“No credibility as a researcher” - a letter to News24

A former Media24 journalist criticises the country’s biggest online news publication for publishing AIDS denialism

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Electron micrograph of Human Immunodeficiency Virions.
Three-dimensional images of HIV superimposed on electron micrographs of the virus. Constructed by Stephen Fuller, Centre for Human Genomics, Oxford University and taken from front cover of TAC magazine Equal Treatment.

Yesterday, News24 published an article that promoted the views of an AIDS denialist in support of former President Thabo Mbeki’s views. Marcus Low, the policy director of the Treatment Action Campaign, sent this letter to News24.

Dear News24 Team

I am writing to bring to your attention what I consider to be serious journalistic shortcomings in an article you published this morning titled “Mbeki was right about HIV and AIDS: Researchers”.

The article misleadingly presents Anthony Brink as an “independent researcher” and fails to mention his close and very public involvement in AIDS denialism.

The following two points should make it clear that Anthony Brink is not an independent researcher:

a.     Anthony Brink was a colleague and vocal supporter of the notorious AIDS denialist and vitamin salesman Matthias Rath and employed by the Rath Foundation. The Cape High Court found in 2008 that the Rath Foundation had conducted unauthorised clinical trials and ordered Rath to stop distributing his products. Brink’s involvement is well-known and on the public record.

b.     Brink wrote to the International Criminal Court charging former TAC chairperson Zackie Achmat with genocide. He asked the court to sentence Achmat to:

“permanent confinement in a small white steel and concrete cage, bright fluorescent light on all the time to keep an eye on him, his warders putting him out only to work every day in the prison garden to cultivate nutrient-rich vegetables, including when it’s raining, in order for him to repay his debt to society, with the ARVs he claims to take administered daily under close medical watch at the full prescribed dose, morning, noon and night, without interruption, to prevent him faking that he’s being treatment compliant, pushed ifnecessary down his forced-open gullet with a finger, or, if he bites, kicks and screams too much, dripped into his arm after he’s been restrained on a gurney with cable ties around his ankles, wrists and neck, until he gives up the ghost on them…”

Most importantly though, Brink has no credibility as a researcher. The only people who take him seriously is a very small group of AIDS denialists. The way the story is written makes him sound as if he has some greater credibility as a researcher. This is misleading and potentially harmful.

As a former Media24 journalist I understand that stories like these are written under significant time pressure. I also understand that there is an impulse to give air to a variety of views. In this case however, you have given prominence to the dangerous and anti-scientific views of a known AIDS denialist and misrepresented him to your readers as a serious and independent researcher. This is poor journalism.

I believe that it would be in the public interest and in the best interests of your readers if you retract the story or publish a correction.

Marcus Low

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