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.

16 May 2022: Won’t Somebody Think of the Children: From Icy Poles to Ice Pipes

In February 2022, the Herald Sun ran a feature story on a proposed new Melbourne MSIC. This piece was essentially propaganda that excluded factual data and used graphic images and sensationalist language to incite moral panic.

The Herald Sun has a long history of stigmatising reporting on medically supervised injection centres (MSIC), particularly facilities around Melbourne.

In 2018, the Sun published an article headlined ‘Re-jecting room, Addicts Snub Injecting Room’, which misrepresented the importance and value of these harm reduction facilities. This was the first time AOD Media Watch covered the Sun’s biased reporting on MSIC’s around Melbourne, but sadly not the last.

The Sun has since circulated no less than seven articles with the same anti-MSIC agenda, which AOD Watch has covered. As a result of their harmful reporting practices, in 2020 AOD Media Watch filed a complaint against the Herald Sun to the Australian Press Council, claiming the Sun did not act in the public’s best interest, breached privacy of citizens, and published misleading information.

This time, the title reads ‘Children Play Among Addicts and Needles.’ The article features a jarring account of children coming across a corpse – ‘believed’ to be drug-related. Whilst featuring the community’s attitudes on issues of alcohol and other drug use is in the public’s interest, the Herald Sun’s journalists chose to only provide one end of the spectrum. According to the State of Victoria’s Medically Supervised Injecting Room Review Panel, public opinion on the MSIC is far from unanimous.

It seems that this could be a case of the author believing what they want to believe, as no evidence is provided to attest to the involvement of drugs in the death in question. Even if the death was drug-related, medical supervision may have provided an opportunity for a life-saving intervention.

Images that have appeared in The Herald Sun. AOD MW have blurred faces to protect identities.

In place of statistical data suggesting an increase in visibility of drug injecting behaviour, the paper again attempted to elicit disgust in readers with salacious images.  This mirrored a similar tactic employed in a 2020 when the Sun printed headlines titled ‘Smack City’, which included exploitative images of a seemingly unconscious person.

The Herald Sun employs stigmatising language – such as the term ‘addict’- throughout its stories. These types of labels have the effect of dehumanizing the person being referred to while simultaneously conveying superiority on readers. Along with the confronting imagery, it’s a powerful sales tool, and one the paper has relied on since the MSIC first opened.

The article claims that Richmond’s MSIC has increased the frequency of public injection behaviour. Yet, the State of Victoria’s Medically Supervised Injecting Review Panel found a decrease in reports of public injection, with no or little change in drug paraphernalia encounters. The Sun article also makes claims of increased violence and anti-social behaviour that are similarly unsupported.

This article is an example of cherry-picking data to support The Sun’s bias against MSICs. The article is also an example of leveraging a tragic death for political purposes.

Throughout the Herald Sun’s article, a clear disconnect between the working community and those who use drugs is present. Through excluding the voices of people who use drugs and utilising language such as ‘addicts’, and ‘us vs. them’ discourse arises.

The Herald Sun’s failure to position people who use drugs as indistinguishable from the community furthers stigma and discrimination of people who use drugs, strengthening the structural equalities that fuel drug related harm

Don’t be fooled. MSICs are essential for harm reduction and Melbourne could use a whole lot more of them… but don’t expect to be reading that in The Sun any time soon.

Author:

Emily Segers, Edith Cowan University student

Disclaimer: The author takes 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.