Early Day Motion 754: MMR Vaccine and the Media
The motion stated:
- "That this House expresses its support for the use of the combined MMR vaccine; notes with concern the re-emergence of measles and the loss of life and long-term health problems which will afflict children as a result of the decline in the vaccination rate which followed Dr Andrew Wakefield's now discredited research paper suggesting a link between MMR vaccine and autism; expresses its disappointment that ill-informed comments by presenters such as Jeni Barnett on her LBC radio show will continue to cause unfounded anxieties for many parents and are likely to result in some parents choosing not to vaccinate their children; recognises the right of Jeni Barnett as a parent to make her own judgement about vaccinations for her own children but implores her and others in the media to act more responsibly when making comments in the public domain; and further expresses its hope that in the future reporting the issue of MMR will be less sensationalist and more evidence-based."
- Early Day Motion 754: MMR Vaccine and the Media at www.parliament.uk
- Early Day Motion 754: MMR Vaccine and the Media at www.edms.org.uk
Background on Jeni Barnet and LBC's broadcast
In a show broadcast on January 7, 2009, Barnett's topics included the MMR vaccine. She and some callers expressed negative opinions of the vaccination and conventional medicine in general, and disagreed that recent disease outbreaks should be blamed on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. The views reflected those expressed in the late 1990s when the media took up concerns about possible linkage of the vaccine to autism raised by Dr Andrew Wakefield, at the time overhyped and since shown to be wrong. When a nurse phoned in to the show and asked Barnett if she knew what was in the MMR vaccine, Barnett admitted that she did not.
The discussion attracted criticism of its accuracy and possible negative influence on public health by doctor and journalist Ben Goldacre, who described the show as "irresponsible, ill-informed, and ignorant".
Following Goldacre's criticisms, which he placed on his blog along with an audio clip of the show in question, the companies that aired Barnett's show (LBC and Global Radio) issued legal threats to force removal of the audio clip on copyright grounds. Goldacre removed the audio, but it, and transcripts prepared from it, have been available by others via alternative sources in what the blog Techdirt called a 'Streisand Effect', alluding to the wider publicity arising from an attempt to remove material from the internet. Following this, the controversy received wider attention.
After the broadcast, Barnett admitted on her blog that she "did not have the facts to hand...[was] ill informed...As a responsible broadcaster I should have been better prepared" when she discussed her claims with medical professionals who called in to question her statements. Subsequently to this, all comments submitted to the blog entries dealing with this episode were removed from her site (although they have been archived elsewhere). According to Barnett's agent, Robert Common, they contained "extremely personal and abusive comments" although no such examples have been provided, and third-party archives of the comments do not appear to support this assessment.
Barnett's broadcast was the recipient of complaints to OfCom, and Ofcom investigated the show. Ofcom's found that:
- At times, it appeared that during this broadcast the presenter relied upon her anecdotal experience and was not adequately briefed on the wider public health issues and prevailing medical advice which this debate would undoubtedly also touch upon. For example, at times the schedule of other childhood immunisations were confused with the MMR triple vaccine schedule, and no reference at all was made to any current research contesting a link between autism and the MMR vaccine yet several anecdotal references were made supporting a link.
Based on the inclusion of alternate viewpoints from those expressed by Barnett, namely callers that included medical professionals criticising Barnett's statements, Ofcom's final ruling was that the broadcast did not violate rules against misleading portrayals of factual matters or undue prominence to minority views and opinions on matters of political or industrial controversy.
- Bad Science Bingo, with Jeni Barnett… NOW with added legal chill - Ben Goldacre
- Er, “help”. Legal Chill from LBC 97.3 and “Global Radio” over Jeni Barnett’s MMR scaremongering - Ben Goldacre
List of signees of the motion
The motion was signed by 129 MPs.
- "Goldacre on the ‘intellectual property absolutists’ - LBC’s legal warning"
- Jeni Barnett MMR show on LBC - full transcript
- "Radio Station Uses Copyright Claim To Try To Silence Bad Science Critic; Guess What Happens?", TechDirt, 6 February, 2009
- "The preposterous prejudice of the anti-MMR lobby", David Aaronovitch, Times Online, 10 February 2009
- "Bad Science columnist attracts a lawsuit threat", Ars Technica, 8 February 2009
- "MMR and Me", Jeni Barnett, 5 February, 2009
- "Personal comments detract from original MMR / LBC debate", journalism.co.uk, 11 February 2009
- Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 136, 22 June 2009, pages 39-44