LBC in legal warning to Ben Goldacre over MMR blog post

Medical journalist Ben Goldacre has been hit with a legal warning from London radio station LBC after he published an audio clip of an ‘irresponsible’ MMR phone-in on his website.

The Guardian columnist has told Press Gazette he is considering making a formal complaint to broadcasting regulator Ofcom about the 45-minute debate, in which presenter Jeni Barnett discusses the arguments against vaccinating children with the combined measles, mumps and rubella jab.

Barnett said in the the introduction to the debate: “Always at the back of it in my head is: Hold on a minute, there’s a drug company that’s making lots of money out of it.”

Goldacre posted the full audio on his blog on Tuesday because he said the phone-in revisited “all the typical misunderstandings” of the safety of the MMR jab, and was “beyond parody”.

He has since removed it after lawyers for Global Radio, LBC’s parent company, wrote to him claiming copyright infringement.

“It was a very interestingly irresponsible piece of broadcasting and I think that people should be able to freely hear it and discuss it,” Goldacre told Press Gazette.

“It’s probably the best example recently of media coverage as a whole being so seriously irresponsible that it’s become a serious public health problem.”

In a Press Gazette interview last October, Goldacre warned that the “incredibly poor quality of British [medical] journalism” was endangering people’s health.

He said MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 50 per cent in London since research by Dr Andrew Wakefield into a possible link between the jab and autism received widespread media coverage in 1998.

Goldacre said he was unconvinced by LBC’s argument of copyright infringement. The station runs a subscription-based audio service, charging users £4 a month to download shows as podcasts.

“I find it hard to believe that the reason [Global Radio] want me to take down the audio is because they think I’m interfering with their business model for selling content online,” he added.

“I think they’re embarrassed by this clip. It really does have to be heard to be believed.”

In a further blog post last night, Goldacre explained why he had removed the audio from his website. A group of bloggers is understood to be preparing a transcript of the phone-in.

“It wasn’t my intention for this to become the thing that Jeni Barnett is most known for on Google, which is inevitably what it’s going to be now,” Goldacre added.

A Global Radio spokesman confirmed that its legal team had contacted Goldacre as “he did not have the necessary permission to post the LBC 97.3 audio on the website”.

“LBC 97.3 invites debate and encourages people to share their views as part of London’s Biggest Conversation – which is what Jeni Barnett’s discussion about the MMR injection did,” he added.

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