February 5th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in Global Radio, MMR, jeni barnett, legal chill, stifling criticism
[Update: links to transcripts and audio hosted elsewhere at bottom of post]
LBC have instructed their lawyers to contact me.
Two days ago I posted about a 7th Jan 2009 broadcast in which their presenter Jeni Barnett exemplified some of the most irresponsible, ill-informed, and ignorant anti-vaccination campaigning that I have ever heard on the public airwaves. This is important because it can cost lives, and you can read about the media’s MMR hoax here.
To illustrate my grave concerns, I posted the relevant segment about MMR from her show, 44 minutes, which a reader kindly excerpted for me from the rest of the three hour programme. It is my view that Jeni Barnett torpedoes her reputation in that audio excerpt so effectively that little explanation is needed.
LBC’s lawyers say that the clip I posted is a clear infringement of their copyright, that I must take it down immediately, that I must inform them when I have done so, and that they “reserve their rights”.
To me this raises several problems:
Firstly, I don’t even know what “reserving your rights” means. They are a large corporation worth around a billion pounds (genuinely), I am some bloke, they have a legal team, I have no money, they are making threats using technical terminology and I actually don’t understand what those words mean.
Secondly, more importantly, as I have written at length, the media have systematically and irresponsibly misrepresented the evidence on MMR. It is my view that individuals like Jeni Barnett - but more importantly, organisations like LBC and Global Radio who give them a mouthpiece and a platform - pose a serious danger to public health, with their ignorant outbursts, disseminated to the nation. This clip was extremely instructive as an example of that recurring theme, and it deserves to be freely accessible and widely discussed.
MMR vaccine uptake has dropped from 93% to around 75%, and to below 50% in London. Furthermore, the media have shown no sign of recognising and acknolwedging their role, and so it seems likely that they will go on to cause further harm on this but also, more importantly, on many other issues. I write about all this because I think it is interesting, and extremely important.
But thirdly, there is a question of the basic tools you need to illustrate a point. The clip I posted was, to my mind, hideous and unremitting: it went on for so long.
In fact it was so long, so unrelenting, and so misinformed that I really couldn’t express to you how hideous it was. If I tried, without the audio, you might think I was exaggerating. You might think that I was biased, that I was misrepresenting Jeni’s demeanour and views in this broadcast, that LBC and their parent company Global Audio are living up to the standards of basic responsibility which we might reasonably hold them to, as they shepherd Jeni’s views and explanations into our cars and kitchens. You might think that I was quoting Jeni out of context, cherrypicking only the ridiculous moments from an otherwise sensible, proportionate and responsible piece of public rhetoric.
Many of the specifics are discussed in the other post and associated comments (of varying sobriety as ever), but as a further brief illustration which has come to light today, on her website, Jeni Barnett is angry at the response to her broadcase being brought to a wider audience, and she is describing a nurse who rang in to disagree with her as “vicious”. Now, parenthetically, this strikes me as a slightly unkind and inappropriate thing to do as a wealthy public figure, a television and radio presenter, with an industry and (today we see them) lawyers behind you, to an individual working in the NHS for the good of the public on a low wage, with no such outlets, and no such resources. But more than that, I thought the nurse was actually very polite, despite Jeni talking over her, cutting her off, and expressing, as we have already discussed, unhelpful and ignorant views in a rather shrill and irresponsible fashion.
How can I convince you of this, if not with the audio recording?
You may wonder whether this legal move from LBC and Global Audio was solely about concerns over lost revenue, and infringement of copyright. That may well be the case. To be clear: if a listener is very motivated, the whole Jeni Barnett show, like all LBC shows, can be purchased from the company online, if you go through a registration process, give your credit card, and pay £4. I do not wish to deprive them of money, although I don’t think I’m realistically your first port of call if you are a regular LBC listener.
Ultimately it seems to me that the most important outcome of LBC’s actions will be to prevent an embarrassing, irresponsible and, more than anything, instructive piece of broadcasting from being more widely heard and discussed. That is a great shame, because episodes like this, and discussions around them, are important for the wider questions of the responsibility of the media, the misrepresentations and misunderstandings of evidence in science and health that they promote, and the impact that has on public health.
It is also concerning to think that it might join that long list of situations where lawyers have been used in a way that has retarded debate on important health issues (such as, in extremis, this memorable episode when a High Court judge criticised Andrew Wakefield for trying to use libel law to silence his critics).
So. If anybody is a proper media lawyer and is able to offer their services for free, do please contact me.
Without a formal opinion and a guarantee of legal backup that would last for the duration of a case, and financial resources to cover the cost of losing, it seems to me that the only safe way to keep this sorry piece of audio in the public domain is by large numbers of bloggers posting individual brief chunks, and blogging critically about them, using “fair use dealing” uncontroversially for brief slices, with me perhaps keeping tabs here of where people have posted these discussions and excerpts, in one reference post. Now there’s an idea. It might also be a useful project for media students as well as bloggers, and will bring google juice and visitors.
If you felt that this was an irresponsible piece of broadcasting, and an inappropriate use of the public bandwidth - which is licensed to companies such as Global Audio as a privilege by the nation - you may wish to complain about Jeni Barnett’s MMR show of 7th January 2009 to OFCOM.
Lastly, if they genuinely wish to “start a debate” - as the phrase is so commonly used - then I would invite LBC, Jeni Barnett, Global Audio, and their legal team to reconsider, and simply give permission for this clip to be made freely available, in the public domain, in full, as it was broadcast, so that it can be widely heard, understood, and discussed. The debate here is not about the dangers of MMR, but the dangers of the media.Update and transcripts +/- audio14:00 6th Feb.Running to get on with other stuff (grrr) but here is audio, transcripts, and a couple of quick points.
