‘Independent advice’? A GrogWatcher has a bone to pick with the ABC

GrogWatch reader Samuel wrote to us recently concerned about the ABC referring to alcohol industry-run DrinkWise as an independent and not-for-profit. We think has makes a very good point, so we’ve published his correspondence to us (edited for brevity) below.

To GrogWatch,

What is independence, really? Vested interests in alcohol are not in the best position to give truly independent advice on the dangers of alcohol.

Consider this recent ABC article “Alcohol during pregnancy (28 March 2014) which cites DrinkWise without duly informing the reader that DrinkWise is largely funded by the alcohol industry itself. Who would have guessed it? Readers are simply told: “DrinkWise Australia is an independent, not-for-profit organisation focused on promoting change towards a healthier and safer drinking culture in Australia.”

What if the tobacco industry were to fend off potential legal restrictions by claiming to “do something” about the harms of smoking by setting up a similar “SmokeWise” organisation?  I suspect their tainted so-called “independent” advice would likely downplay the full extent of the dangers of smoking. They would be likely to select a medical representative who seemed to them to somehow downplay the dangers of smoking during pregnancy.

But an older ABC production (ABC Radio National: “DrinkWise Australia funding” - 19 June 2006) gave a more realistic description of DrinkWise: “The alcohol industry funded body DrinkWise Australia…” .

Now DrinkWise – which calls itself “independent” – has dared to target young people (they claim 18+) with a disturbing advertising message.

It says people who think they can handle drinking more than others will thereby show they are not mere “amateurs” who can’t handle so much as “proper” drinkers. The industry’s own self-interest in this message is very revealing, I think. Of course the more young people accept the so-called “independent advice,” the more they will drink, the more profits for the vested interests, and the more young lives would be ruined.

Quote from “How to Drink Properly” by DrinkWise: “Friends, I’m here to talk to you about drinking “Properly” – whether it’s a martini, a cheeky merlot, or a crisp beer – there’s a way to do it, and a way not to do it. And friends, you should always distance yourself from amateurs. Remember every one has their limit. Jim here reached his a few scotches ago… But you should be aware of your own limits.”

Does it even conform to the advertising standards to say “you’ll feel very, very attractive (for a time)”?

DrinkWise does not want mandatory warnings to protect babies from F.A.S.D. Why not mandatory? (NOFASD Australia supports the implementation of a mandatory pregnancy health warning label on all alcohol products and packaging sold in Australia.)

Note: in the ABC’s “Alcohol during pregnancy” story, Prof. Alec Welsh is introduced. He was selected to give medical advice to DrinkWise, the same organisation which tells young people that mere “amateurs” can’t handle so much as “proper” drinkers.

In this story, he was cited to give the “other side” of the story – i.e. a comparatively stronger message against drinking during pregnancy. Even so, he seems to subtly tone down the message against light drinking during pregnancy – in some ways that his medical peers may not.

Has DrinkWise disclosed whether it provides the funding for its medical advisers? Even without advisers being specifically “told” what to say, who would think they were randomly selected?

Now in any case, the ABC would do better to inform the audience that DrinkWise is industry-funded. (That is the point, not as much referring to Prof. Welsh himself.) Just saying an “independent, not-for-profit organisation” is unsatisfactory.

More women would quit endangering their children once they are made aware of the dangers. Media personnel etc. should take their roles most seriously.

Regards, Samuel