Some of you may be aware that BBC Northern Ireland’s Health Correspondent (Marie-Louise Connolly) has been very outspoken on social media about Covid, the local Executive’s response and vaccines. There was a negative reaction when she tweeted her view that “the sooner the young ones are jabbed the better.” I’ve been advised by local citizen journalist Philip Watson, and others, that many people were unhappy about this matter. Together with Philip and others, we have drafted this ‘master’ complaint and we’re inviting NI residents to counter-sign. I’ve added a link to a short form at the bottom of this post where you can enter your details. Please only complete this if you are comfortable with having your details provided to the BBC as a complainant.
BBC NI Complaints Dept
Belfast BT2 8HQ
Complaint regarding BBC NI Health Correspondent behaviour on social media
We have become increasingly concerned recently regarding the behaviour of the BBC NI Health Correspondent on social media (Twitter). We refer to 2 specific examples:
In relation to item #1 above, the correspondent notes that in the previous 7 days the majority of positive CV19 tests came from those aged 0-19. She then goes to state “the sooner the young ones are jabbed the better”.
It’s quite clear that the correspondent is advocating vaccination of children but given that none of the current CV19 vaccinations are approved for use in under 16-year-olds, we find this opinion to be ill-advised and misinformed. The current vaccines have only received emergency, temporary use authorisation (valid for 1 year) and the Pfizer vaccine (for example) has an estimated study completion date of April 2023. The long-term adverse effects of the vaccinations remain unknown at this point.
We understand that prior complaints have been made in regard to item #1 and that the BBC responded to those complaints by saying “…..‘young ones’, meaning those aged under 59yrs.”. It seems quite a stretch to make the excuse on behalf of your correspondent that someone who is 58 years old is a “young one”. This is a weak response and there appears to be a direct correlation between your correspondent saying the majority of positive tests come from those under 19 and then stating “the sooner the young ones are jabbed the better”.
We believe it is not the role of a BBC journalist to offer opinions as if she is a medical professional and we believe it is not the job of a BBC journalist to promote vaccines, especially in children, where it does not have temporary use authorisation.
We would also bring to your attention that a recent Editorial in The BMJ stated:
Should childhood infection (and re-exposures in adults) continue to be typically mild, childhood vaccination will not be necessary to halt the pandemic. The marginal benefits should therefore be considered in the context of local healthcare resources, equitable distribution of vaccines globally, and a more nuanced understanding of the differences between vaccine and infection induced immunity.
Once most adults are vaccinated, circulation of SARS-CoV-2 may in fact be desirable, as it is likely to lead to primary infection early in life when disease is mild, followed by booster re-exposures throughout adulthood as transmission blocking immunity wanes but disease blocking immunity remains high.2225 This would keep reinfections mild and immunity up to date.
In relation to item #2 above, your correspondent informs people of the breaking news that the Astra Zeneca vaccine is no longer routinely offered for use in people under the age of 40 due to the risk of rare blood clots.
A young lady in the thread (under 40 years old) who has had the first Astra Zeneca vaccine is clearly distressed about this news. Your correspondent then proceeds to give her the advice that she should “go ahead and get second dose!!”. We believe that a BBC journalist should not be giving medical advice to people on social media – this should be between an individual and their medical professional, especially when that vaccine is no longer recommended for the age group that the individual falls into.
Given the above behaviour on social media (both of these examples are from Twitter), we would like to complain in the strongest possible terms that your correspondent has behaved in an unprofessional manner, cheerleading vaccination of children and publicly offering medical advice to those who are clearly distressed and should in fact be directed to a qualified medical practitioner.
We would like the BBC to return to their core values of professionalism, reporting the news without bias, not airing their opinion as fact, not cheerleading unapproved vaccines for children, nor offering medical advice to people they do not know on social media.
We would also like the BBC to clarify their statement regarding their definition of “young ones” being those “aged under 59yrs”. Who decided upon this definition and what other examples can you cite of the BBC or any other media outlet referring to “young ones” as people “under 59”?
Signed Jeffrey Peel and Co-Signatories
NOTE: We have now closed the signature form as we have now submitted a revised complaint to the BBC (June 1st, 2021) – and BBC NI has been informed that we received 207 co-signatories, including 195 resident in Northern Ireland. Many thanks if you were a co-signatory. You can, of course, submit your own complaint to the BBC. Here’s the link you need.