Thursday, 21 July 2011

Shoddy Mail Journalism

I have used the title of 'shoddy' journalism for the Mail, as I struggled to think of a more apt word, but I hope you agree that their front page today goes beyond shoddy, and in my eyes should be illegal.

The Mail appears not to have heard of the presumption of 'Innocent until proven guilty'
It may or may not turn out to be the case that this nurse was in fact responsible for the deaths of patients at Stepping Hill hospital. If she did indeed tamper with the saline bags then clearly she is a reprehensible individual who should be dealt with by the full force of the law.

However, she should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and a front page splash like this is no way to treat an innocent individual. If it were to be found that she was in fact innocent, this nurse could well have her career ruined as patients recognise her face as being the one that the Mail claimed was responsible. Social ties that she has made and recently had broken as they peel away in disgust may never be remade.

Whatever the outcome of this, guilty or innocent, this nurse has had her life changed in a major way, and had it changed irreversibly.

It is the exact same kind of disgusting journalism I commented on at the time of the arrest of Chris Jefferies over the murder of Joanna Yeates. He was made to fit the profile of a murderer and so help the tabloids to sell more copies. The exact same thing has happened here, with the Mail releasing information about her personal tastes to give character to the story.

It eventually turned out that Chris Jefferies was innocent, but I suspect his life has never been the same since. Whether this nurse turns out to be guilty or not is irrelevant, it is wholly irresponsible, and if the media won't stop doing it voluntarily, someone should make them.

NHS Debate Re-opens

For now the Hacking scandal is having a relatively quiet time, but an old favourite has popped back into the news again recently, the NHS reforms.

The row over NHS reforms looks set to reopen, and more publicly than ever.

People may remember the recent listening period that the government held when their proposed changes to the NHS were met with fierce opposition from both the medical profession and the public. After intensive lobbying from the BMA, RCN, and RCGP they agreed to substantial changes.

This would all seem positive, but the problem now is that the changed bill is a complete and utter mess. It is a confused bureaucratic nightmare, with no-one being quite sure what its aim is.

The changes even prompted this motion from a  recent BMA Council meeting, "[this council] rejects the idea that the Government's proposed changes to the Bill will significantly reduce the risk of further marketisation and privatisation of the NHS."

That's why the BMA, the association representing 140,000 doctors, has again stated that it is opposed to the bill, despite the changes, and that it would be better for the bill to be withdrawn altogether.

The biggest news from the BMA meeting was that it agreed to start a 'public campaign to call for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill.' It seems that far from the easy ride through the commons Cameron had hoped for, there will be an almighty battle for public support.

As well as this, the campaigning group 38 degrees, with 850,000 members, have restarted their campaign against the bill, raising £10,000 (in fact, at last check it was over £30,000) within hours which will be used to hire a legal team to look through the bill line by line, looking for any hidden dangers.

With trust in politics in serious decline after Hackgate, and the Medical profession being the most trusted, I hardly think there will be much appetite in the government for a fight with the BMA. It will be interesting to see how much political capital Cameron is prepared to lose in order to pass the bill.

Without a Lib Dem backlash, which seems unlikely, he will probably manage to pass some form of bill, but what it contains, and how much he loses in the process, remains to be seen.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Vigilante Journalism

I seem to have written a lot on both this blog and Twitter recently about the media, but in my defence it has been one of the biggest media scandal's of a generation. I just want to post once more on this, the last day of the News of the World.

A lot has been written about how the News of the World closing will be a loss to journalism, and about how it was apparently the top of its field in investigative journalism. I personally think this is sentimental rubbish. I've looked through the 'famous' front pages that News of the World claims as its successes and see little to write home about. Many of the 'exclusives' are just celebrity tittle tattle, with no real benefit to the public.

On one issue, a great deal of people seem keen to praise News of the World, the naming and shaming of paedophiles and their campaign for Sarah's law. A great deal of people that does not include myself.

Although it may seem bizarre for me to apparently disapprove of their crusade against paedophiles, I hope you'll bear with me and see why. It reminds me of a particularly brilliant episode of Brasseye, paedogeddon. If you haven't seen it you really should, it's hilarious. It's a mockumentary about the whipped up hysteria of the press and the unforeseen circumstances.

