Friday 20 January 2017

The Institute of Alcohol Studies is officially anti-alcohol

The Institute of Alcohol Studies (née the UK Temperance Alliance, ne´e the UK Alliance for the Suppression of the Traffic in all Intoxicating Liquors) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about a story in The Times last year headlined 'Anti-drink lobby drew up official safety limits'.

If you've read my article about the guideline group's internal documents, you will know that this is perfectly true. Four of the members of the guideline development group were affiliated with the Institute of Alcohol Studies (Linda Bauld, Gerard Hastings, Katherine Brown and Petra Meier). several others have a strong bias against alcohol and/or the alcohol industry, such as Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance. It is appropriate to describe these people as part of the anti-drink lobby and it is correct to call the IAS a temperance group.

The IAS was created by the Alliance House Foundation, which is an offshoot of the 19th century prohibitionist organisation the UK Alliance for the Suppression of the Traffic in all Intoxicating Liquors. One of the Alliance House Foundation's stated objectives is ‘to spread the principles of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks’. In 2015/16, IAS got £392,000 of its £401,713 income from the Alliance House Foundation, with the remainder coming from the National United Temperance Council and (surprise, surprise) the European Commission. It is 99.5 per cent funded by temperance groups who preach the doctrine of total abstinence.

Despite these indisputable facts, the head of IAS, Katherine Brown, had the nerve to complain about The Times story on the basis that no members of the guidelines panel 'have any links to “anti-alcohol organisations”'...

The complainant said that it was inaccurate of the headline to report that an anti-drink lobby drew up official safety limits, and that the headline was not supported by the text of the article. She said that the decision to lower the limits set out in the guidelines was made by the four chief medical officers for the UK nations, who were advised by the GDG [guideline development group]. She said that no members of the GDG were “anti-alcohol lobbyists”, nor do they have any links to “anti-alcohol organisations”.

The complainant said that the IAS was not an anti-alcohol organisation, and it did not have a view on whether individuals should drink or not drink. She also said that the IAS does not “seek to eradicate alcohol”, and that it had never published any work promoting total abstinence from alcohol, and does not share the aim of its funding body in promoting total abstinence. In any event, she said Ms Meier and Mr Hastings, while members of the GDG, were expert advisors to the IAS, not members of the organisation. She said that she had been a member of the BEG, responsible for reviewing the old drinking guidelines, not the GDG, and that Ms Bauld was a trustee of IAS, but not a member of the GDG. The complainant also disputed the views expressed by the publication’s source on the influence of the “anti-alcohol lobby” on the GDG’s workings; she provided a statement from the co-chair of the GDG supporting her view.

Unfortunately for the IAS, the regulator did not concur...

Findings of the Committee

10. While the article had reported that four figures involved in drawing up the guidelines were “members” of the IAS, it went on explain each of the four’s precise relationship with the organisation. While the Committee welcomed the clarification published in the newspaper, as well as online, it did not consider that it was significantly misleading to refer to the four as “members” of the IAS in light of their links with the organisation. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the IAS did not seek to eradicate alcohol. However, the article had made clear its basis for the characterisation of the IAS as an anti-alcohol organisation: details were provided of its relationship with AHF, and the newspaper’s source had provided its view on the influence they had on the GDG’s work. The Committee wished to make clear that it was not making a judgement on whether the IAS was anti-alcohol; rather, it had to decide whether the newspaper had provided sufficient evidence to support this characterisation. Overall, given the information of its relationship with the AHF outlined in the article, the Committee considered that the newspaper had provided a sufficient basis to support its characterisation; there was no breach of Clause 1.

12. While the headline reported that the “anti-drink lobby” had drawn up the official safety limits, the article’s first-line referred to the “panel of experts that helped reduce” the limits, and went on to make clear that their report was provided to Britain’s chief medical officers, who “announced the new limit in January”. In circumstances where it was not in dispute that the GDG’s report had advised the chief medical officers to reduce the limits, and the article reported that the final decision was made by the chief medical officers, it was not misleading for the headline to say that the “anti-drink lobby” – the basis for which the publication had explained – had drawn up the limits; this headline had also been supported by the text of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.

13. The complainant disputed the view of the newspaper’s source about the influence IAS members had on the GDG, and provided an alternative view from the chairman of the panel. In circumstances where the views expressed had been clearly presented in the article as the opinion of the source, and this source had “close knowledge” of the meetings that had taken place over a period of years, there was no breach of Clause 1.


14. The complaint was not upheld.


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