I was expecting to speak at midday today at the launch of an excellent pamphlet The media guide to drugs: Key facts and figures for journalists produced by an organisation called DrugScope.
It is a superb, comprehensive piece of work, running to 140 pages, that should prove invaluable to all journalists who write at any time about drugs.
Sadly, there are no trains this morning from Brighton to London because of the snow, so I will not be able to attend the launch after all.
If I had done so, I would have said that newspapers have had a poor record in reporting on drugs. They have contributed to the widespread misunderstanding about the topic.
I would have expanded on the theme outlined in the quotation in my name carried on the back of the guide:
"I have despaired over the years about the hysterical and ill informed way in which the media, most especially the largest-selling popular newspapers, report on the subject of drugs. Journalists are too ready to accept myths and, by passing them on, contribute to yet further myth-making by their readers.
By reacting emotionally rather than rationally to the topic, and by denying reality, newspapers do a disservice to society.
This guide will surely help the next generation of journalists because it deals with facts that counter ignorance and prejudice. I believe it will prove invaluable."
From the early 1960s onwards, drugs have been grabbing the headlines in newspapers and have received huge coverage on television news bulletins and current affairs programmes.
But much of the reporting - or, at least, the sensationalist presentation of that reporting - has been hysterical and, too often, laced with inaccuracy. The result has been myth-making on a grand scale.
One key example of this are the regular "drug scare" stories. In 2006, when I wrote an article for DrugScope's magazine Druglink, about the media's handling of drugs issues, the country's youth were alleged to be suffering from "an epidemic" of "crystal meth." It turned out to be a nonsense.
Last year, the scare was all about mephedrone (aka "miaow miaow" or, because that clearly didn't fit The Sun's headline space, "meow meow"). There was an outcry about the supposed effects of this legal substance and a media campaign to have it outlawed.
I'm not doubting that it might have been harmful- as are a huge number of everyday substances if mis-used (ie, sniffed consistently).
But the major media claims about mephedrone's effects were almost all untrue, as you can read in the media guide (pages 82-84). Three myths exploded follow:
Mephedrone was responsible for over 20 deaths in the UK. Untrue.
Teachers were powerless to act because the drug is legal. Untrue. Teachers can confiscate any item if it puts pupils at risk (as they did in the 1980s with typewriter correction fluid).
The government dragged its feet over banning the drug. Untrue. The government is legally obliged to consult its drug experts. If they decide it should be controlled, then the legislation has to be drafted and put through the parliamentary process. That's democracy at work.
I advise all journalists to read the full three pages on this example before moving on to the excellent Q&A section that follows.
It has been clear to me for years that despite the condemnatory tone of almost all reporting on drugs, the media coverage has tended to achieve the opposite of its intention.
This is especially true of stories about celebrities and drugs. Instead of discouraging young people from taking drugs, such coverage has tended to glamourise the habit and therefore enticed more people to try drugs.
The drugs guide should be read by every journalist and would-be journalist. Copies should be on the shelves of every newsroom.
I am very sorry I couldn't be today's launch. It's available HERE . Download it now and get addicted to using it.
Posted by Roy Greenslade
December 02, 2010
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