Complaints Reports

Programme Complaints & Interventions Report

These reports are case summaries of complaints which appeared to raise issues of substance in relation to the interpretation of the ITC Programme Code. Summary statistics of non-substantive complaints can be found in the full reports which are obtainable from the ITC.

Showing Complaints & Interventions Report for TONIGHT WITH TREVOR MCDONALD

Channel: ITV1 (Granada)

Date & time: Monday 21 January: 8.00 pm

Category: Miscellaneous

Complaint from: 5 viewers

Background

This programme in ITV’s current affairs series focussed on what it described as “a revolutionary breakthrough in the treatment of dyslexia” as practised by DDAT (Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Attention Disorder Centre). The treatment works on the theory that the root cause of dyslexia lies not in the thinking brain – the ‘traditional’ view – but in the cerebellum, the part of the brain controlling co-ordination and balance. The programme tracked the progress of three dyslexics following the treatment programme over a period of six months. An information line at the end of the programme was a direct link to DDAT itself.

Issue

Five complaints were received, that this approach to treating dyslexia was not as new or revolutionary as Tonight with Trevor McDonald claimed, and that the effect of the programme was to raise false hopes of a ‘quick fix’ cure.

Assessment

In responding to these criticisms Granada said that the DDAT centre did not claim, in the programme, credit for, or ownership of, the research underlying their treatment regime. Granada pointed to DDAT’s Research Director’s statement on screen: “It is remarkably simple and I don’t understand why nobody else has done it before....All I’ve done is taken the building blocks of research that are there – they’re all proven and been repeatable in research – and I’ve just put them together”. Against this statement, however, were a number of references in the programme’s commentary to the novelty of DDAT’s approach: “...a revolutionary breakthrough in the treatment of dyslexia....A breakthrough has been made which dyslexia sufferers everywhere have been waiting for....A revolutionary exercise treatment which stimulates the brain....It’s here at DDAT that experts have begun thinking very differently about the causes of dyslexia”.

Having consulted with leading dyslexia organisations and other practitioners in the field, the ITC is satisfied that these claims by the programme that the DDAT treatment was both revolutionary and a breakthrough were not sustainable. The ‘cerebellar theory’ of dyslexia originated at least thirty years ago and exercise-based regimens, without the use of drugs or supplements, have been available in this country and the USA prior to the establishment of DDAT.

The ITC acknowledges the point made by Granada that “a mainstream current affairs programme – not an edition of a science programme or part of educational programming – could never...offer exhaustive debate over the many aspects of dyslexia, research and opinions relating to its treatment”. It is the ITC’s belief, however, that in covering issues where a debate exists a current affairs programme should reflect it. This should particularly be the case where the subject matter relates to the treatment of illness or disability, where the broadcaster should contextualise material in such a way as to minimise the risk of raising viewers’ early expectations of treatments and cures. Statements were made in the programme which the ITC believes would have been challenged, or set against progress via other treatments, if certain others in the field had been given the opportunity to contribute.

The ‘information line’ offered to viewers at the end of the programme provided no independent assessment of what had gone before but was simply a direct line through to DDAT and offered information solely related to DDAT’s treatment programme. This is inconsistent with the Code requirement that the broadcaster “must retain editorial responsibility for [such programme support] services”, a fact that Granada has acknowledged.

Conclusion

The programme was in breach of section 2.1 and 8.1 (i) of the ITC Programme Code.

Footnote: This finding deals exclusively with Granada’s reporting of DDAT, its treatment for dyslexia and the claims made by Granada in relation to that treatment. In making its adjudication, the ITC does not express nor does it seek to express any view whatsoever on DDAT as an organisation or the relative efficacy of its treatment for dyslexia neither of which was the subject to this finding.