BBC Trust: Panorama distorted facts in ADHD programme

The BBC will broadcast an on-screen correction and apologise after the BBC Trust found that an edition of Panorama breached guidelines on accuracy and impartiality by “distorting some known facts” during a programme.

The Trust’s editorial standards committee said it found fault with an edition of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme from November, 2007, which reported on new research into the treatment of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The committee found the BBC had failed to acknowledge a serious factual error and that the programme did not accurately report the findings of the US study, which looked at the safety and effectiveness of medication and behaviour therapy as treatments of ADHD.

The BBC breached its own editorial guidelines, the trust committee said, as the programme “distorted some of the known facts in its presentation of the study”.

In addition, the program relied solely on the views of Professor Pelham, one of the study authors, and failed to report the study findings in context.

The breaches of the guidelines were considered so serious that Mark Byford, deputy director general of the BBC, will meet with the editorial standards committee to discuss steps needed to ensure the mistakes are not repeated.

Publishing its findings today, the standards committee said: “The programme did not acknowledge that the view expressed by Professor Pelham was not the only view and that there were significant counter views.

“The arguments of those who believe that medication still has an important part to play in the treatment of children with ADHD, should have been included. The programme should also have provided more context.”

The Trust said Panorama should have included other points of view because the audience “should have been informed that there was a wide range of views on the subject”.

The investigation came after a third-party complained that the programme was “seriously inaccurate and unbalanced in the way it dealt with the issue of how ADHD should be treated”, the trust said today.

The complainant said the programme used the opinions of Professor Pelham “as if they were established truth”.

An apology will be broadcast during a future edition of Panorama, the trust said.

The complainant also raised issues about the handling of his complaint at each stage of the complaints procedure. The BBC Trust said decisions on those aspects of the complaint will be made separately.

A BBC News spokeswoman said: “BBC News will, of course, comply with the requirements of the BBC Trust. The trust did not conclude that the programme makers deliberately produced a programme they knew to be inaccurate.

“It has not questioned the integrity of the programme team but found that they had either misunderstood the underlying material that the team had in its possession, or had chosen just one interpretation of it and failed to place it in context.

“Two further complaints of material being used that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of children and of not protecting the welfare of the children featured in the programme were not upheld.”

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