This is not about LBC or Jeni Barnett in general, this is about one perfect, instructive, illustrative example of a whole genre of irresponsible journalism that drove the media’s anti-vaccine campaign for ten solid years, with serious consequences for public health.
Because of that, I think it is important that this piece of audio can be heard freely, discussed openly, understood, and learnt from. I genuinely cannot understand the impulse to restrict that.
The audio is being hosted by various places below, and transcripts of the show are available spread around the following sites for the moment. Let me know if it is legal to post one transcript all in one place and I will do so, clearly I have no idea about copyright. Thanks to HolfordWatch for gathering these links.
Part 1. Frank. Jeni Barnett MMR show - full transcripthttp://scienceblogs.com//2009/02/jeni_barnett_mmr_show_-_full_t.phpPart 2. Martin of The Lay Scientist. The Barnett Transcript - http://www.layscience.net/node/485Part 3 Podblack Jeni Barnett On LBC 97.3FM UK Radio - vs John From Epsomhttp://podblack.com/?p=1222Part 4 Rachel Dunlop of Sceptics’ BookThis section covers ~ 19 to 24 mins . To see the preceding sectionhead topodblack.com. For the audio head to my YouTube channel.http://scepticsbook.com/2009/02/06/further-to-the-transcript-of-jeni-barnetts-diatribe-on-lbc-937fm/Part 5 Quackometerhttp://www.quackometer.net/blog/2009/02/jeni-barnett-mmr-rant-transcript-with.htmlPart 6 Holfordwatch Jeni Barnett and the Phone Call with Yasmin on the LBC MMR Segmenthttp://holfordwatch.info/2009/02/06/jeni-barnett-and-the-phone-call-with-yasmin-on-the-lbc-mmr-segment/
I can’t listen from this ancient PC in the bush but I’m told that the original joyous audio clip is available in the following locations:
Lastly, I write for a hobby, I can honestly say it never occurred to me when I took an excerpt of audio, broadcast on the airwaves into kitchens and cars, and made a brief blog post about it, that this could be considered “theft”. I welcome people lifting my output, I expect them to link back to me so people can find more of the same, and I am glad when people use my ideas and analyses, even (with a fleeting grudge) unattributed: that is what they are there for.
To me, these people with their lawyers, and their millions, are from another world. The fact that this has gone from a small blog post about a stupid radio clip to a blogstorm is a bit weird too, but excellent for getting a wider discussion going about the way that the media misrepresent health risks, and create scares.
Update - links
Amazing. Holfordwatch have kept track of the speed with which this story has spread overnight. I’m so pleased to see this dismal scaremongering, and LBC’s intemperate response, getting wide coverage.
Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc: Jeni Barnett and LBC start the clean-up operation
Frank Swain of Science Punk: LBC sic lawyers on Ben Goldacre over criticism of MMR show
SJ Cockell of Fuzzier Logic: MMR scaremongerer sicks the legal dogs on Ben Goldacre
Podblack of Podblack Cat: Ben Goldacre - Will Not, Should Not, Be Silenced On Jeni Barnett.
jdc of jdc325: MMR Scaremongering From Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics. Ugh.
Political Scientist: URGENT: The Joy of Law
Martin of The Lay Scientist: Jeni Barnett on MMR - The Complete Show.
Jason Brown of A Drunken Madman: More medical mendacity.
ES Armstrong of Scattergum: Jeni Barnett is an idiot.
Dr*T of Thinking is Dangerous: Is there a proper media lawyer in the house? Your country needs YOU.
Common Sense has updated the Measles graph for England and Wales.
Dr Rachie of The Sceptics’ Book: What are LBC and Jeni Barnett afraid of?
Press Gazette: LBC in legal warning to Ben Goldacre over MMR blog post
Anthony Cox of Black Triangle: MMR and legal threats and http://www.blacktriangle.org/blog/?p=1894″>The Today Programme’s irresponsible MMR interview
Quackometer: Jeni Barnett and Irresponsible Broadcasting
MacSpider of Spider Comment: Jeni Barnett, LBC, stupidity and threats
Londonist: MMR, For Some Reason, Still Controversial
Michael Grayer of Non-Toxic: Many Many Rants… and not much evidence.
It’s also had about a million tweets, including this from Phil Plait (yay), and the audio has appeared on wikileaks, but for how long I don’t know (millionaires take note: I am not responsible for the content of external websites).
I’ve also had emails saying that various people are working on transcripts, they’ve coordinated now and they’re almost complete. I’ve been sent a bit of one and I can only say, in black and white text this content is exceptionally informative reading. As I said at the outset, this is one of the finest exemplars I have seen of the antivaccination genre and I look forward to having it in a form where its strengths can be discussed again.
This was a broadcast on the public airwaves, it was widely felt to be irresponsible and misleading, and a review of it, and discussion about it, was important and informative. If Jeni, LBC, and Global Radio really felt that access to information was important, and that debates were worth having, I think they would encourage their legal team to reconsider, and simply give permission for this clip to be made freely available, in the public domain, in full, as it was broadcast, so that it can be widely heard, understood, and discussed.
Anooooother update:I have just had an off the record conversation with a senior person at LBC. I don’t understand why it has to be off the record, again, instead of a normal discussion about the issues, podcasted, whatever, but there you go.
I’m not allowed to tell you what we talked about (ricockulously…) but the bottom line is, I made the arguments, and they are adamant they will not allow this audio to be posted freely. Without details, I’m a nice guy, I wanted to like him, I wanted him to like me, I couldn’t believe we could disagree, but it was like communicating with someone from another universe.
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