False Balance or, as Original as My Cat.

Today has been a frustrating day. A day of same old, same old. A day of people repeating the same things they have gotten wrong in the past. A day that showed some people are incapable of stepping outside the safety of  their own comfortably held ideas and learning from past mistakes. A day where much of the media showed themselves as incapable of having original ideas or a social conscience.

What has caused my displeasure?

The tired old method of including an anti-vaxer in any immunisation news story.

The National Health Performance Authority’s report on childhood immunisation coverage was released today, which caused a flurry of media reports as one would expect.

It should have been simple. For some it was. The Age got it right with a story that simply stated the facts. The Byron Bay based Echo got it right too, with commendations for communities with high immunisation rates, and a dire warning from Dr Steve Hambleton president of the AMA, for those below the safe levels for community immunity.

The Maitland Mercury did a great piece too, reporting that the area has one of Australia’s top immunisation rates with 95.5 per cent of children ­vaccinated across the city and only 46 children not fully immunised.

Studio 10 outdid everyone with four minutes of strong, no nonsense commentary on the issue. Take a bow, Studio 10.

The Sydney Morning Herald, gave a non-vaccinating mother free rein to rattle off a bunch of anti-vaccine misconceptions in what could only be described as an exercise in normalising stupidity.  They must have copped some heat for it because later in the day these two sentences were added to the story:

According to the the federal Health Department’s “Myths and concerns about vaccination” vaccines do not weaken the immune system, but strengthen it by giving it the power to fight more diseases.

The World Health Organization has studied the concept of “immune overload” from multiple vaccines and found there is no evidence it is a real phenomenon.

Now that isn’t an exhaustive list, just the ones that came to my notice throughout the day. Then there was the T.V coverage, with journalists looking for participants from the early morning as indicated by this tweet at around 10am by Dr Dave Hawkes:

“Just contacted to be on TV tonight about vax rates in Melb. Said no bc I will not appear alongside antivaxers to give them credibility.”

Well done Dr Hawkes. It’s great to see some people understand the issues that qualified experts appearing in stories with anti-vax activists raise.

And it went on. Radio and T.V, falling over themselves to create false balance stories about immunisation including experts, and unqualified folks who find their ‘reckons’ in the google machine. The only one I actually got to watch was the channel 7 news at 6pm which included anti-vaccine mother and son activist team Wendy and Kenny Lydall, and a representative from the National Center for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. It went something like this;

(Obviously I am paraphrasing.)

Kenny: “I had chickenpox and measles, and that was fine. I’ve traveled in Africa and I didn’t catch anything.”

Cut to Wendy in her garden… Something about she didn’t vaccinate Kenny ‘cos she had severe reactions to vaccines herself.

Cut to representative from the National Center for Immunisation Research and Surveillance saying: “Children who aren’t immunised are at risk of catching some very nasty diseases.”

OH, YOU MEAN THE ONES KENNY JUST SAID HE HAD AND “IT WAS FINE”?

That went well, didn’t it?

Then over on channel 9 an anti-vaccine chiropractor appeared in a story. I know this type and they have no business speaking their special brand of nonsense in an immunisation news story.

To the elements of the media, and the experts who insist on participating in this kind of false balance: YOU ARE NOT HELPING!

Media, just stick to the facts. Don’t try to manufacture a story, if you must ‘add something’ to your report, why not speak to a parent who thinks vaccinating is an important personal and community issue? A parent who lost their child to a vaccine preventable disease? Or a parent living in fear because their community has such a low immunisation rate diseases are always present? A person living with the long term effects of  having contracted a vaccine preventable disease?  Or one of many community groups working to raise awareness of the importance of immunisation and the dangers of vaccine preventable diseases? You can add some interest to your story without giving a platform to dangerous, misinformed fools.

Professionals and experts, I’m going to give you a step by step way to deal with this issue.

1. Media make contact about a story, you ask “What is the angle of the story and will you be including an anti-vaccine advocate, or non-vaccinating parent?

2. If the media outlet tells you there will be none of the above, congratulate them and go ahead.

3. If the media outlet says there will be an anti-vaccine advocate, or non-vaccinating parent, simply say no. Explain to them what false balance is, how you appearing with such people adds legitimacy that they and their arguments are not entitled to, and that giving the ‘other side’ airtime is actually harmful to the community.

What is the worst thing that could happen? The media outlet gets someone else. Well, at least it isn’t you lowering yourself to appear in such nonsense. Or, they might go ahead with the anti-vaxxer alone. Knowing most of Australia’s anti-vaxxers, that probably isn’t a bad thing. They are pretty good at making themselves seem a bit unbalanced. At least you can hold your head high because you are not enabling false balance on such an important issue.

If you all do it, you can create change. People already are, why don’t you step up and be part of educating the media and stamping out this nonsense practice?

The false balance story is as original as the story my cat tells me every day when I come home from work: She is starving, and hasn’t been fed for a week. She has been telling me that for 15 years. Same old, same old. Surely the media and those who play a part in this circus are more original than my cat! Or are they?

cat

 

Two other bloggers had something to say about this as well. You can find those blogs here and here.

Edited to add: To the anti-vaxxers who have been commenting, thanks for stopping by. This post is about false balance,  if you feel you have something worthy to add to the issue of immunisation, I suggest you do it where the real discussion on that takes place: in the scientific peer review process. Get yourselves an education, do original research to actually test your claims and submit them to the peer review process. Don’t come here trying to have an argument armed with personal beliefs and tid-bits you found on google. I will not waste my time, or that of my readers by passing your nonsense through moderation. The same goes for the howls of “censorship” that will result from this statement.

Now, I have to go to work. My cat needs more food.

 

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