Update 7th October: The Beckley Foundation Report Cannabis Policy: Moving beyond Stalemate is online here
We’ve seen yet more examples of the media misreporting news relating to cannabis over the past week or so, either by simply ignoring developments or of just carrying the government line without question.
Firstly the need for law reform has been in the news again this week with yet another fact filled, evidence based report, it just won’t go away, will it? This time the report in question actually calls for law reform.
The latest contribution comes from the Beckley Foundation, a highly respected UN-accredited NGO.
The website describes The Beckley Foundation as being
…a charitable trust that promotes the investigation of consciousness and its modulation from a multidisciplinary perspective. The research we support aims to make significant theoretical advances that will also help develop practical applications: to ameliorate mental illness; comfort the dying; and enhance health, creativity and well-being.
Any organisation that’s involved with ” the investigation of consciousness and its modulation from a multidisciplinary perspective” is going to produce an interesting report when it comes to cannabis, clearly this is no “pro drug” “liberal” “free the weed” outfit. Indeed, the report it launched in the house of Lords this week demands to be taken seriously.
The report prepared by the Beckley Foundation was preppared for submission to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) which is to review the progress made following the last UN declaration in 1998, the one that aimed for a drug free world by 2008. The review will take place in 2009 and the aim of the Beckely Foundation is to ensure that this review is as transparent as possible – in other words evidence based, unlike the last one.
At the heart of the Foundation’s approach is an acceptance of the fact that illegal drugs are purer, cheaper, and more widely available than ever before. Laws against drugs are often severe but enforced in an arbitrary manner with little or no evidence to suggest they can ever be an effective way to control drug use.
This is especially true with regard to cannabis.
They estimate something like 160 million people worldwide use cannabis, indeed this is a conservative estimate so there’s probably a lot more. They also point out that differing regimes seem to have very little impact on the rates of use, especially when the polar opposites of the USA and Holland are examined. Worse still is the fact that as well as being largely ineffective at achieving its goals, law enforcement also produces problems of its own in terms of social tension, the growth of organised crime and so on.
All very familiar arguments, points which have been made time and time again by authoritative reports over the past few years and indeed by this very site.
But of course, such a report was far too off government message to expect widespread coverage and so it was with hardly any of the media reporting the launch. It was totally ignored by the usual gutter press suspects of course, the likes of the Daily Mail were never going to report findings like this, same goes for the Sun, The Mirror and all the rest.
Of those that did report it, the reports were mostly simple reprints of the Beckley press release with added quotes from the government. The similarity of all the reports – bar one – was noteworthy.
The main outlet for the government’s cannabis propaganda, the BBC, ignored the event completely online and a hence search of BBC news for Beckley foundation turns up absolutely nothing. A search for Cannabis only finds the usual on-message prohibition supporting stuff – reports of raids, police appointments and so on. We’ll come back to that later.
Sky news did better, at least it covered events. A search for beckely foundation cannabis produces a story headed
Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol’ – Cannabis is less harmful than drinking or smoking cigarettes, according to a report.
Well they got the headline wrong as this wasn’t the thrust of the report and this claim of being safer than booze or fags isn’t a new one made by the Beckley Foundation, but rather from a report published a year ago entitled “Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse” – clicky. As we’ll see, this was a mistake repeated elsewhere in other near identical reports.
The website report contains the main details of the story, but also a seemingly out of context and confused clip of the report’s author and is generally negative in tone towards the end. As may be expected it carries the government’s position without critical examination.
The Channel four news report is almost identical to that on Sky News, right down to the headlines as was the report in the Keighley News which was just about alone amongst the regional press to cover it.
How is it that such diverse and supposedly independent news agencies produced such near identical reports?
The Times ignored it, not a word.
However, the Guardian and the Independent both covered the news and actually reported what had happened. The headline in the Guardian was
Report urges regulated market for cannabis to replace prohibition
which was at least correct, the Guardian pointed out that:
The report, compiled by a group of scientists, academics and drug policy experts, suggests that much of the harm associated with cannabis use is “the result of prohibition itself, particularly the social harms arising from arrest and imprisonment.” Policies that control cannabis, whether draconian or liberal, appear to have little impact on the prevalence of consumption, it concluded.
Interestingly rather than simply printing the government responce, the report concluded with
The conclusions are unlikely to be embraced by the government or the Conservative party, both of which are opposed to relaxing restrictions on cannabis use.
Which is sadly the situation, but given the way all the other reports did it, an interesting approach.
The Independent report was utterly different coming as it did the next day, Friday 3rd. Indeed it was almost a jewel in the mud with its approach, being a question and answer format and not simple a carbon copy of all the other reports. Not only that, but the headline was very eye catching:
The Big Question: Is it time the world forgot about cannabis in its war against drugs?
There then follows the interesting and – although not perfect – a fairly well balanced discussion around the issues. It was quite a contrast to the rabid and largely fact free outburst by the Sunday edition of the same paper not so long ago. The Independent doesn’t seem to know what to think about cannabis, but at least it’s willing to report the issue and, apparently, to actually do a bit of thought provoking reporting these days.
All this is in stark contrast to a story originating from the government last week, with the announcement of a Cannabis coordinator being made by the Home Office on 26th September. The media generally carried the story and BBC in particular did its duty and reported this with New cannabis chief tackles farms. This article contained not a single word of criticism of the present policy, no mention of the fact that prohibition has gifted a massive trade to organised crime or is the cause of the present situation and contained no quote from law reform organisations or other critical analysis. Rather it simply repeated the Home Office press release, added quotes from the police and Vernon Coaker and published it as a “news” story. This is a shameful and blatant example of example of the BBC reporting what the government tells it to report.
It also contained this interesting snippet of information:
While some farms are amateur operations run by friends, many more are now part of international organised crime with links to South East Asia
Are they seriously telling us that most cannabis farms are controlled by organised crime? What of the thousands of small scale home grows?
The sad conclusion from all this, and other examples of mis-reporting and bias in recent times, is that the BBC certainly can’t be trusted to report news factually and objectively any longer. As far as cannabis is concerned at least, it’s track record is showing that it’s no more than a mouthpiece for the government.
Near the end of the Independent’s item on the Beckely Report was this comment:
So what are the chances that cannabis will cease to be internationally outlawed?
With the US running the show? Don’t hold your breath.
And that, probably more than anything else, is the real issue. Cannabis prohibition is driven by the USA with our country tagging along as a willing brown nosed poodle.
Despite the huge issues for the USA posed by its drug war, it’s been all but ignored in the current presidential election campaign and doesn’t seem to be an issue which is going to be allowed anywhere near the agenda. Judging by the way our media reports it – or more often than not fails to do so – the same goes for this country.
It’s called “keeping the lid on a problem”.