As a researcher or clinician, you may be contacted directly by the media to make comment on a story. In doing so, it is always important to know you organisation’s policy on speaking with the media; though if you are able to progress without requiring any permission then we have developed these guidelines based on the Australian National Council of Drug’s (2005) Key Principals for the Reporting of Drug-Related Issues:
1) It is important to get a good understanding of what is the journalist angle on the story. It is easy to do an interview and just have a sound bite grabbed that is placed out of content. Alternatively, the media story that you are involved in could have iatrogenic effects by increasing curiosity, or sensationalising the use of a drug which evidence shows can normalise the use of the drug and increase people’s curiosity and subsequent use of the drug. To minimise these potential consequences, it is essential at the start of the interview to let the journalist know that you endorse that Alcohol and Other Drugs Media Watch Guidelines for Journalists. Have the website handy or even a printed copy of the guidelines.
2) It is also important to consider whether you are the best person for the journalist to be speaking with. AOD Media Watch is building a database of Australian experts on specific topics, so if you feel uncomfortable talking about a story you or the journalist can contact us to get the details of an alternative researcher or clinician or might be a better fit for the story.
3) If you decide to commit to working with the journalist, make sure you are clear about what you key message is regarding the story. It can be helpful to record the interview so that you have evidence if you are misquoted or misrepresented.
4) It is always important to challenge any stigmatising language that the journalist might use, or depictions of people who use AODs that might be marginalising or perpetuate stigma. Remind the journalist of the humanity of people who use drugs.
6) Be wary of sensationalist stories and challenge them: the newest, best, instant treatment, this is the most powerful, potent drug, etc. Journalists and editors are attracted to such stories as they make good headlines.
5) Be wary of using stereotypical concepts or language that can be polarising. For example, what is harm minimisation? Be sure to define what you are referring to.
6) Where the opportunity arises, challenge dominant myths regarding the drug or drugs that you are talking about. Journalists may inadvertently distort drug use patterns because of a lack of reliable and valid data, or because of the information they have received from a media release. Always have data at hand to support your position.
7) Challenge journalists when they are talking about AOD issues being resolved by single factors or simplistic strategies. AOD use and related problems are complex issues. Openly recognize that drug use can be associated with other conditions, including mental illness, homelessness, trauma, etc.
Finally, even by using these hints there is the potential for media stories to go ahead that are sensationalist and marginalise people who use AODs. It is important that we engage with the media because if we don’t it might be a shock jock that is used as their key expert. There is the ongoing risk that you will be misrepresented in a story but we must keep a positive relationship with the media and persist in our efforts as we are all part of the same community.