SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – March 2003

How fear can alter spending habits. Consumers in the UK are more likely to change their spending habits because of their personal fears than any other Europeans. Market analysts Datamonitor claim recent food scares have resulted in shoppers buying more expensive products in the belief it is a guarantee of better quality and fewer risks. Mid Sussex Argus.

MMR: the truth? "While ill-advised parents of autistic children pursue litigation against vaccine manufacturers – with negligible chances of success – doctors apprehensively await the return of serious infectious diseases that we only recently believed were on the verge of disappearance." Mike Fitzpatrick in Spiked.

Fast food 'addiction' feeds only lawyers. Is "hamburger addiction" like "heroin addiction?" Will fast-food chains become the next tobacco industry … Such implausible ideas got a boost recently in the respected British weekly New Scientist, which detailed "new and potentially explosive findings … that eating yourself into obesity isn't simply (due) to a lack of self-control." As a psychiatrist who specializes in treating conventional drug addicts and alcoholics, I find the claims flatly offensive. But unfortunately lawyers don't. USA Today.

Television programme makers have an ethical responsibility. We recently reported the effect of the death from cervical cancer of a character (Alma) in the television soap opera Coronation Street on the NHS cervical screening programme in the north west of England. Our studies showed an excess of 14 000 cervical smear tests performed as a result of the storyline (a 21% increase on the previous year)… The large increase in the number of smear tests led to a strain on local laboratories, with the time taken to report results increasing to beyond acceptable quality assurance limits – a factor likely to provoke excess anxiety in women. We also found that many women were prompted to attend for a cervical smear test because the storyline made them worry. This anxiety generating approach contrasts with current initiatives to encourage women to make an informed choice about screening. Television programme makers should realise the power of such stories not only to achieve maximal viewing figures but also to cause fear and anxiety, as well as the consumption of scarce healthcare resources. Those responsible for promoting health need to engage programme makers in a full ethical debate. BMJ – letter.