Media ‘glossing over’ alcohol-related deaths

Almost all newspaper reports on alcohol-related deaths fail to mention the deceased’s level of drinking, according to research.

In what is claimed to be the first study of its type in the world, Irish researchers said the "glossing over" of alcohol deaths affected people’s support for un-popular measures, such as increasing prices and cutting availability.

Co-author and addiction expert Bobby Smyth said people were "being left almost completely in the dark" about the role alcohol plays in dozens of deaths each year, from poisonings to accidents, such as fires, drownings, and crashes.

The research said there were 388 deaths linked to alcohol over a two-year period (2008 and 2009). Just 43 of the deaths were reported in newspapers, in 100 articles.

"No article reported that a person was intoxicated or drunk," said the report, published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism.

"Only two articles, which were about the same individual, stated clearly that the decedent had been drinking for a prolonged period.

"Possible reasons to explain this reluctance by newspapers to consider alcohol as a possible contributory factor could include the newspaper’s editorial policy, and/or ethos of an individual journalist to protect the reputation of the deceased and their family."

It said the role of the gardaí in underreporting alcohol may also be an issue.

The research was conducted by Dr Fagan, Dr Smyth of Trinity College, and Dr Suzi Lyons of the Health Research Board.