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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 26th January 2012

Sometimes it is very disappointing to be right but at other times it is worse when you find you are not right enough. Last Thursday evening I heard a trail for a programme on BBC Radio4 and, as I blogged on Monday, the trail said the programme would be asking why khat, Catha edulis, was still legal in the UK.

That one word ‘still’ worried me and I feared the programme would make the assumption a ban was required and, after presenting the evidence from both sides, it would come down in favour of a ban. I was right about the programme being on the side of a ban but not right about it presenting both sides.

khat, Catha edulis

khat, Catha edulis

From the very beginning, where the reporter trespassed on private property in order to get thrown out and create the impression that the khat trade has something to hide, it was clear that the outcome of the ‘investigation’ was a foregone conclusion.

The only evidence presented came from Axel Klein one of the authors of ‘Chewing over Khat prohibition’ a well-reasoned document explaining why khat bans are more harmful than helpful. Every other contribution consisted of an anecdote. I’ll give one example. To counter the evidence that khat chewing in the Somali diaspora is an activity of older people the programme found a university student and presented his anecdote.

Because the issue of a ban on khat was been fully considered before, proponents have to suggest that things have changed since the 2005 ACMD review. This the reporter did by claiming that the amount of khat being imported has risen significantly in recent years without examining the growth in immigration from Somalia over the same period.

I’ve submitted a formal complaint to the BBC in the following words;

The programme had an agenda that khat should be banned in the UK. To support that agenda it interviewed a number of people only one of whom argued against a ban on khat. I know that other people who believe a ban would be a mistake were interviewed but their contributions were not broadcast.

Many of those supporting a ban were individuals offering anecdotal support for a ban. The overwhelming scientific evidence against a ban was all but ignored.

The MP Mark Lancaster was interviewed but not challenged about the appalling lack of knowledge he demonstrated on this subject in his own debate.

khat, Catha edulis

khat, Catha edulis

In spite of being told by a very senior policeman that there was no evidence for the involvement of terrorists in the marketing of khat, the reporter still suggested such involvement.

One contributor was introduced as a 'former addict' but there is no evidence that khat is addictive in the true sense. In fact, there is evidence that users who find the price is too high for them in times of shortage are able to go without, experiencing nothing worse than a football fan in the close season.

At no time did the report ask representatives of other European countries why the UK should be expected to do their job for them. They decided to outlaw khat, let them enforce their ban.

There was almost no mention of the American pressure on the matter, perhaps, because the programme makers knew that suggesting a ban on khat would be bending the knee to the USA would not help their case.

That last paragraph is key. It is thought that the USA is applying pressure for the UK to ‘fall into line’ and impose a ban. This is because its own ban has proved ineffectual and has exacerbated the alleged harm done to families that the ban was supposed to address by increasing the price at least five-fold.

There are those who think the reason the Daily Mail is so critical of the BBC is that it would like to see it broken up and be less of a competitor. It seems to me, after tonight’s fiasco, that there are some at the BBC who believe that, if they apply the same journalistic standards as the Daily Mail the criticism might end.