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The media plays an important role in the public debate regarding Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD). AOD Media Watch is run by a group of researchers and clinicians who work in the field. We aim to improve the reporting of AOD issues through putting the spotlight on stories that contain misinformation, perpetuate unnecessary moral panic and stigma.

At AOD Media Watch, our mission is to improve media reporting on AOD-related issues. We engage with the media by critical analysis of articles published across Australia. We offer feedback to journalists by celebrating great journalism and highlighting poor reporting.

16th October 2019: Who’s more against the Richmond medically supervised injection room – residents or the Herald Sun?

Negative coverage of the Richmond’s Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MSIR), Victoria’s one and only MSIR, poses a real threat to public health. The MSIR has been permitted on a trial basis for 24 months. Negative reporting may impact on the continuation of the MSIR beyond a trial, and such reporting is particularly apparent in the Herald Sun.

There are two key themes in the Herald Sun’s coverage; stigma, and a disregard for research.

“Richmond residents have been vocal about their views on the injecting room, but that’s not going to stop the state government spending $120,000 to a research firm to ask anyway.”

Independent evaluation research is an important component of any public health initiative, even though the functionality of MSIRs are already widely understood by researchers and health professionals. MSIRs save lives, drastically improve the amenity of local areas and provide a bridge for treatment. MSIRs provide care for people who overdose, reduce needle stick injuries and distribution of other contaminated drug paraphernalia by providing clean equipment and facilities for equipment disposal. The Richmond MSIR has achieved these outcomes already despite its short history. There are over 90 MSIRs around the world and not one person has ever lost their life from overdose in such a facility. Despite this, the MSIR in Kings Cross, Sydney, is the only other injecting centre in Australia.

The Herald Sun has implied that some Richmond residents’ views on the MSIR are the only views relevant to the MSIR’s evaluation and that the Herald Sun has a comprehensive understanding of the views of Richmond residents. And yet, Victoria Street Drug Solutions (VSDS), the grassroots residents’ campaign which, along with many others, advocated for the initial establishment of the MSIR, is comprised of Richmond residents and strongly supports the MSIR. Not only does the Herald Sun misunderstand the research evidence concerning MSIRs, it also appears to misrepresent many people living near the Richmond MSIR.

“ANGRY FAMILIES DEMAND INJECTION ROOM BE MOVED AWAY: Frustrated residents in North Richmond hope a new campaign which centres on a powerful new image will convince the State Government to move the supervised injection away from a primary school”

This excerpt demonstrates the stigma perpetuated by the Herald Sun, suggesting that there are deserving citizens (families) and undeserving citizens (people who inject drugs). Stigmatising assumptions concerning the proximity of children attending a school adjacent to people who use drugs also appears to have led to an oversight in this instance – the MSIR conceals drug use from the public and the school council supports the MSIR, as it has always done. If the MSIR is moved away from the primary school, it becomes more likely that people will use drugs in public nearby. The heroin market is what attracts people who inject drugs to the area, and moving the MSIR will not move the heroin market the pre-existed the facility.

“Junkies have been caught shooting up outside a Richmond primary school in the latest act of brazen behaviour near the suburb’s safe injecting room.”

The same issue of stigma arises in this excerpt, with the unfortunate addition of discriminatory language. Within drug contexts, the ‘J’ word is more or less equivalent to the ‘N’, ‘F’ and ‘B’ words. Discriminatory language can be characterised as hate speech and considered a crime.

While the Herald Sun has published the occasional article recognising the positive impacts of the Richmond MSIR, this has been far outweighed by the many articles they have published criticising the MSIR. There is a clear lack of balance and unfairness in this representation of Richmond residents and the accompanying evidence and stigma. Many people that read the Herald Sun have lost children, parents, friends and other loved ones to drug overdose, and the language used by the publication and other media outlets reinforces their grief and the shame associated with illicit drug use. The perspective and advocacy efforts of these residents has been neglected. This begs the question – is it residents who are against the MSIR, or is it the Herald Sun? And if they do oppose the MSIR, why now? The Herald Sun previously supported the long campaign for an injecting room conducted by the Yarra Drug and Health Forum. Is this pure tabloid exploitation and opportunism?

Authors:

Liam Engel, PhD candidate, News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra

Chloe Span, Family Project Officer at Family Drug Support and Social Work Masters Student at the University of Melbourne

AOD Media Watch Reviewers:

Jenny Valentish, Freelance journalist

Greg Denham, Executive Officer of Yarra Drug and Health Forum & Australian Representative for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Disclaimer: The authors take full responsibility for the content of this article.

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Journalists that would like to seek expert commentary on drug issues can contact AOD Media Watch who can provide referrals to a range of experts on the issue being reported. Guidelines for journalists can be accessed from our website and resources for the media are available from Mindframe.