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BBC Watchdog

THE BBC's WATCHDOG 'HEALTHCHECK' AND THE 'FLAGRANT FLUORIDE FIT-UP'

In the February, 2001 edition of the BBC's Watchdog Healthcheck programme, the issue of fluoridated milk was briefly discussed.

The programme was filmed at the Eastman Dental Clinic in London and drew complaints about it's bias, and failure, to genuinely represent the concerns of the anti-fluoridation movement.

A number of issues can be raised about the offending programme and they are as follows:

  • The programme interviewer was (Dr) David Bull. At no time during the programme was any reference made to the fact that David Bull was a doctor. Even when the credits appeared at the end of the programme, David Bull's title was still absent. As a consequence, anyone viewing the programme would not have been aware that David Bull was a qualified doctor. In fact, the impression given was that David Bull was no more than a presenter with no academic qualifications. This in turn would have misled the viewer into thinking that David Bull was not sufficiently qualified to address the issue of the dangers of consuming fluoride.
  • It was not made clear that the university at which Dr Clare Ketley practices is the home of the British Fluoridation Society (BFS). The BFS is a Government-sponsored propaganda machine which promotes fluoridation.
  • Dr Clare Ketley made a number of claims which will be considered to be inaccurate and misleading. The following conversation was held between David Bull and Clare Ketley.
  • David Bull: "Are you concerned about side-effects such as fluorosis?"

    Clare Ketley: "Fluoride can cause a side-effect which discolours the teeth, the surface of the teeth. It is usually very mild and appears as just as white flecks which actually can't be seen very clearly. But it's a cosmetic problem really; it doesn't affect the general health at all; it's certainly not a public health issue; unlike tooth decay which is a very real public health problem."

    And on the subject of freedom of choice (whether a child receives fluoridated milk) ... "Parents have the ultimate responsibility."

Dr. Tony Lees

Dr Tony Lees, a fully qualified dentist with his own business, was initially invited to the Eastman Dental Clinic. But his participation was abruptly ended. He was going to warn the viewing public that sodium fluoride, used in the fluoridated milk featured on the programme, was a poisonous substance. It was alleged by the BBC that the item on fluoridated milk was only going to be a short one and that "... time constraints only allowed for one interview ...". By allowing only one interview, the BBC were perceived to be prejudiced in favour of the promoters of fluoridated milk.

Dr. David Bull

A very young and fresh-faced (Dr) David Bull. A casual laid-back appearance. He has the look of someone who is more suited to presenting the BBC's Blue Peter programme (sorry, David!).

Dr. Clare Ketley

Based at the home of the BFS (University of Liverpool), she put forward views which could have come straight out of the BFS' handbook on fluoride propaganda.

Children being fed 'insect poison' in milk

Dr David Bull: "... and you'd be happy to drink this milk?" These children, used as guinea-pigs for the programme makers, were asked what they thought about the taste of fluoridated milk.

How can the BBC justify the broadcast of children being feeding insect poison? Having said this, the 'untouchable' Jimmy Saville was also working for the BBC at the time. Part of the ethos at the BBC was not to challenge any of their celebrities with allegations of child abuse. They were, and may still be to this day, at least a partly protected clique.

Before this story continues, just a little bit of history ...



"Sweeney's Sodium Fluoride. KILLS ROACHES, CRICKETS, WATER BUGS, SILVERFISH"

"WARNING: May be fatal if swallowed! Do not breathe dust. Do not contaminate feed and foodstuffs. Keep out of reach of children and domestic animals."

"MAY BE FATAL IF SWALLOWED"

"KILLS ROACHES, CRICKETS, WATER BUGS, SILVERFISH"

"DO NOT CONTAMINATE FEED OR FOODSTUFFS"

"KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN ..."

Source of image: US EPA

Points of dispute:

Ketley: "Fluoride can cause a side-effect which discolours the teeth, the surface of the teeth."

Response: Ketley fails to mention that teeth can also be made brittle by fluoride causing them to chip and break.

Ketley: "It is usually very mild and appears as just as white flecks which actually can't be seen very clearly."

Response: It has already been established that fluorosis will occur in 48% of an exposed (to water fluoridation) population, and 12.5% (1 in 8) will have fluorosis of "aesthetic concern" (Government-sponsored scientific review of water fluoridation, final report, October 2001).

