SIRC Media Watch Archive
Comment and Opinion – August 2000

'Named and Praised': Tim Radford. A SIRC 'Naming and Praising' award for responsible reporting of health issues goes to Tim Radford, Science Editor of the Guardian, for his report on gene therapy for heart patients, in which he manages to get all of the relevant caveats into the first two sentences. Radford's first paragraph is a shining example of how to report medical advances without raising false hopes: note his judicious use of qualifiers such as 'claim', 'small group', 'if', 'could' and 'in many cases'. Guardian.

Science or Pro-Life Scaremongering? The Mail on Sunday's misleading and irresponsible coverage of the alleged links between abortion and breast cancer is just the latest in a long line of half truths, distortions and inaccuracies which masquerade as health reporting in some sections of the media. While some papers such as the Express meekly repeated the story the following day, only the Guardian and BBC Online mounted any significant challenge. The Mail alleged two things. Firstly, research systematically shows a causal link between having an abortion and subsequently contracting breast cancer. Secondly, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists supported this view. Neither are true. Full story.

Closing time at the Last-Chance Saloon? Over 10 years ago the then National Heritage Secretary, David Mellor, commented that the behaviour of some parts of the British media was so outrageous that controls on the 'sacred cow' of press freedom were necessary to curb their more extreme activities. They were, he said, "drinking in the Last-Chance Saloon." He was later to be driven from office after a press campaign which highlighted certain features of his personal relationships.
A decade on, a man commits suicide because of the mob hysteria generated by the News of the World – a paper which, on the one hand, publishes pictures of semi-naked teenage girls and, on the other, vilifies those attracted to images of those only slightly younger. Full story.

Homocysteine will be 'the new Cholesterol'? SIRC's monitoring of trends in dietary fashions and taboos indicates that meat will be the next nutritional folk-devil. In recent years, fat-bashing and fears about cholesterol, while still popular, have been overtaken to some extent by carbo-phobia and anxiety about 'glycemic load'. While these problems will not go away, early warning signs show that the next food to be demonised will be animal protein, and worry about high homocysteine levels (or 'protein intoxication', as it is already being called) will be on a par with concern about cholesterol counts.Full Story.