If only UK broadcasters had the courage to put on a programme like ABC’s Media Watch, which has held bad journalism to account in Australia for more than 25 years. Our supposedly free and fearless press would be horrified at the idea of being called out on prime time TV for their shabby practices. And the latest expose from Media Watch (“everyone loves it until they’re on it”) has lessons for the UK.
Plain packaging for cigarettes is coming to the UK, sooner or later. The tobacco industry would rather it not happen at all. It’s already arrived Down Under, but The Australian (prop. R Murdoch) claimed recently that smoking had actually increased since the measure was brought in. Plain packaging was therefore a failure. Many media outlets in the UK then gleefully re-ran the story without checking first.
That, in a word, was unwise: yesterday, Media Watch showed that The Australian’s story was bunk. Between the last quarter of 2012, when plain packaging was introduced, and the first quarter of 2014, tobacco consumption had fallen by 5.3%. The tobacco industry has admitted that the number of smokers fell last year by 1.4%, with those that still smoke consuming 1.4% less in tobacco.
There was an increase in the number of cigarettes manufactured and sold on to retailers, but this was almost certainly down to those retailers wanting to beat an increase in the tobacco tax. The Murdoch press had been caught recycling Big Tobacco propaganda. Those who have run the story in the UK are now exposed as no more than useful idiots: the roll of shame is dispiritingly long.
Predictably, this starts with the Murdoch Times, and Bernard Lagan. It gets worse: the Telegraph has also run the story (HERE and HERE), additionally parroting industry scare stories that plain packaging might be illegal (which was also tried in Australia). At Telegraph blogs, Tim Wong has produced a supremely pretentious industry excuse note. And, as the man said, there’s more.
Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog ran the story as if it were fact, adding the angle that Tories might break away and support Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP over the issue. At the Spectator, Tory MP Nick de Bois obediently churned over the propaganda, while Ben Lazarus claimed plain packaging was all about “pseudoscience”.
And, to no surprise at all, Breitbart London also parroted Big Tobacco, with David Atherton, Andre Walker and Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam all churning without looking first. The Daily Mail has also been suckered. So thanks to Paul Barry and the team behind Media Watch, we can now behold Big Tobacco’s useful idiots in the UK, exposed by their sloppy journalism and ideological prejudice.
Some of them may not even be getting paid – which makes them even bigger idiots.