A little respect

A new campaign aims to uproot the stigma embedded in mainstream media, as DDN reports.

Read it in DDN Magazine

Challenging stigma about drugs, alcohol and any kind of addiction has become part of life for all of us. We’ve seen how it affects us, our families and friends, and people we work with. But being bombarded by stereotypes each day in the media can make the task feel overwhelming, as stigmatising words and images have become the norm and part of everyday communication.

A mum who had experience of being interviewed by journalists about supporting her daughters with their recovery said, ‘showing needles, spoons and paraphernalia… that’s what really upsets me. To see that they’re never moved away from that over the years… that’s the first thing they put up. What’s behind the story of that paraphernalia is always very sad, it’s very upsetting to people to see how addiction affects our loved ones and the family… but before people have got to that bit of the story, they’ve judged it already.’

DDN embraced the opportunity to help create a resource for journalists. As part of a working group organised by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs and Adfam, we met online regularly as a group that included a family member, a person in recovery, a national journalist and Alcohol Health Alliance UK, to look at how we could help journalists and editors to report on alcohol and drugs with dignity and respect.

The result was a toolkit for journalists and editors, which gave clear recommendations about avoiding stigmatising language, treating interviewees with respect and using appropriate imagery. It also suggested including support information in articles. The ambition was to encourage journalists to see their subjects as people – professionals, family members, members of the community who were experiencing problems – rather than defining them by negative labels and images.

The key recommendations were:

Images of alcohol and drugs should only be used where appropriate, and should not contain people in vulnerable conditions, including being drunk or unconscious. Articles about alcohol harm should not contain images which glamorise drinking and pictures of drug paraphernalia should only be used where the context is informative. Images should tell the human side of the story in a positive and responsible way, using photos of interview subjects, support services or the community.

Stigmatising language and labels should be avoided, and journalists should take care to reference interview subjects as parents, professionals and so forth, rather than ‘user’, ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’. Interview subjects should be asked how they would prefer to be described. Words like ‘druggie’ or ‘junkie’ should always be avoided.

Case studies should be encouraged – there are many people who are happy to share their stories to help others find support. Anonymity must be respected when requested, and interview subjects should be offered the chance to approve their own quotes.

Support information should always be included in any article reporting on alcohol or drugs.

Improving education through such positive practice could play a vital role in changing culture. Including honest accounts promoted the message that people can and do recover, and also helped readers to relate to and empathise with those involved. Journalists and editors were encouraged to reach out to groups and communities to learn more about their work.

‘We’ve seen fantastic progress over the years around reporting of mental health issues, including support information being included at the end of every article, stigmatising language decreasing, and the use of positive and educational images,’ said Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families. ‘We want to see the same progressive approach in the reporting of alcohol and drug issues… We know the media can play a huge part in sharing the voices and experiences of family members and in encouraging people into recovery.’

The toolkit would help to challenge the stigma faced by those struggling with drugs and alcohol, and their families and friends, added Vivienne Evans, chief executive of Adfam. ‘Journalism has a key role to play here, and we have produced this toolkit in collaboration with journalists who want to see more respectful reporting on alcohol and drugs across the board.’

phoenix futures stigma campaign


The #ReportingOfSubstance media toolkit from @ScotFaADrugs and @AdfamUK is available online at https://bit.ly/3zC6MnV

Share the toolkit on social media and join in the campaign!

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