Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lazy coverage of an important drugs story - a case study

And so back to the Government’s response to the Science and Technology Select Committee report on the Drug Classification…….

The media coverage of the Government’s response last Friday (13th October 2006) focused almost exclusively on the Government announcement that methamphetamine would be reclassified from Class B to Class A. It is important to point out that:

1) The Science and Technology Committee did not recommend that Methamphetamine be reclassified- they merely considered the process by which the decision was made; and..
2) The decision to reclassify methamphetamine was actually made months ago and was announced publicly by the Home Office Minister to the committee – and then published in the Committee’s report back in August – to near total media silence.

Neither of these facts were noted in any of last weeks media coverage, which focused almost exclusively on how awful and scary Methamphetamine is and by implication how sensible and indeed ‘tough’, the Government was being in reclassifying it.

This was a masterstroke of media spin on the Government’s part since it took control of the media agenda, turning it rather cunningly to their advantage on what should have been a day of highly critical reporting on the Government drugs policy. They knew that ‘scary new drug’ was a far more media friendly story than the minutiae of their detailed response to 50 different recommendations made by a Select Committee of nerdy science boffins, and they played it beautifully. It is to the great shame of almost all the media that covered this story so lazily and played along with this.

More significantly, the meth reclassification non-news story successfully distracted attention from the far more important issues raised by the rest of the of the Government response to the Sci-Tech Committee report, including the responses relating to things the Committee had actually recommended. The meth reclassification non-news also reduced coverage, to almost invisible, of the fact that clause two of the Drugs Act 2005 (the intent to supply thresholds that had caused media uproar only a few months previously) was being shelved. This was another drug story that potentially put the Government in a bad light, not because the descision to shelve Clause two was a mistake, but rather because they had only figured this out after it had been enacted (read the Transform briefing on this sorry tale here)

So, in a belated effort to rebalance the coverage somewhat, the Transform blog will, over the next few weeks be unpicking and critiquing some of what the Government’s response actually said.

first up will be the evidence (or otherwise) for the deterrent effect of classifying drugs.....

watch this space

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