Medicine and the media

I have chosen to review ‘How the media reports medical errors: Blunders will never cease’ (BMJ 2001;322:562) by T. Jackson, and ‘Medicine and the media: Media dents confidence in MMR vaccine’ (BMJ 1998;316:561) by N. Begg et al. Both articles insinuate that the media misinforms the public about health issues. I shall provide a critical analysis of these articles, focusing on the usefulness and the impact of these articles on clinical practice. I shall also look at the research methods used by the authors to come up with the basis of their argument.


The argument put forward by Jackson is that doctors will always make mistakes, and whilst the media will place blame on the doctors, the system should be blamed instead. His main argument is that “the extent of errors and the system failures are overlooked”. The way this argument is presented is in a style that reads more like an opinion. There is a distinct lack of evidence. Jackson talks about two ‘blunders’ but only quotes newspaper headlines about one of the cases.

He also only uses headlines from two newspapers. Similarly, Jackson makes points but doesn’t back them up with any evidence. For example he says, “Mistakes of the kind that led to such deaths are not as rare as the public believes” but has no figures to prove that his statement is true. Jackson compares the reporting styles of newspaper journalists and a radio reporter. Jackson prefers the account of the radio reporter, he says “how she covered two incidents in Brighton offers some hope”, which means that his view of how the newspapers report medical errors is biased.

Again, he hasn’t looked at a variety of newspapers or other sources of media, such as the television. The author is not very persuasive in his language when presenting his argument. Overall this article is not useful because the title Jackson uses is misleading. It insinuates that the article will go into an in depth analysis of how the media reports medical errors, but it doesn’t. The author is merely stating his opinion and there is no in-depth analysis. I doubt it would have an impact on clinical practice, or on the way the media reports medical errors.

However, he does provide an alternative, acceptable, method of reporting medical errors in saying “there is a need for a system based rather than a blame based approach”. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF ‘MEDICINE AND THE MEDIA’ The argument put forward by Begg et al is that the negative reporting by the media has damaged the MMR vaccination programme. This article is a stark contrast to the previous one. The article by Begg et al is not written as if an opinion is being stated; points are made and backed up with evidence.

For example, Begg et al have used an article from the Communicable Disease Report to come up with the point that “coverage of the first dose of MMR vaccine in the UK fell last quarter after adverse publicity in the press”. The authors also make use of a wide range of publications and sources of data to emphasise their argument. The article is written in a rather persuasive style. The article opens with the words “Once again the media has succeeded in denting parents’ confidence in childhood immunisation”. The words ‘once again’ infer annoyance at the media, and ‘succeeded’ implies that the media had a goal in mind and they won.

The article is well written as it seems to follow a plan. The authors begin with the affect that the adverse media coverage had on the MMR vaccine coverage, following it up with evidence that the MMR does not do what the media said it did. Then a discussion is made about the potential problems that could arise from a fall in MMR coverage, mentioning what is done in other European countries. The authors then recall what happened the last time the media led a campaign against a vaccine by detailing the experience of pertussis. The article concludes by praising the UK for its surveillance system and sets a goal for the future.

As a result the reader feels that all of the key issues surrounding the problem of the media and the MMR vaccine have been covered. This article is useful in that it highlights why the media adversely reporting MMR vaccine is a problem, and it brings together all the data on the affect this reporting has had on MMR vaccine coverage, and on peoples’ perception of MMR vaccine. However, the article could have improved on its usefulness as it states “it is important to restore public confidence in the vaccine” but it doesn’t actually go into a discussion about how this could be done.

This article probably did have an impact on health professionals when it came out because the figures showed exactly how much of an affect the media had on MMR vaccine coverage, and because of the persuasive language used. CONCLUSION To conclude, the article ‘medicine and the media’ was more useful, had more of impact and was written better than ‘how the media report medical errors’. Begg et al used a wider range of sources in their research and backed up points with evidence from their research, whereas Jackson seemed to be merely stating an opinion without much in the way of evidence.

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