Are the UK media profiting from drugs?

The UK’s response to the use of the drug mephedrone was driven not by an intelligent debate involving ‘experts’ and didn’t seem overly concerned with the facts. This was due to it being led by a number of newspapers rather than our politicians. What should have been a deliberate and thought out response to the problem descended into a media frenzy. The Mail even managed to drag in the European Union, with James Slack latching on to the wise words of the UKIP, “Ban on meow meow to be delayed by EU.

This sensationalist reporting may  have helped sell newspapers but whilst doing so it arguably promoted the use of the drug. Ensuring the public were aware of mephedrone’s easy availability and created the impression that everybody was taking the drug.

A month ago Bad Journalism publicised this screen shot of the Telegraph website, preaching scare stories about the drug whilst advertising its sale. 

We now have the beginnings of a new media frenzy around the next generation of legal highs. According to the Sun, “NRG-1 is 25p a hit and will kill many more than meow”.  The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and even the Independent are advertising this legal high on their websites. All you need to do is to search for NRG-1 on their websites and you will find the advertisements for the drug. Once the stories on this ‘killer’ drug gets going, there may well be a steady trickle of click through advertising helping pay for more quality journalism.

I am sure the newspapers concerned will plead the complexities of Google’s search advertising, limiting how much control they have and like most people involved in the trade in drugs they have in all probability made very small sums of money from the sale of recreational drugs. However The Sun and The Telegraph were only too happy to point out that the ‘Government makes money from miaow’ and the latter appear to delight in taking a close interest in the financial scrupulousness of public figures generally.

The Sun and The Mail loved finding somebody involved in the sale of the drug when they happened to be the son of a Labour MP

The dangerous hypocrisy in this instance is their failure to recognise how the hysteria they have whipped up around mephedrone and undoubtly will around NRG-1, encourages more people to try these drugs. The Daily Mail was happy publishing stories about how entire schools were on it and in all likelihood this encouraged lots of school children to go out and try it for themselves. The Sun wanted to make sure that we knew that those all important celebrity role models, the stars were on it too.

Our response to drug use often has unintended consequences. One wonders how many people have been encouraged to take drugs by some of the more ill considered adverts from Ask Frank. Or what would happen to the rate of HIV in this country if we withdrew methadone from prisons, because we decided to be more concerned about the ‘morality’ of providing access to treatment in prison, than the morality of keeping down the rate of HIV infection.

In the furore around the need to ban mephedrone, the huge amount of ‘banned’ cannabis use that goes on amongst school age children in this country was often ignored. This is a consequence of a situation where it is probably easier for a teenager to buy cannabis in an unregulated market in the playground than to buy beer in a ‘regulated’ market in a shop, an unintended consequence of the legal status of these drugs.

These newspapers have found that in attempting to profit from Google advertisements they have had the unintended consequence of making money from the sale of drugs that they have promoted whilst arguing they want to have those drugs banned. 

Drug issues are often more complex than one suspects.