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by Dom McInerney 30 Apr 05:50am

 The Australian Vaccination Network stuck its head over the parapet again this week, and almost immediately copped one between the eyes.

American Airlines pulled the group’s anti-vaccination ad from its flights before it even aired. It’s the latest in a series of setbacks for the controversial organisation, which is increasingly struggling for air in the Australian media.

The media has been exemplary on this topic, refusing to indulge a group that is full of rhetoric but light on evidence. Most famously, Tracey Spicer demolished the AVN’s president, Meryl Dorey, on 2UE. The well-researched Spicer gave Dorey short shrift, eventually hanging up on her.

But the media treatment of this topic raises a serious question about another group: why do climate change deniers continue to hold such sway in the public realm, and why are they treated differently to groups like the AVN?

Compare the two groups side by side: Both climate change deniers and the AVN have ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus of their respective topics. Both groups ignore volumes and volumes of rigorous peer-reviewed research, and misrepresent isolated facts to make their cases. Cherry-picked data is presented, devoid of context, as unassailable truth.

Yet the fortunes of the two movements couldn’t be more different. The AVN is hanging on grimly, despite being rightly tested – or ignored – by the Australian media.

Meanwhile, the stocks of climate change denialists have never been higher. They appear to have a charmed run in large swathes of the Australian media, which often seems happy to run their questionable positions unchallenged. The pursuit of ‘balance’ in reporting has long been held up as justification for coverage of climate change sceptics. But if this is the case, the standard is being applied inconsistently, as coverage of the anti-vaccination movement demonstrates.

Internationally, some media outlets have learnt their lesson. A July 2011 BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science found the broadcaster’s coverage of both the safety of the MMR vaccine and the existence of man-made climate change were examples of “over-rigid” application of the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The review said the BBC often failed to take into account the “non-contentious” nature of some science stories. It also highlighted the need to avoid giving “undue attention to marginal opinion”. The BBC editorial guidelines were changed accordingly. O

f course reporting on public opinion or policy matters is not the same as reporting on science – the climate change policies of both the Government and the Opposition are fair game for analysis, critique and dissenting opinion.

But in terms of the scientific cases that the AVN and climate change deniers are trying to make, there is no compelling point of difference between the two groups that justifies the varying coverage they receive in the Australian media. The inconsistency should prompt some uncomfortable reflection among Australian media outlets.


One Comment

    • klem
    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:30 am
    • Permalink

    I see almost nothing to compare the two. The anti vaccination group is not in a fight against a new faith or quasi-religion like the climate deniers are. The anti-vaccination people are fighting a simple medical treatment, a treament which is easily testable and verifiable using double blind tests. Climate theory is almost unrepeateable and unverifiable and there are no double blind tests to support the conclusions. Their main method of verification is not testable data but rather peer review, or ‘pal review’ as it is often called. The anti-vaccination people are not fighting a political and social movement which will disrupt the entire economic and poltical structure of every nation on the planet as the climate deniers are. It is way more fun being a climate denier than an anti-vaccinationer.

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