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.
20 June 2023: Cooking With Meth Canola: Overpriced oil and drug distractions
On the 14th of June 2023, several news outlets, including the ABC, the Age and Sky News, published a story about an Australian Federal Police (AFP) operation that seized six tons of methamphetamine concealed in a shipment of canola oil.
The meth canola stories look very similar. Presumably this is because they were heavily based on a media release by the AFP. The stories did not contain any commentary from outside of law enforcement and read like propaganda.
The meth canola stories implied that people using methamphetamine have made ‘selfish’ and ‘irresponsible’ anti-social choices. A recent study in Canada found that prohibition caused structural stigma that made it more difficult for people who use drugs to work and sometimes resulted in them resorting to crime. Some people use methamphetamine according to their prescription, under the advice of their doctor. Others use methamphetamine in a variety of ways they feel brings benefit to their lives. Judging people’s drug use distracts from the main drug harms faced by society; drug ignorance, criminalization and prejudice. The recent reporting on the AFP’s methamphetamine seizures only serves to perpetuate these harms.
The meth canola stories emphasise the figure provided by the AFP; $1.7 billion of methamphetamine. As AOD Media Watch has previously noted, such figures are based selling methamphetamine in tiny units. If the importer was to divide their meth into six million, one gram units and sell them at $300 a unit, a $1.7 billion valuation could be accurate, but it is very unlikely that the importer was planning to make six million individual sales.
The wholesale value of six tons of methamphetamine is significantly less than $1.7 billion, but this was not the only exaggeration made by the AFP. Assertions of their success in fighting the war on drugs are obtuse and extreme, claiming;
“Transnational serious organised crime groups are a national security threat. They undermine the Australian economy, social security system and financial system”
“Helping to prevent illicit drugs from coming into Australia is critical because it deprives organised crime from profiting and bankrolling other serious offences including child exploitation, sexual servitude and human trafficking.”
The war on drugs has created an international network of drug traffickers, where it is accepted that some drugs will always be seized by law enforcement. Seizures make no difference to the plans of drug traffickers. In many respects, drug seizures are exacerbating drug harms. If the AFP’s illicit drug prevention measures are so successful, why do drug networks continue to operate?
Why not focus on serious offences and ignore the drug distractions?
Greg Denham, Australian Representative for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
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.