BBC Apologizes (a bit) for Promoting Quackery

Sorry, no time to write this up properly, but here's the complaint I submitted to the BBC about an item in a programme called "Melvyn in the Morning" transmitted by BBC Radio Lincolnshire on 24 January 2013:
Complaint Summary:

unchallenged promotion of bogus cancer treatments

Full Complaint:

The section of the programme between ~11:05 and ~11:35 contained a series of interviews with people who sell homeopathy and other quack treatments and people who claimed to have benefited from such treatments. One of the claims made was that such treatments are preferable to conventional medical treatment for cancer. If someone selling homeopathy made such claims on a website or advertisement, he or she would actually be breaking the law. None of the claims were discussed on the programme by anyone with scientific or medical knowledge. In short, the behaviour of this radio station was deeply unethical and irresponsible. When it comes to potentially fatal medical conditions, quackery promotion kills. Claims like this should never be broadcast without being challenged by someone who knows what they are talking about.
And the reply which I received

Dear Dr* Ward

Thanks for contacting us and apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

We raised your concerns with the Managing Editor of Radio Lincolnshire, Charlie Partridge, who has responded as follows:

“Dear Doctor Ward,

As Managing Editor of BBC Radio Lincolnshire I have reviewed the part of Melvyn Prior’s programme, broadcast on 24th January 2013, to which you refer. The context is that the Chief Medical Officer had been critical of homeopathic medicine which led the programme team to wonder what listeners’ experience of homeopathic and alternative medicines had been. Melvyn invited callers to tell him.

The segment to which you refer started with a call to a local registered homeopath, known to the programme, during which Melvyn discussed what homeopathy is and what it could be used for. The Chief Medical Officer’s views were explained to listeners clearly and consistently, giving a context to the contrary opinions being expressed. The other callers were all listeners to the programme with their own honestly held views. One caller said that her chest problems had been cured after using homeopathic remedies, another caller, herself a registered homeopath, discussed her view that homeopathy could help prevent things like hay fever. She was also quite specific that people should always consult their GP and that homeopathy should never replace conventional medicine. One caller referred to her daughter in law in the USA who’d had surgery for breast cancer and who had decided not to take the prescribed post- operative medicine for fear of side effects, and who had, instead, sourced some “ anti-cancer” pills from the internet. The caller said that her daughter in law was now well.

Later in the programme Melvyn read out an email critical of homeopathy. [I did not hear this]

Having listened in detail, I believe that the programme segment could not be construed as an endorsement of homeopathy, and was clearly intended as a platform for discussion of the Chief Medical Officer’s widely-reported comments. However I do think that at times, the presenter was insufficiently challenging, particularly to the assertions of the “breast cancer” caller. Melvyn could have been more assertive in the light of the lack of scientific evidence for homeopathy. [my emphasis]

I have discussed this with the programme team and have asked them to bear this in mind in future programmes. We will seek to put the balance right in a future programme. I would also add that had you called the programme we would have been delighted to put you on air to put your side of the debate.

Thank you for taking the time to share your views with us. We welcome this type of feedback, and do use it to inform future decisions about our programmes.”

We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints
There are a number of points here that I should take issue with, but I was pleased to read the words I have highlighted.

NB The caller who referred to her daughter in law in the USA reported that her daughter was advised to take Tamoxifen and had eschewed this in favour of homeopathic "remedies" (ie sugar). I don't have any real objection to the BBC broadcasting such anecdotes, but given the very real danger that other cancer sufferers might follow the example set by the caller's daughter and suffer an untimely death as a result, it was incumbent on the BBC to counter this anecdote with some science-based advice.

*non clinical

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