Monday 22 August 2011

The BBC's drink problem

Yet more pitiful health reporting from the nation's state broadcaster:

Children aged four in Wales' A & Es for drink and drugs

Children as young as four have been treated in accident and emergency departments in Wales for the effects of alcohol, research shows.

What research would that be?

Figures obtained by BBC Wales suggest at least 1,200 children attend casualty each year because of drink and drugs.

As you will gather, this is not just some rewritten press release from the British Medical Association (BMA). Instead, the Beeb has decided to do some low-grade investigative journalism of its own.

Naturally, however, the BMA takes centre stage:

Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the British Medical Association, said the issue was "increasingly worrying".

"I think it's pretty well recognised by health services and health professionals that there's an increasing problem with both alcohol and drug-related incidents with younger and younger people," said Dr Lewis.

"We see year-on-year increases with attendances at A & E departments, particularly for alcohol."

And that is where the BBC's figures come in, which they present in the chart below.

As you can see, alcohol-related hospital admissions for the 12-17 age group have increased from 605 to 833 in five years, thus giving partial support to the claim that...

Clive Wolfendale, chief executive of north Wales drug and alcohol agency Cais, said the problem of children regularly drinking to such extremes had taken off around five years ago.

But, as anyone with the slightest facility for critical thinking can see, there hasn't been a rise in admissions in the last five years. The only reason it looks like there has, is that the BBC wasn't able to get hold of the figures for Cardiff and Vale—which typically make up a quarter of the total—for 2006 and 2007. The national totals the BBC gives for those years cannot, therefore, be compared with the later years. No responsible statistician would think of comparing, or even showing, these totals, but this is the BBC and it's amateur night again.

For the three years which are comparable, there has been no significant change in admissions (818, 809 and 833), and in the four areas which do have full data, three of them saw a fall in admissions. And for the '11 and under' age group (shown on the Beeb's website), the numbers are very small but have not risen (14, 5, 10, 12 and 12 per annum). Oh, and the number of admissions for drugs has fallen.

What, then, is left of the idea that we are seeing "year-on-year increases with attendances at A & E departments" for "younger and younger people"? Nothing at all, and the BBC has the figures to prove it, if it was so inclined.

But it isn't inclined. Instead, it allows various temperance campaigners to make unfounded and unchallenged assertions. Like this, from the anti-alcohol 'charity' Cais (which receives 99.8% of its income from the government):

"Where kids go first for what might be described as a high is drink, rather than cannabis or opiates or ecstasy or legal highs. The substance of choice is alcohol," he said.

"The reasons for that are two-fold. First of all it's the cheapness and availability because, in real terms, it's cheaper that [sic] it's ever been."


Okay, one more time for the world. Alcohol is not cheaper in real terms than it has ever been. Alcohol is more expensive in real terms than it has ever been.

From the Office of National Statistics:

Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period.

And this is how the price of a pint of bitter changed in the last century:

I wouldn't expect temperance groups to admit to the fact that alcohol has never been pricier, but I would have hoped that the BBC would know this by now—God knows, they write enough stories about alcohol. If they had interviewed someone from the other side of the debate, they would have been told this. But, in defiance of the most basic standards of journalism, they didn't bother to solicit opposing views, nor did they bother with simple fact-checking.

"The second reason [for alcohol's popularity] is the general thrust of marketing," he added.

"The drink companies are on social networking sites and there's still a lot of direct advertising going on through sports sponsorship and so on."

How seamlessly we move from Friday's scare du jour to Monday's nonsense. As I mentioned in the previous post, Alcohol Concern's moral panic about online drinks marketing is silly season stuff. Alcohol marketing has never been more strictly regulated. If you are going to claim that underage drinking is on the rise (which it isn't), you need also to show that alcohol marketing is on the rise (which it isn't), otherwise you do not even have correlation, let alone causation. The only reason this fake charity is harping on about price and advertising is that the temperance movement's current political objectives are to increase prices and ban advertising.

This is reprehensible reporting from the BBC once again. Having gone to the trouble of getting the hospital statistics for Wales, their reporter—Kevin Leonard—sees that alcohol-related admissions for young people have been static or falling, but nevertheless decides to report that admissions are rising (albeit through quotes from interested parties). None of the quotes are challenged and no opposing views are allowed to be aired.

This kind of propaganda is now so common at the BBC that it is becoming difficult to believe that there is not an agenda at work. Whilst the BBC is not (quite) the worst offender when it comes to bad reporting of health issues, its coverage of alcohol issues is consistently biased and, unlike the Daily Mail, it cannot make the excuse that it needs to resort to sensationalism to attract customers.

This rubbish virtually fisks itself, but the facts are now peripheral. A narrative has been set in place that cheap alcohol and rampant drinks advertising has led to an epidemic of drinking, and the truth is not going to get in the way. We have unprecedentedly high prices, less drinks advertising than ever and a ten-year decline in drinking rates, but none of it matters. The temperance movement has stuck to their line and the BBC is right behind them come hell or high water.

UPDATE: Dick Puddlecote has spotted a cracking quote from the author of this tripe, Kevin Leonard, extolling the benefits of the NCTJ journalism course that turned him from geography graduate to BBC reporter.

“Whatever job you end up doing - I work on the BBC News website in Cardiff - you'll never regret getting those key journalism skills hammered home on an NCTJ course.”

He should demand a refund.


Anonymous said...

Indeed," the truth is not going to get in the way"!!

Dogmatic belief does tend to get that way.

But; remember, it is for the greater good and, to them, that is all that counts.

Gary K.

dearieme said...

Why would you expect the BBC to be unbiased in its coverage of alcohol? The BBC doesn't do "unbiased".

Dick Puddlecote said...

Quote of the day for me: “Whatever job you end up doing - I work on the BBC News website in Cardiff - you'll never regret getting those key journalism skills hammered home on an NCTJ course.”

Christopher Snowdon said...

Dick, that's a beauty. I've added it as an update.

Anonymous said...

When are these temperance campaigners going to realise there is a common type of English person (perhaps British person?), who, the more they get nagged about something by the Government, TV propagandists, Quangos and 'Charities', the more they are going to drink/smoke/what-ever.

I know for a fact that these twats have caused me to drink more, smoke more and have more salt on my chips.


Unknown said...

Whoa that is really bad, even for the BBC. I've written the following to the BBC website using their 'report an inaccurate story' form;

I am frankly disgusted! Are you incompetent or are you the propaganda wing of the BMA?

From the story linked below:-

"I think it's pretty well recognised by health services and health professionals that there's an increasing problem with both alcohol and drug-related incidents with younger and younger people," said Dr Lewis."

I'm afraid the data does not concur with Dr Lewis' statement, in fact it suggests there is not any increasing problem at all.

Any competent mathematician, not even statistician will tell you, with reference to the table of data titled "Casualty attendance - alcohol (age 12-17) " - you cannot include in any comparison the years 2006/7 because of the missing data from "Cardiff and Vale" for those years. The missing figures for Cardiff almost certainly explain the approximately 200 difference in the figures up to 2007 and from 2008 onwards.

This is appalingly bad reporting and I suggest this article is re-written. I also suggest you hire an editor with a modicum of mathematical knowledge. But I don't expect you will do either of these things because I believe you are the (taxpayer funded) propaganda wing of the BMA, ASH et-al.

Please prove me wrong!

Unknown said...

surprise, heard nothing back about my complaint so far and the story is still there in this state with these tables...