and linking to sites claiming that our planet is flat. A lot of the info on JABS comes from whale.to – a site that includes pieces on the dangers of vaccines alongside pieces accusing Richard Doll of being a Big Pharma stooge and articles about: a flying whale; the Illuminate; the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion; alien abduction and the author “burning his ass on a ley-line”. This post on JABS gives an indication of the quality of advice: http://www.jabs.org.uk/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1138. The advice given by the poster ‘Gus the Fuss’ is reckless beyond belief. I feel that it would be appropriate for the BBC to remove the link to JABS in the url given below (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7226763.stm) and I think the BBC should refrain from adding links to the JABS site in future reports.

The same person replied to my second query with this:

Dear [Name], Many thanks for your note. I am afraid that in the interests of balance we must link to Jabs. However, the tone of all of our coverage on MMR is very much that the jab is safe. Kind regards [Name]

I left it for a while, but the issue was still at the back of my mind – nagging me. So, eight days ago, I sent another missive to the BBC:

Dear [Name]

I am still concerned by the assumption that linking to JABS somehow provides ‘balance’. I was interested to note that you stated the BBC must link to JABS for balance – implying that you are somehow impelled to link to that site in order to make articles on vaccines fair and balanced.

Can I please ask the following questions:

Whose decision was it to link to JABS for balance?

How was that decision made?

Are there any sites other than JABS that the BBC could link to for ‘balance’?

Does the BBC link to alternative sites (a) for every story specifically in the health section of the BBC’s website and (b) for every story on the BBC’s website?

Would the BBC ever link to an alternative site other than JABS that gave reckless health advice?

Would the BBC consider a site propagating holocaust-denial appropriate to link to for articles about WWII?

Would the BBC consider a site propagating 9/11 conspiracy theories appropriate to link to for articles about 9/11?

Would the BBC link to Intelligent Design lobbyists to provide balance to articles referring to evolution?

The media seem to be in the habit of publishing “balanced” articles weighing the majority of scientific judgement against the other single opinion and it appears from the media reports that it’s two opinions of equal weight. This is not the case. I think the problem may be that journalists are applying the same principles to this as they would to a political dispute – where presenting both sides of the argument is usually a good idea.

Kind regards,
James.

Maybe the Health Department at the BBC are busy right now. I might not have come across very well in my emails. Perhaps I seemed a bit snippy or a tad obsessed. For whatever reason, they haven’t yet replied to my latest email. The thing that really surprised me was that the BBC had no comment on the JABS thread where Gus advised a worried parent to withdraw medical treatment from their sick child and switch off the baby monitor. Presumably they didn’t bother to read it. If they can’t be bothered to check on whether the links they provide are safe – or are recklessly dangerous – then why risk linking to any external site? I know they have that disclaimer that “the BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites”, but they don’t seem to link to holocaust deniers in stories about WWII. So why link to JABS?

8 Comments

  1. Political Scientist said,

    Great stuff, jdc: why not send your contact a short follow up email, asking if they got your previous one?

    I don’t think any of your emails come across as “a bit snippy or a tad obsessed”, so it may simply have slipped off your contacts radar.

    To be fair, the BBC does link to both the Holocaust Education Trust and David Irving’s website , although this is in the context of Irving’s trial, rather than a historical article on WWII.

    I agree the statement “we must link to Jabs [sic]” is a bit odd – where does that categorical imperative come from? – but at least you’ve caused them to link to a solid site like MMR – The Facts.

  2. jdc325 said,

    Thanks very much for your comments Political Scientist. I might give the Beeb a nudge on this in the next couple of days or so.

  3. censored said,

    The BBC Trust might be a good place to direct the last of your emails. I suspect the harassed young reporter is ticking boxes without thinking, and is under pressure to be ‘balanced’ at all times.

    Point out that balance doesn’t mean ‘airing diametrically opposed views’ but ‘reflecting the normal range’ and that JABS fall outside of that range.

  4. censored said,

    Oh and perhaps you should also say that balance is only really required when there is a genuine conflict. They wouldn’t balance an article on dinosaurs by linking to a site that says they were only put there by God to test us.

  5. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comments censored – a couple of really good suggestions there. Much appreciated!

  6. BobP said,

    The BBC is subject to the Freedom of Information Act
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/foi/

    I suggest you request a copy of the guidelines that they are working to, and any speicifc policy decisions regarding vaccinations.

    FOI requests have to be quite speicific or they risk being turned down. For more, look in the Badscience Forum under Activism

  7. Martin said,

    This is disturbing on several levels. I would strongly recommend an FOIA request to find out what’s going on behind the scenes.

  8. BBC Policy and the JABS Nutters said,

    […] about the faked MMR-Autism link over the last several years, and one of the things that myself and other bloggers have noticed is that they keep providing external links from articles to a group of nutters who […]

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