Media are required to walk a fine line between generating interest from their publics while ensuring they are not misrepresenting facts to do this. They also tend to target one aspect of an issue to illustrate a point with the effect that a singular aspect of a complicated issue can become the focus of everyone’s attention. The use of tomatoes as an indicator of soaring food prices is a case in point.
Food costs are rising and hunger is a heart-breaking reality for some people. But selecting an out of season fruit to highlight the issue of food prices won’t change that. Nor does it actually help people. Where has the age-old advice to buy in season and also to use nutritionally-similar frozen and canned as an alternative gone?
Is the price of milk yet another example of consumer expectations being formed by media to generate interest in a story that is now considered a major issue? Is the way this issue is being played out also telling people that milk should be cheaper than soft drinks?
Because so few people actually understand the food manufacturing process, it is not well understood that milk – a high nutritional value fresh protein food – costs far more to produce (think livestock management, cool chain processing, packaging, handling and storage). And because shelf stable soft drinks are simpler and cheaper to produce, their makers are frequently chastised by suggestions they are enticing people to put soft drinks in their trolley in place of milk.
The commentators who see a good story idea with some opportunity to link it to an issue of public good, often don’t present the full picture, and as a result the public’s interest isn’t served because attention to one aspect ignores potentially bigger issues. Perhaps they think people are too simple to understand a more complicated analysis of society?
Now a new dimension has emerged, with media commentators offering their own personal opinion on subjects others have had to spend years studying at university. A weekly food product analysis in a certain weekend paper is a case in point. While it offers some interesting observations on what’s in foods, and clearly scrutiny of food composition is important, the naivety of some of the comments would embarrass a new food technology graduate. And certainly frustrate most nutritionists.
Surely for this and other examples, there should be some level of accuracy and expert input to ensure a better degree of accuracy and perspective? That, to my mind would serve the public good a whole lot better.
Even Shortland Street has medical experts advising them on accuracy and we all know this is fictitious in the extreme. Credibility and impact of the media can only be eroded over time if these sorts of issues are not addressed. Then they really will be unable to protect and defend the interest of the public they represent.