Truth is the first casualty of war and the war on drugs is no different. Every day both the print and broadcast media bombard the public with a perspective and narrative which has proved to be devastating. This diet of cultural influence and propaganda is unremitting.
Source: Dominic Milton Trott
The broad consensus behind this is a clear example of groupthink, and it persists across almost the entire mainstream. It is so ingrained in western journalism that it is prosecuted almost blindly, rendering journalists to be an integral part of the problem.
With this in mind, and with no end in sight, I recently considered the question of how journalists could reintroduce objectivity and truth back into drug reporting. What could be done to ground reports outside a paradigm which is neither factual nor humane?
I concluded that for conscientious journalists, those instilled with sincerity and candour, this wouldn't take much effort at all. Indeed, the framing of a code of ethics almost became an exercise in stating the obvious:
A CODE OF ETHICS FOR HONEST DRUG REPORTING
- The cause of tragedy and death is the erroneous use of drugs within the context of punitive drug policy, not the drugs themselves. This usually stems from a lack of safety awareness and knowledge with respect to the specific drug or drugs in question. Reports should therefore be framed in this context.
- Always include the intrinsic and central details in reports. For example, don’t routinely use the generic word drugs to cover substances which are absolutely diverse in nature, effect and potential harm. This wide scale practice is a de facto inhibitor of accuracy, education and understanding.
- Cultural bias tends to suppress awareness of relative harms, which in Western society severely exacerbates alcohol related problems and misrepresents far more benign options. Effort should be made to reduce and eliminate this tendency. Specifically, alcohol is a hard addictive drug and should be cited and reported as such when appropriate. Do not hesitate to cast this drug (alcohol) in the comparative context of other drugs when reporting on it, and vice versa. Within this, review the use of stilted terminology. For instance, why do alcohol users drink their drug, whilst users of other drugs abuse theirs? Why do alcohol sources sell their product, whilst sources of other drugs push theirs?
- In the context of drug use the mantra ‘Ignorance Kills, Education Saves Lives’ is a statement of fact. Journalists can help to educate by reporting harm reduction and safety information whenever an opportunity is presented. Routinely quote harm reduction charities such as Release and DanceSafe, and directly recycle the personal safety data provided by sources such as TripSit and The Drug Users Bible.
- The police frequently inflate the market value of their drug hauls for self interest, and defending solicitors will commonly consider it trite or provocative to challenge this in court. This misinformation perverts the course of justice and serves to re-enforce the destructive narrative of the war on drugs. When reporting, qualify police claims or independently research the actual value.
- Substances like datura and nutmeg are deliriants, and are dysphoric and highly toxic. Don’t use words like trip to describe their effects, and don’t refer to them as psychedelics. This is a good example of misleading terminology inciting potentially fatal consequences.
- Report actual and factual impact data with respect to the war on drugs. For example, with 5% of the world’s population the United States now holds 25% of the world’s prison population, whilst the number of overdose deaths has soared. At the very least don’t repeat the war on drugs precept as though it isn’t challenged. Within this, don’t pursue a narrative which demonises people who use or sell drugs. Bear in mind that 250 million people use drugs, and most sellers are ordinary citizens who started buying drugs for friends as well as themselves. Individually, to hold sovereign and exclusive ownership of one's own conscious mind, to explore freely and without boundary, is surely the most fundamental of human rights. Third party intrusion into this wholly personal territory is a grievous breach of this inalienable freedom. It is entirely reasonable to reflect this perspective in reports, particularly with respect to psychedelics. (Beware of psychedelic expcetionalism, however!)
- Don’t allow politicians or their servants (including the police) to set the agenda and define talking points, as again, they have a tendency to promote the war on drugs perspective for self interest. Always be aware that the role of journalism is to report objectively, rather than disseminate propaganda.
With 5% of the world’s population the United States now holds 25% of the world’s prison population, whilst the number of overdose deaths has soared.
None of these are outrageously difficult to embrace, at least if the pursuit of truth is the objective (as it should be). I would also suggest that collectively they almost present a measure of personal integrity for any journalist who is aware of them.
Indeed, I would bluntly ask: if you are reporting in this field, and you are not following these or something similar, why not? What position are you seeking to promote, and for whom?
The continued diet of misreporting and dishonesty is perpetuating ignorance and costing lives. Real people, vulnerable people, are suffering and dying partly as a result of the current role of mainstream journalism in a brutal and unwinnable war. The blood is surely, at least in part, on the hands of those who continue to engage unethical, dishonest journalism as a blunt instrument of state.
* Dominic Milton Trott, Author: The Drug Users Bible