(Austin, Texas) – The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) of London, an independent body that oversees journalism fairness in the UK, has issued an interim order calling for the Sunday Times to remove stories written by Brian Deer about Dr. Andrew Wakefield from its web site. Dr. Wakefield had filed an extensive complaint with the PCC regarding errors of fact in Deer’s reportage on the MMR vaccine and its possible relationship to autism. The General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK is presently hearing evidence involving Dr. Wakefield and two of his colleagues following a complaint to the GMC by Deer himself. The PCC decision today appears to indicate there are questions about the accuracy of the Deer stories.
The PCC complaint by Dr. Wakefield provides clear evidence that Deer’s allegations of “data fixing” by him are false. The complaint also accused Deer of an undisclosed conflict of interest since Deer also failed to reveal in his articles that he was the person who made the original complaint to the GMC, misleading the newspaper’s readers over the accuracy of his reporting.
“Given the ongoing nature of the dispute,” Stephen Abell of the PCC wrote, “the articles should be removed from the newspaper’s website until this matter has been concluded. This would not be an admission of any liability on the part of the newspaper.”
Although media are expected to respond promptly to complaints through an informal process, the Sunday Times took more than three months to answer detailed issues raised by Dr. Wakefield, and called upon legal representation to write the paper’s response. Despite this the paper’s management have failed to produce any evidence of “data fixing” by Dr. Wakefield. In its letter to Dr. Wakefield regarding his complaint against Deer, the PCC “expressed concern at the initial slowness of the newspaper’s response.” The PCC said it delayed a complete ruling until it has a fuller accounting of all information submitted to the GMC, but that the outcome of the GMC hearing is notrelevant to a final decision by the PCC.
“My contention has always been,” Dr. Wakefield explained, “And it always will be that journalism, before it is published, must stand on its merits with good documentation, sources, and corroboration. Deer’s stories fail on every count. I see no connection between the GMC’s hearing and a decision by the PCC. If the Sunday Times cannot defend the information today, which it can’t, then it was unable to do so at the time of publication.”
Wakefield has been one of the subjects of the longest GMC hearing in history. Although the hearing was expected to be concluded in August 2009, information from attorneys involved in presenting evidence indicate the case is not likely to be decided upon by the panel until December and may not conclude until early 2010.
About Thoughtful House: Thoughtful House advocates a multi-disciplinary treatment approach to treating autism and supports a ’safety-first’ vaccination policy. The research program at Thoughtful House is dedicated to understanding the biological origins of childhood developmental disorders and establishing best practices in treating children affected by these disorders. www.thoughtfulhouse.org