The Daily Mail’s coverage of vaccines is something that has caused a number of people concern. I thought that maybe it was driven by some ideological anti-vaccination stance (a point I made when I wrote about the Hepatitis B vaccine recently) but, as the Lay Science blog has pointed out, The Daily Mail is Campaigning Both For AND Against the HPV Vaccine in Different Countries Simultaneously.
This isn’t the only recent example of the apparent lack of joined-up thinking at the Fail. I managed to find another on the very same topic. Having collected five iffy anecdotes about adverse events supposedly caused by vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus and published them in the form of an article scaremongering about the vaccine, the Fail went on to write a piece warning that HPV causes throat cancer. When I left a comment on the latter article, it failed to make it through moderation. Despite my submitting a comment to this article, the site still states that “No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts?”
Having been heavily involved with the MMR scare, the Fail then began to distance itself and, while completely ignoring the role of the media in this debacle, began to publish articles that included criticism of Andrew Wakefield for causing alarm about the vaccine. I rather think that the Fail’s original reports caused considerable alarm, but that doesn’t seem to bother them. One article that mentioned Wakefield was this piece, bemoaning the return of “Victorian diseases”:
Rare infectious illnesses including typhoid, whooping cough and scarlet fever have soared by 166 per cent in the past two years, with the number of cases of mumps – a disease easily prevented with vaccine – rising from 125 in 2007 to 393 last year – an increase of 214 per cent.
I say “mentioned” and “was”, because the article no longer mentions him by name – the Fail have now removed a photograph and the related caption that blamed Wakefield for the rise in mumps. I’m going to have to start using backupurl or saving Fail articles to PDF if they are going to edit their articles (leaving no trace of the edit – which strikes me as disingenuous). The article does still state that “The rise could be a result of parents refusing the MMR jab after now-debunked claims in 2001 that it might be linked to autism.” They seem to now consider the claims of a link to be illegitimate. I don’t think that the claim was ever legitimate – but the Fail certainly reported it at the time in a way that implied (or even, on occasion, openly stated) that it was.
One could easily assume that scaremongering articles in the Fail reflect the views of their reporters or are part of a coherent editorial policy. I don’t – I now assume that these articles exist in order for the Fail to make money. You could speculate that perhaps they were anti-government rather than anti-vaccine or that they were simply disputatious contrarians, but I think that the bottom line is that they exist to make money and their articles are intended to bring in readers and maintain their profit margins. That they choose to make money by printing distorted, inaccurate, and misleading articles that can have a detrimental effect on public health is the really sick part of this. This is the callous end of the money-making spectrum. I believe that the Fail simply don’t care if people get sick or die – as long as there are sufficient Mail readers around to make the Daily Mail and General Trust PLC a tidy profit.
The article on London suffering from Victorian diseases ends with a quote from Justine Greening, MP for Putney:
‘The Government must do more to ensure the public health of Londoners.’
If the MP for Putney wishes the Government to ensure the public health of Londoners, she could start by lobbying for more effective regulation of the press. Forgive me for being cynical, but as Ms Greening’s name does not appear on the list of signatures to the EDM that called for future reporting of the MMR vaccine to be “less sensationalist and more evidence-based” I am not going to hold my breath. The Media Standards Trust, on the other hand, certainly are interested in press regulation. Here, they state that “The MST will now be looking for constructive ideas for reform. It will carry out extensive consultation over the course of this year and publish its recommendations in Part 2 of the review later in 2009. If you would like to be involved, please email martin.moore (at) mediastandardstrust.org or join in the debate by leaving a comment on Martin Moore’s blog.” [Martin Moore’s blog has an interesting recent post comparing various PCC statements on “Third Party Complaints” here.]
The Fail aren’t the only outfit obsessed with profit – Nick Davies in Flat Earth News describes the relentless search for profit that is now a characteristic of most mainstream media outlets.
Incidentally, Paul Dacre (editor of the Daily Fail) is appearing as a witness before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on 23rd April with reference to press standards, privacy and libel.