Our Opinion: Right decision to cancel anti-vaccination film

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For a film to be banned from screening, the organization doing the banning must be certain it is on solid ground. In the case of a documentary on vaccination, the Tribeca Film Festival is on that solid ground.

Tribeca co-founder Robert DeNiro banned "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" after viewing it with colleagues and experts. The film argues that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered up a link between vaccines and rising autism rates.

The film is written and directed by Andrew Wakefield, a former gastroenterologist who wrote a 1998 study on this alleged link. The study was retracted in 2010 but it continues to find favor with conspiracy theorists who keep it alive on the Internet.

The Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization have discredited this connection. Vaccines have all but eliminated some diseases and reduced the impact of others, and the anti-vaccine movement threatens to reverse decades of progress.

Mr. DeNiro, who has an autistic child with his wife Grace and scheduled the film without first seeing it, has been taking a pounding on social media for violating the First Amendment. The amendment refers to government censorship, and as a private business, Tribeca has a right to make its own decisions as to what it screens. People have a right to protest, as they have in the past when films were banned, more often than not for indefensible reasons, or boycott the festival, but the decision belongs to festival organizers.

Tribeca had never refused to screen a film, and it is obvious that Mr. DeNiro did not make his decision lightly. But in this case his desire to screen a variety of films on topics that are at times controversial had to give way to a far larger responsibility. He was obligated to use his good judgment and cancel a film that by spreading misinformation could persuade viewers not to vaccinate their children, leaving them, and others they come in contact with, susceptible to serious diseases.


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