Even accurate stories are made to be misleading

Posted by on September 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm.

The Express has a rather scary story for people with diabetes today with this: ‘HEART ATTACK FEARS OVER DIABETES PILL TAKEN BY MILLIONS‘. The Express claims in the first line of the article that:

A DIABETES pill taken by millions of people is still being prescribed despite experts knowing that it triggers potentially fatal heart attacks.

A safety body recommended that the top-selling drug Avandia be withdrawn two months ago as it “no longer has a place on the UK market”.

Firstly, it must be said that this is a genuine story about a drug that the British Medical Journal and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have suggested causes an increased risk of heart attacks and that the risks outweigh the benefits.

However, the case is more complex than the Express is suggesting, given that less than two months ago the American Food and Drug Administration panel voted to keep the drug on the market and that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has yet to make a decision on the drug and is only at the stage of considering the evidence put forward by the MHRA. The Express does not mention either of these things, which sensationalises things in two ways: firstly, by ignoring the FDA verdict they can imply that experts are unanimous in ‘knowing’ that the drugs cause heart attacks – which makes it more shocking that it is still on the market; and, secondly, they ignore the fact the MHRA have made a case to the EMA because in doing so it suggests that nothing is being done to take this drug off the market – perfect for creating outraged readers.

Whilst the tone of the Express article is not subtle – including the clearly misleading claim that the drug is ‘TAKEN BY MILLIONS’ when they clearly state in the article only around 100,000 people in the UK take the drug – the details that are left out are subtle, and designed to create unnecessary panic. In truth this drug is under intense pressure and as the Guardian points out the company’s stock fell as shareholders worried that the drug would be taken off the market in the near future. It is also what seems like a rarity in tabloid reporting: a genuine health-scare story about a drug that warrants public attention and scrutiny. Yet the Express still feel the need to ‘sex it up’ by inflating 100,000 to ‘millions’ whilst giving the impression that nothing is being is or can be done to remove the drug from the market; which is far from the truth and unnecessarily misleading.

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