Monday, 11 November 2013

Lobbying on the BBC. Heaven forfend!

David Nutt has got himself in hot water for what appears to be a sales pitch on BBC news.

The BBC made an "outrageous" decision by letting a controversial academic appeal for investment in a new drug which could prove addictive on Radio 4, according to critics.

Professor David Nutt's discussion on the Today programme of a drug he has helped develop which mimics the effects of alcohol was "lobbying which got disguised as a science item", one critic claimed.

A leading drugs charity rebutted Nutt's call for the Government to give an "explicit recommendation" in support of the drug, urging caution and warning that the invention could simply swap "one addictive substance for another".

The criticism follows Nutt's appearance on the BBC's flagship current affairs programme on Monday morning in which he discussed a drug which creates the intoxicating effects of alcohol without the negative health implications such as memory loss.

Repeated references were made during the segment to the fact that Nutt is seeking investment in his drug, which remains in the development stage.

Let's leave aside the point that "swapping one addictive substance for another" is what harm reduction is all about. I didn't hear the item and I am very sceptical about Professor Nutt's invention, but this sudden outrage about BBC news items being used for lobbying is hilarious. News items are constantly being used for lobbying, especially those related to health and science. Do you think that surveys asking teenagers what they think of cigarette packs are reported because they are of urgent scientific importance? Do you think that the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Control Studies conducts research to advance human understanding? Does the British Medical Journal publish studies that estimate the effect of a fizzy drink tax because they appeal to the intellectual curiosity of its readers?

Of course not. It's lobbying disguised as science all day long. And even when the news story isn't directly about the policy, the campaigners find a way to crowbar it in. A case in point is this very story about David Nutt...

Emily Robinson, deputy chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, rebuffed Nutt's call for the Coalition to throw its weight behind the new drug.

"We would urge caution on this. We agree that alcohol is a serious burden to the country. But what we would urge the Government to do is invest in policies that we know work to counter the problems of alcohol like minimum unit pricing and advertising restrictions," she said.

See what she did there?

David Nutt's crime appears to have been exploiting a news story in a way that could benefit him personally rather than impoverish everybody generally.

1 comment:

Ivan D said...

The tragedy is that the BBC may ultimately care in this case but only because Nutt has a commercial interest in what he is developing.

The corporation is quite happy to promote extreme vested interests provided that they are not commercial and the source is a "charity" or a parasite with enough letters after his name to be plausibly called an "expert"

It is pitiful that the BBC continues to use Alcohol Concern as a source.