Thursday, August 5, 2010

TV3 joins the wowser crusade

Sigh. Just when I was starting to think TV3 News wasn’t so bad after all (a cynic would say it’s because anything looks good alongside their competition), they do their best to drive me away again. Their lead item on Tuesday night was a shocker, though I mean that in the metaphorical rather than the literal sense.

It seems TV3, along with much of the mainstream media, has become an enthusiastic and uncritical accomplice in the concerted campaign of fear and panic over liquor abuse. This is the only possible explanation for its decision to lead the 6pm bulletin with a British “expert” on liquor and drug abuse, a Professor David Nutt, tut-tutting (or should that be nut-nutting?) over the government’s supposed capitulation to the liquor industry on the proposal to reduce the legal alcohol limit for drivers.

Nutt had nothing to say that hasn’t already been said by the vociferous New Zealand wowser lobby, led by the excitable Prof Doug Sellman. His statements were not new and neither were they news. They were simply one more expression of opinion – and a highly emotive one at that – by yet another sanctimonious academic who claims to know what’s best for us. The only thing new was that this time it was a sanctimonious academic with a British accent, which if anything made it even more irritating

As with climate change, we have given up expecting dispassionate, detached, objective statements from academics and health activists crusading for restrictive drinking laws. They are evangelists on a holy mission.

Nutt took the hoary old line that the government is in thrall to faceless liquor barons, and that only this can explain its decision to stall a reduction in the legal alcohol limit until more research has been done. This time-honoured wowser propaganda may play well to the impressionable, but it overlooks the fact that governments have wider responsibilities than to lobby groups, whether they represent the liquor industry or the latter-day temperance crusaders.

It may be that the government is holding the anti-liquor activists at bay because it recognises that there is a very large body of New Zealanders – those who don’t drink to excess, and therefore don’t deserve to be shackled by restrictive liquor laws – whose voices haven’t been heard in the debate. Much is made of the fact that the Law Commission report on the liquor laws attracted thousands of submissions, but by their very nature such exercises mainly bring out the committed activists. If the government is taking its time over liquor law changes because it wants to ensure the process isn’t wholly captured by the temperance evangelists (as the Law Commission appears to have been), then good on it. That’s called democracy.

Perhaps the anti-liquor campaigners, having succeeded in controlling the debate this far, suddenly sense the tide is turning against them. That may explain why they are turning up the volume, with “experts” like Nutt calling for lawyers to sue the liquor industry and urging a total ban on liquor advertising and supermarket wine sales. It might also explain Prof Sellman’s hysterical claims to a select committee recently about the level of alcohol-induced harm likely to result from the Rugby World Cup (70 serious or fatal road accidents, 400 babies with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, more than 10,000 physical and sexual assaults … phew!).

It’s the wowsers’ prerogative, of course, to indulge in doomsday fantasies in the hope that we will all be terrified into complying with their agenda. But it’s disappointing that news organisations like TV3 should be buying into their alarmist nonsense and giving them spurious credibility.

What time’s the Prime news bulletin on? I might have to change my routine.

1 comment:

Eric Crampton said...

As much as the wowsers don't like it, there isn't clear cut evidence that cutting the drink drive limit is beneficial. Yes, you might save some lives. But you need to weigh that against the costs to moderate drinkers; the wowsers refuse to admit that reasonable people can get enjoyment from moderate drinking.

One potential way of finding an answer here.