Tag Archives: news media

Fluoridation: News media should check press releases from anti-fluoridationists

A recent ruling from the New Zealand Press Council warns against news media  publishing press releases from biased groups without providing context or seeking comment from any other party. The ruling resulted from a complaint  by Toi Te Ora Public Health Service against the coverage of the fluoridation issue by The Whakatane Beacon. For the full ruling see Source: TOI TE ORA PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE AGAINST WHAKATANE BEACON.

Specifically, the ruling relates to two articles:

  • “Dentist group dispels dire warning message” provided by Stan Litras, spokesman for Fluoride Information Network for Dentists (an anti-fluoridation group). It asserted the Bay of Plenty DHB claims that increased tooth decay would result from removal of fluoride were not supported by reliable metadata studies.
  • “No Fluoride commonsense to campaigner” gave the views of Jon Burness, Fluoride Free Whakatane spokesman. He claimed reports that Ministry of Health figures show no justification for adding fluoride.

The Press council concludes:

“Importantly both published articles were effectively press releases from interest groups with a particular point of view. As the Council has had cause to comment in two recently upheld complaints (Cases 2478 and 2483) running a press release, without seeking comment from any other party, does not make for a balanced piece of journalism. There are significant dangers in simply regurgitating a Press Release and it does not accord with best journalistic practice unless it is clearly spelt out as a Press Release.”

Media should be wary of misrepresentation

Stan Litras’s press release criticised evidence used by Dr de Wit from the District Health Board and medical officer of Health. It misrepresented de Wet, yet the newspaper failed to put the criticisms and allegations to him. The Press council described this as “a simple failure of journalistic principles.” It added that it “is the obligation of the publication to allow an individual to comment if mentioned or quoted indirectly in an article.”

The Press Council made a similar observation with Jon Burgess’s press release, pointing out that the claims in the article were not put to the Ministry of Health (whose data Burgess was misrepresenting). The council put this specific complaint to one side as it did not have a direct complaint from the Ministry. It did comment, though, “that again this was not the best journalistic practice.”

Anti-fluoridation groups like Litras’s  Fluoride Information Network of Dentists (an astroturf group for Fluoride Free New Zealand) are constantly providing press releases misrepresenting studies and experts. These manufactured press releases are circulated within the international anti-fluoride network and the tame websites and magazines run by the “natural”/alternative health industry. Occasionally they end up being published in more reputable mainstream media outlets where they can do more damage.

It would be nice to think the mainstream news media was sufficiently responsible to actually check out the claims being made by such obviously biased groups. It seems a simple principle to actually check with the experts or organisation whose data is being used in the press release (the Whakatane Beacon slipped up there). But it would also be nice to think that responsible news media attempts to provide balance when they are producing articles critical of scientific findings – even when provided by a maverick scientist into self-promotion. It surely doesn’t take much to work out which expert or institution should be asked for a balancing viewpoint.

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A human response to Christchurch quake

Rescue teams at the Christchurch CTV building site - Credit: MailOnline

New Zealanders are becoming aware of the magnitude of the  earthquake that hit Christchurch last Tuesday. I mean the human magnitude – not the geological one.

We had become so used to the aftershocks from the September 2010 earthquake that this one took a few hours to hit home. Now we have a nation-wide state of emergency and the death toll is rising. Its expected to be in the hundreds.

We are now seeing an Erebus effect: Every New Zealander will have a family member or friend who has died or been injured. In fact, because Christchurch was a centre for tourism and education of foreign students, the personal influence will be much wider than the country itself.

Human empathy

At SciBlogsNZ, Peter Griffin describes the losses suffered by the NZ News media in Christchurch (see Amid carnage media bears brunt of disaster). He also stresses that “the New Zealand media has actually responded impressively, with dignity and respect for the people of Christchurch.” I agree – their coverage has been very effective within New Zealand and  in supplying the overseas media.

This rapid and effective response by the media helped mobilise public sympathy and the huge efforts by the rest of the country to help in the search and rescue effort and support for survivors.

I have also been really impressed by how quickly other countries have responded with help. We had Australian search and rescue teams operating in Christchurch the day after the earthquake. More specialist teams are arriving from around the world. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, USA, UK and probably other countries. Medical and police teams are also arriving.

The media coverage is bringing home the seriousness of this earthquake to the rest of New Zealand and the rest of the world. And there has been an immediate response.

I think this illustrates something about our species. We are basically social and empathetic. We can sympathise with the plight of others and feel their pain. We do respond automatically.

And our ability to empathise goes well beyond our direct kin. In a sense technological developments have brought this about. Today news of such human emergencies spreads very quickly. People on the other side of the world can be aware of such problems within hours. And the ready availability of news, images and TV produces a reality which enhances our empathy.

In a sense members of these search and rescue and other specialist teams are fortunate. In such emergencies they have skills which can be immediately put to use. Consequently these teams often operate in countries other than their own.

The rest of us often feel frustrated that we can’t help more. However, there is always the need for financial help – and that is particularly appropriate in this particular emergency. Just be aware that there are a few scams out there – support the reliable charities.

For example: The NZ Red Cross, or the Christchurch Mayoral Earthquake Appeal (via Give a Little).

See also:
How to donate to Christchurch quake appeals
Help support Christchurch earthquake victims
New Zealand Earthquake Appeal
Humanity. Much better than expected.

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