Ketley: "But it's a cosmetic problem really ..."

Response: No it's not. Fluorosis can lead to personality problems in children who do not wish to show their fluorosed (or chipped) teeth.

Ketley: "it doesn't affect the general health at all ..."

Response: Dangerous, irresponsible and assumptive. Ketley casually dismisses all of the evidence which shows how dangerous fluoride can be when consumed.

Ketley: "it's certainly not a public health issue ..."

Response: When fluorosis causes epidemics on a large scale (at 48% or even 12.5% of the populations affected), IT IS a public health issue.

Ketley: "Parents have the ultimate responsibility."

Response: Who exactly advises parents on the safety and efficacy of fluoride. In all probability, parents will not know of the dangers to which they expose their children in experiments involving fluorides. Therefore, these parents will be playing 'Russian roulette' with their children's health.

FURTHER CONCERNS

Clare Ketley also made a boast about the effectiveness of fluoride in milk (not fluoridated milk) stating that it is proven to reduce tooth decay. The type of fluoride added to milk used in these experiments is sodium fluoride. Sodium fluoride is a particularly poisonous substance. Although the process of manufacture is not readily available, it is assumed that sodium fluoride is added to milk for the purpose of 'capturing' calcium.

The theory here is that more calcium (as calcium fluoride) will be absorbed into the body and yet there is a seeming paradox. Calcium will, to some extent, 'neutralise' the sodium fluoride and result in it being excreted from the body. If the reverse happens and fluoride is absorbed as calcium fluoride, then it is likely the calcium component will help build stronger teeth. Either way, Ketley's remark about the effectiveness of fluoride in milk is somewhat curious.

CONCLUSION

The BBC has a responsibility to broadcast accurate information. The Watchdog Healthcheck programme allowed the promoters of fluoridated milk to make scurrilous and undisputed claims about the safety and efficacy of fluoride. The BBC should be reprimanded for not allowing sufficient time to allow an opponent of fluoridation to address the issues raised in the programme. As for David Bull, regardless of whatever qualities he may possess, was not apparently suitably qualified to challenge Clare Ketley's misleading remarks, and as a consequence, the general public would have been misled about the practice of fluoridation.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The BBC should be more sensitive of and responsible towards controversial issues inasmuch that programme items that contain potentially misleading information can result in serious consequences.

Any issue that is so important as public health must be allocated sufficient time for the topic in question to be properly investigated and debated by interested or involved parties.

The BBC should re-examine it's format for Watchdog Healthcheck and either extend the running time of the programme or concentrate exclusively on one issue per programme. Until this happens, the quality of programmes such as these will suffer and will only appeal to those members of the viewing public with short attention spans.

THE BBC's RESPONSE:

British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London, W1A IAA. Telephone 020 7580 4468. Fax 020 7765 5176.

Programme Complaints Unit

5 April 2001

Our Ref: [withheld]

Dear [name withheld]

Watchdog Healthcheck, BBC1, 19 February 2001

Thank you for your letter of 22 February. My team have now watched a tape of this programme and discussed the points you raise with the Editor, Mark Killick.

I am sorry you thought the item on fluoridated milk was biased and one-sided. I understand from Mark Killick that although Dr Lees was approached about participating in the programme, in the event time constraints only allowed for one interview and he was told that the presenter, Dr David Bull, would make it clear that people had concerns about fluoridation.

Announcing that Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield were planning to give fluoridated milk to some primary school children, David Bull said: "But this move is controversial because critics say that too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, which is a discoloration of the teeth."

He introduced Dr Clare Ketley as a specialist children's dentist and a supporter of fluoride, and it seemed to me that his questions to her made it clear that there were differing views on the question of fluoridation, and that not everyone would agree with the scheme. In addition to fluorosis, he raised the questions of freedom of choice and parental responsibility. I think the subject was tackled in a way which was suitable for a brief item in a programme such as this. Viewers would have been left in no doubt that fluoridation was a controversial issue, even though not all aspects of the controversy were explored.

Consequently, I do not believe I have grounds for upholding your complaint. I would nevertheless like to thank you for writing to me and for giving me an opportunity to address your concerns. They have been drawn to the attention of senior management in BBC Television.

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