Naming and Praising
The Social Issues Research Centre today launches a 'Naming and Praising' campaign, to highlight and encourage a recent shift towards more balanced reporting of health issues. Media monitoring at the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford has identified a small but significant trend away from 'carcinogen-of-the-week' journalism, towards a more responsible approach.
"We monitor social and cultural trends using a variety of 'barometers', including news media," said SIRC Director Kate Fox, "and in the past few months we have noticed that journalists seem increasingly reluctant to jump on the latest health-scare bandwagon."
"There has always been a brave minority who consistently avoid the slavish regurgitation of publicity-seeking press releases on health issues, but now we are seeing more journalists questioning the validity of this material and expressing concern about the harmful effects of publishing yet another unfounded scare or unnecessary warning."
"At the moment, this is only a small shift, but we think it is worth highlighting and encouraging. Journalists who adopt a responsible approach to reporting health issues – giving clear, accurate information and refusing to exaggerate risks for the sake of an eye-catching headline – deserve to be singled out for praise."
The Social Issues Research Centre will publish a regular 'Naming and Praising' column, highlighting examples of scare-proof journalism, on this web site.
Some recent examples of scare-proof reporting include:
Jeremy Laurance, June 3, 1999 – What does it take to scare people – Laurance questions the validity of the research on which the MMR scare stories were based He warns of the real dangers of rejecting vaccination: "Already parents are refusing to let their children have the MMR vaccine – coverage rates have dropped from 93 to 87 per cent since 1995. In doing so they are exchanging a theoretical and unproven risk of bowel disease for a certain and proven risk of brain damage." The Independent
Julia Hartley-Brewer, October 4, 1999 – Groundless fears on pill boost teen pregnancy – reports on the concerns expressed by the Brook Advisory Centres that widespread misinformation and unwarranted fears about the safety of contraceptive pills were to blame for the rise in teenage pregnancies. The Guardian
Matt Ridley, August 2, 1999 – in his Acid Test column in the Telegraph, questions the currently fashionable 'precautionary principle': "By saying that all potential risks, however remote, must be weighed more heavily than all potential benefits, it would prevent all innovation." We take risks in order to progress discusses phthalates and GM and takes a cynical view of publicity-seeking NGOs. "The willingness of governments and the media to be manipulated by publicity stunts is astonishing." The Daily Telegraph
Kevin Myers, August 19, 1999 – An Irishman's Diary – refuses to jump on the GM-scare bandwagon and questions the right of protestors to destroy GM crop trials in Ireland with little in the way of rational explanation to justify their actions. "This is the absurdity of the present campaign of neo-colonial arable vandalism which has destroyed 50 per cent of the Irish trial crop so far." The Irish Times.
Jay Rayner, August 8, 1999 – Why this NSPCC advert is harmful to children – questions the NSPCC's use of fear in their fund raising campaigns. Rayner warns that the level of protection advised by child-care charities may have a significant affect on child development "Of more concern to experts is what impact the NSPCC's constant stream of warnings will have upon child development. Raising children to be fully rounded individuals is about teaching them to deal with risk for themselves." The Guardian
Philip Johnston, August 3,1999 – Paranoid parents 'denying children freedom to play' – "Children are being denied the opportunities for play enjoyed by previous generations because of their parents' paranoia, research will confirm this week. An exaggerated fear of harm from strangers, worries about traffic and unwillingness to let a child do anything with risk attached are blamed for unprecedented over-protectiveness." The Daily Telegraph
Jenni Murray, September 28, 1999 – Parental fears that could kill our children – While sympathising with confused parents, Murray emphasises the real problem of the fall in the numbers of children being vaccinated against MMR to 88%, well below the 95% required to prevent an epidemic. The Express
Miriam Stoppard offers a Q&A section in her advice column in the Daily Mirror on the reasons Why MMR is really best for your baby. She compares the risks of casualties caused by the vaccine and those caused by the diseases themselves. "One child in 1000 who catches measles will either die or suffer brain damage. The risk with a vaccine is one in a million. No contest." Stoppard notes that parents' anxiety about the safety of their children makes them highly susceptible to media scares. The Daily Mirror
Angela Phillips, July 28, 1999 – writing in the Guardian, picks up on the theme of parental anxiety following the death of baby Leroy Elders from an overdose of salt. "This family seems to have fallen down a hole created not by under-regulation or lack of advice, but by the sheer quantity of advice and the level of detail which all new mothers are expected to assimilate. The feeding of babies has become a minefield: last week we heard that breast milk was contaminated, while last year it was bottled formula. Parents are terrified of doing something wrong." A bitter pill to swallow The Guardian
Richard Morrison, July 6, 1999 – Opinion piece in the Times discusses the mixed messages of the food experts, and the Belgian Coca-Cola scare, attributed to 'Mass Sociogenic Illness'. "If enough people believe a product to be bad for them. the groundswell of fear actually makes them feel poorly." The Times
BBC News Online (Sci-tech) October 4, 1999 – reported on the Lancet's imminent publication of Arpad Puzstai's work, but unlike many other publications it did not automatically assume that this would vindicate anti-GM campaigns or validate Puzstai's research. "However, the BBC understands that the paper does not confirm that the GM potatoes stunted the growth of rats. It does say the stomach lining of rats fed on GM potatoes are worse than those fed on a normal diet. The authors admit that this may not necessarily be because the potatoes were genetically modified – it could be due to other differences in the potato." BBC