YESTERDAY, the Press Council published the adjudications regarding a story the Times-Age wrote on alternative health practices in Wairarapa. It was my first experience of dealing with Press Council complaints while at the Times-Age. Neither complaint was upheld; the Press Council found in favour of the newspaper.
Perhaps the "wins" could be seen as a win for freedom of the press versus the arrogance of medical science, who do not hold all the answers. It could be seen as a win for those who ardently believe in what they do, versus a surprising anger and hatred for what people believe as quackery.
Now, I grant you, if I am diagnosed with cancer I will want the best treatment that Western science-based medicine can offer. In addition, I understand the basic concepts behind homeopathy and naturopathy, but I have never experienced them and, if my life depended on it, probably wouldn't go near them. I have no view on whether homeopathy works or not. I have come across some alternative medical practices which I think are bonkers, such as machines that measure a body's "vibrations". Like any reasonable person, I have personal limits.
But, as a journalist, my "science" that I live by is akin to the line by Evelyn Beatrice Hall: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
That doesn't mean that everything you say gets published in a newspaper. If you truly want free speech, write on your Facebook page, publish a blog, or stand on a crate in a park. What goes in a newspaper is ultimately what the editor decides.
But what a newspaper should have the right to do is accurately report what people believe in. With alternative health stories, we argued the topic is of such enduring debate in society that we should be allowed to contribute without putting a health warning label on it.
You can be sure, when people are facing a medical situation that is potentially life-threatening, they'll look around. I'm a great believer in following the advice of doctors and lawyers, but it is wrong to assume people are so ignorant of the alternative health debate that a story on it risks lives. In the end, the ultimate freedom is being informed, and making a choice - and quite possibly trying everything.