News Radio and MMR

I have a love/hate relationship with my local news radio station, 570 News.

The traffic and weather reports are great, although I tend to avoid the major routes in town. Instead of taking Homer Watson to the expressway, I follow Trussler and Ira Needles up the other side of Kitchener and Waterloo.

Their news coverage can be hit or miss. All too often, a breaking news alert is aired, detailing the next iteration of some celebrity scandal. When so little time can be spent on individual stories between breaks, it's sad to see such brief coverage of events that truly matter.

I suppose this is where I differ with the general public about what is newsworthy. I would much rather hear about the return and subsequent arrest of previous dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier in Haiti, than any news about Lindsay Lohan's stay in rehab.

The news reports also tend to gloss over all but the most basic elements of a story, which is unfortunate. Again, I blame the format it's presented in. It's difficult to provide in depth coverage on more than one item in eight minutes before the next weather and traffic update. It's unfortunate though that the 570 News website doesn't provide any additional details. Their 570 News email alerts are useful ways to notify me that something potentially newsworthy has occurred, but I generally have to go elsewhere for specifics.

Next up, the talk shows. I love Gary Doyle's show in the afternoon. He has a nice, laid back manner, and while he usually covers lighter features, he always sounds interested in what his guests have to say. Then there's the Jeff Allan <strike>show</stroke> circus. His show is best when he is covering a political event, and has sitting members of parliament on the show. At the worst of times, Jeff loses control of a call, and starts a yelling match with a caller too intent on following their own agenda, before he cuts their call off. It's obviously frustrating for the talk show host, but his own combative attitude is often part of the problem. Probably the one thing that most disturbs me about the Jeff Allan show, is when he riles up the audience about a particular issue, such as the MMR vaccine.

As reported in various respectable media outlets, former British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield's was found by the British General Medical Council to have acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in his research. A further report in the British Medical Journal, upon examination of the 12 children in Wakefield's original report, found not only that "patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation", but that the autistic diagnosis of the children was severely misrepresented. Only one child has regressive autism, while three of the children had no autistic diagnosis whatsoever. The time-frames of the diagnoses were also grossly misrepresented, even to the extent that some of the children "had developmental delays, and also facial dysmorphisms, noted before MMR vaccination." Essentially, the original Lancet article was a carefully fabricated fraud, based on what Wakefield's financial backers believed would win lawsuits.

570 News even carried an article by the Associated Press, with the headline "'Hard to unscare': Experts doubt latest debunking of vaccine link to autism will change minds" the day before. During Jeff's commentary, brings this whole commentary, after noting the evidence against Wakefield and his research, Jeff asks "Is Dr. Wakefield's research a fraud or fraudulent, or is big pharma trying to discredit him?"

One of the interesting things about this statement is that it isn't even "big pharma" that was responsible for the BMJ article. Brian Deer is an investigative journalist who looked deeper into the original research reports, obtained through the British Freedom of Information Act. This isn't something written up by other medical researchers. It's been researched by the media itself. Jeff's opening commentary is completely leading the listener to think that it's a big coverup. If someone continues to listen to the interview, all this information comes out, but Jeff still leaves the question open for debate.

While it's important for journalists to present a balanced view, when something is this cut and dry, does it really merit a discussion? Should we allow hypothetical flat-earthers equal time to dispute that the Earth is roughly spherical, despite the fact that circumnavigation of the globe by sail and by air has proven without a doubt that the earth is round?