Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Too much information

I'm really not convinced by the notion that in a free society, everything that can be reported should be reported. I'm not suggesting press censorship. More like a little media responsibility. Three recent stories have made me come to this conclusion:

1. MMR

In the UK, the rate of uptake of the immunisation for measles, mumps and rubella has suffered a serious knock in the wake of media hysteria surrounding a small, highly contested study that suggested that the vaccine could trigger autism. Ignoring the fact that the study was questionable for so many reasons, the media managed to instill a sense of paranoia in the majority of parents whose children were approaching immunisation age. If I had been in the parent position at that time, I'd have been pretty worried on the basis of what was being said in the mainstream media.

Fortunately the scaremongering seems largely to have died down, but unfortunately the damage is still tangible. Uptake rates are still lower than they were prior to the scare, with a consequent rise in the number of cases of measles. Just a few days after reporting that, however, the BBC decided it was a good idea to run a story headed "MMR overdose given to 93 pupils". Oh heck, think I, imagining misplaced decimal points resulting in a bunch of 2-year-olds being given 10 times the recommended dose. But then I actually read the story. Turns out that the pupils in question were a pretty robust 14-15 years of age. And the 'overdose' they referred to is not too high a dose, but a third dose when the pupils had already had the requisite two, due to a mix up where parents signed their kids up for another dose by mistake. No harm done. I doubt the kids in question even experienced any side-effects. So why put a story like that under an alarmist headline and stick a link to it on the front page of BBC News? What were they trying to achieve?

2. Northern Rock

So, a UK bank borrows some money from the Bank of England, and all of a sudden there's mayhem with customers clearing out their accounts, making the bank far more likely to go bust than it ever was in the first place. I can't help but wonder whether the initial reporting could have done more to prevent the chaos, or whether the media secretly love a bit of panic from the general public. Admittedly, the message from early on was 'nothing to worry about', but when the story is simultaneously front page news, then it's hard to expect people not to react adversely.

3. Too much information in general

There was a case recently where a British actor was found guilty of downloading and viewing inappropriate material of children on his computer. His sentencing took place last week.

It is fine that this was reported. It was fine that they described the nature of the material as being 'class 5' i.e. the worst type of material in the classification system. What I consider to be of highly dubious merit was for the reporter to then describe the nature of material that falls into all the five classes. I cannot tell you how bad the material in this case was, because I had switched off the TV by the time they were halfway through class 3. Who gains from that kind of reporting?

Who gains from any of the above, in fact?

1 comment:

Custard. said...

It is in the interests of newspapers to print whatever will sell papers.

If that means creating a panic, that tends to sell more papers...

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