Spam Journalism #65

By Jim McVeagh 11/12/2009


Spam Journalism: The spurious use of sensational headlines to add spice to an otherwise pointless article.

There is always plenty of spam to go around in health reporting. Journalists just love to sensationalise anything to do with medicine, preferably putting it in the worst light possible:

Seeing red over high health costs

Cataract surgery for Christchurch woman Glennis Lane would have taken a “huge chunk” of a small retirement fund.

When her GP told her this year that she needed another operation, the $4000 cost was daunting.

Lane said she was angry that she could not use the public system as she and family members had worked in public hospitals. “My husband was pretty angry too, but it’s just life,” she said.

You might be forgiven if you thought the headline indicated that this article was going to be something about the Health budget or ACC costs. You would also be wrong. This article is about the costs of private cataract surgery.

Surprise, surprise. Private surgery is expensive. Who would have thought it?

When Mrs. Lane says that “she was angry that she could not use the public system”, what she really meant is that she was angry that it was going to take such a long time to get her surgery in the public health system. There is no question that she could have got her cataract surgery eventually, but she would have had to wait until she was nearly blind (in that eye) before she “qualified”. This is the main way the system keeps its waiting times looking reasonable – by denying service until you have enough “points” – like some sort of bizarre Fly Buys scheme (Die Buys?). The real wait for Mrs. Lane is not 6 weeks or even 6 months. It is more like 6 years.

So there is an actual story there. One that would have been worthwhile reporting. But the journalist has opted for a bit of sensationalist spam instead.

How sad.

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