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BBC criticised over HIV paediatric testing documentary

The BBC admits that a documentary about the paediatric testing of HIV drugs in the US breached its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality

According to a report on the website of the UK newspaper The Guardian, the BBC has admitted that a documentary about the paediatric testing of HIV drugs breached its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

In unpublished documents read by MediaGuardian.co.uk, the BBC admitted "very serious issues" in a documentary entitled "Guinea Pig Kids" transmitted back in 2004. The corporation said the programme's faults had been discussed at the highest editorial level.

The initial complaint was made by the US Center for HIV Law and Policy, which received an adjudication on the programme at the end of July 2007, but was critical of the BBC for not publishing its findings.

The BBC told the centre that could not decide on what further action to take until the issues raised by the investigation had been concluded.

The documentary questioned the ethics of testing anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs on children at a New York care home, who, the documentary said had no choice in whether or not to take part in trials and no proper advocates to speak on their behalf, as they came from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Following an internal investigation at the BBC, the corporation upheld complaints about several key parts of the film and a related article on the BBC's website. The complaints included claims that HIV medicines given to the children were futile and dangerous and that children were taken from their families because they resisted the experimental drugs.

The BBC added that the film-makers falsely tried to create an association between the clinical trials and a loss of parental rights, while it also admitted that the film was biased toward the view that HIV medications do not prevent the replication of the virus, or that the virus even leads to AIDS.

Despite the adjudication, Jeanne Bergman, an activist with the Aidstruth.org and the Center for HIV Law and Policy, told MediaGuardian: "The BBC has been shamefully slow to respond to our urgent concerns. We have been asking them to examine our charges that this independent video is HIV-denialist propaganda with no basis in science or fact since the video was first broadcast in 2004.î

"I am horrified that the BBC would air a lurid, untrue video about HIV clinical research and treatment in the first place, and I am angry about the BBC's inexplicable delay in retracting publicly the very dangerous lies to which it has lent its fading legitimacy," she added.

A BBC spokesman confirmed that the adjudication had been made, but added that it had not been published because a meeting of news executives had not yet been held to decide on what action to take. He assured the Guardian that the corporation would publish the complaint on the BBC website as soon as the meeting had been held.

30th September 2008

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