No-one is going to condone paedophilia, but when that same whipped up hysteria is responsible for innocent people being attacked by vigilantes then you have to question whether it truly was a 'force for good'. For example,  there was a case in Wales of a paediatrician having her home attacked because someone mistook this job title for 'paedophile'. The stupidity of such people really is beyond my grasp.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Shambolic science in the Daily Express

In a week where certain sections of the media are getting a well deserved bashing, it's important to remember the kind of damage they can do through perfectly legal means. Indeed, there is a front page story in the Daily Express today that will garner very little criticism, but could very easily lead to major health problems for its readership because of its abuse of scientific research.

Their front page, as seen to the right, proudly declares that 'Now salt is safe to eat', claiming that reducing your intake 'does nothing to reduce your risk of heart disease.' (They also call Public Health specialists 'Health fascists' for good measure)

It is very easy to see how they came to this conclusion, but easier still to see how they got it completely and dangerously wrong. This headline is essentially extrapolated from one piece of research, published in the Cochrane Library. As such, it comes from one of the most reliable sources possible, and we can be sure that the research is thorough, but it seems the Daily Express only read what they wanted to believe.

The review of literature covered nearly 7,000 participants, and found that although lowering your salt intake was correlated with a lower BP, they couldn't find a link to a reduction in your chances of developing heart disease.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

An Attack on Doctor's Pensions

Public sector pensions have been in the news quite a fair amount recently, and there are plenty of commentators around who can explain better than me why the changes are deeply unfair to workers, and so I shan't talk about pensions as a whole. Instead, I want to write about something that I, as a medical student, have a personal future interest in, the NHS pension scheme.

The BMA remains highly critical of both NHS reforms and of proposed pension reform.

It may seem a pretty dull subject, so I shall try to keep this short and to the point, and in those interests here are a few quick facts about the current scheme.

  • It was renegotiated as recently as 2008, with the introduction of tiered contributions to ensure fairness for the lowest paid and an increase in the retirement age for new entrants to 65.
  • Employers contributions (i.e. the taxpayers) have been capped.
  • The scheme is due to be £10bn in surplus by 2015, providing the Treasury with £2bn a year.

Such a scheme would seem ideal for a government looking to cut costs, not only are costs not spiralling out of control, they're recieving money from the surplus! In light of this, it seems even more bizarre that the government, fronted on the issue by Danny Alexander, is issuing threats to public sector workers that they must accept new settlements or lose out even further.

News of the World's criminality.

For months people have been wondering whether there could be any more revelations in the phone hacking scandal, whether News of the World and the tabloid press in general could sink any lower. Whether Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson could possibly be dragged in more disrepute than they are already in.

Today, we got an answer, yes they can. And the most damaging aspect of today's news, that they hacked the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, is that the issue now has a very personal - and very shocking - side to it. This isn't now an issue of idle celebrity tittle-tattle, it's an issue that everyone can relate to, and that no-one can condone.

Why I've returned.

It's been a couple of months since my last post here, I struggled to muster the enthusiasm to start blogging again after I decided to take a break for my last set of exams. (Which I passed, so maybe it paid off!)

Part of the reason why I didn't feel the need to start blogging again was that this site is something of a vent, if I don't write things down I tend to rant, and for the sake of keeping friends it's better to let it all out on the internet than in person.

Recently, however, I've had Twitter available as an outlet, and so felt less need to write out time-consuming blog posts. Twitter does have it's drawbacks though, and the need to fit everything into 140 characters does somewhat stifle the quality of debate sometimes. And that is ultimately the reason behind me starting up this blog, for those occasions when even Twitter isn't enough of an outlet, and I want to write in more detail.

Some people might think it quite egocentric to think that enough people will care about what I say to make this worthwhile, but that misses the point. If people read it, then excellent, but if not this can be more like a personal journal, albeit quite a bizarre journal. Think of it more of a blog/Twitter hybrid, they should hopefully compliment each other.

So, I hope some of my old followers are still around, and long live the blog.