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July 16th 2001 - 08:30 GMT

Panorama Complaint Partly Upheld

A complaint by leading UK ADHD specialist, Dr. Geoffrey Kewley, to the Broadcasting Standards Commission about the Panorama program "Kids On Pills" has been partly upheld. The program was broadcast on 18th April 2000 and gave a very controversial view of the prescribing of methylphenidate for ADD/ADHD in the UK. For our report on the program, click here.

Dr. Kewley was interviewed in the program and after its broadcast complained to the BSC about the way it was handled. The BSC partly upheld Dr. Kewley's complaint and reported the findings of their investigations. The summary of their report was as follows:

Panorama: Kids on Pills
BBC 1, 18 April 2000

The Broadcasting Standards Commission has partly upheld a complaint of unjust or unfair treatment from Dr Geoffrey Kewley about Panorama: Kids on Pills broadcast by BBC 1 on 18 April 2000. The programme examined the diagnosis and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The Commission considered that the programme-makers clearly outlined the issues that they intended to cover during Dr Kewley's interview and dealt with these. It considered that the programme-makers did not misrepresent the nature and content of the programme to Dr Kewley and it found no unfairness to him in this respect.

However the excerpt from his interview used in the programme gave only a partial account of Dr Kewley's views. It did not include his view that many health care experts regard Ritalin as an effective element in the management and treatment of ADHD. Nor did it include his statements concerning the mildness of the side effects of Ritalin and the need to relate the increased use of Ritalin to the greater incidence, recognition and treatment of the condition. The effect of only giving a partial account of Dr Kewley's views could have left viewers with the impression that Dr Kewley irresponsibly prescribed Ritalin. The Commission found unfairness to Dr Kewley in this respect.

Accordingly, the complaint was upheld in part.

adders.org contacted Dr. Kewley and he commented as follows:

"We regard the decision as very important, particularly for sufferers of ADHD and their families. It is a victory for common sense and highlights the duty of the BBC and the media generally to provide factual - rather than emotionally-driven - information, especially as Panorama has been considered by most people in the past to be a flagship programme and thus to be factually informative.

The BSC's regulations regarding complaints stipulate that one cannot complain about bias in a programme or misinformation per se. It will, however, consider complaints where it is possible to demonstrate that there was unfair treatment of a participant in the context of the programme in which they took part. I was asked - as an acknowledged expert of considerable years' experience of assessing and managing children with ADHD and related conditions - to participate in a programme on ADHD purporting to come from a" balanced and factual" perspective, apparently "looking at the argument from both sides."

In the event, the programme failed to recognise the wider societal and personal impact of ADHD and gave much less time and weight to statements by experts in the programme, such as me, Professor Jensen (who has lead the largest study on ADHD ever undertaken in the world) , who adopt an internationally recognised approach to the assessment and management of children with such problems and Prof Taylor who has been involved in research in this area for many years.

The large amount of time given to those making ill-informed, anecdotal and unscientific statements, allowed the programme to become emotionally driven and misleading, marginalising the reality of the suffering of children with ADHD and the importance of internationally-recognised and effective treatment. This, therefore, also denigrated my research-based and clinical experience input to the programme, the combination of which prevented the viewer from appreciating the facts, significant consequences and reality of untreated ADHD to sufferers and their families.

It was an extremely long, arduous and difficult process for us with many submissions to the BSC, which took an enormous amount of time in addition to my clinical and other workload. This culminated in our being required to also attend (with the programme makers) a lengthy committee hearing before a BSC panel so that final judgement could be made. However, I felt that this effort was most important and worthwhile to try and ensure that in the future we will see much more informed and balanced reporting of ADHD so that its importance as a distressing condition of enormous societal impact can be more fully recognised and that the complications of the untreated condition are put into perspective against the pseudocontroversy about side effects of medication."

Simon Hensby for adders.org

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