Home > Print and online textual news media coverage of UK low-risk drinking guidelines from 2014 to 2017: a review and thematic analysis.

Kersbergen, Inge and Buykx, Penny and Brennan, Alan and Brown, Jamie and Michie, Susan and Holmes, John (2022) Print and online textual news media coverage of UK low-risk drinking guidelines from 2014 to 2017: a review and thematic analysis. Drug and Alcohol Review, Early online, doi: 10.1111/dar.13458.

External website: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dar.13...

INTRODUCTION: The UK low-risk drinking guidelines were revised in 2016. Drinkers were primarily informed about the guidelines via news media, but little is known about this coverage. This study investigated the scale and content of print and online textual news media coverage of drinking guidelines in England from February 2014 to October 2017.

METHODS: We searched the Nexis database and two leading broadcasters' websites (BBC and Sky) for articles mentioning the guidelines. We randomly selected 500 articles to code for reporting date, accuracy, tone, context and purpose of mentioning the guidelines, and among these, thematically analysed 200 randomly selected articles.

RESULTS: Articles mentioned the guidelines regularly. Reporting peaked when the guidelines revision was announced (7.4% of articles). The most common type of mention was within health- or alcohol-related articles and neutral in tone (70.8%). The second most common was in articles discussing the guidelines' strengths and weaknesses, which were typically negative (14.8%). Critics discredited the guidelines' scientific basis by highlighting conflicting evidence and arguing that guideline developers acted politically. They also questioned the ethics of limiting personal autonomy to improve public health. Criticisms were partially facilitated by announcing the guidelines alongside a 'no safe level of drinking' message, and wider discourse misrepresenting the guidelines as rules, and highlighting apparent inconsistencies with standalone scientific papers and international guidelines.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: News media generally covered drinking guidelines in a neutral and accurate manner, but in-depth coverage was often negative and sought to discredit the guidelines using scientific and ethical arguments.


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