MEDIA REPORTING OF MEDICAL ISSUES
Matter of Public Interest
Discussion resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. Dr MARLENE GOLDSMITH [2.30]: I was speaking about the pseudomedical issue of the biological clock which the press has been having a wonderful time running lately. This matter was first drawn to my attention by Susan Faludi in her book Backlash, in which she meticulously documented the media barrage on this supposed subject in the late 1980s. In the 1970s the media were very good at praising and promoting the new, single woman. Suddenly in the 1980s the media started to promote the argument that women's biological time clocks were running out, women were running out of men, there were not enough men to go around, women could not marry even if they want to, and other such notions.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: What? There were not enough men to go around?
The Hon. Dr MARLENE GOLDSMITH: I am glad the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti asked that question because the media in this instance - and I was tempted to say, as usual - got it quite wrong. Their argument that there were not enough of the opposite sex to go around was quite untrue. Their argument in the scaremongering articles about biological time clocks was certainly untrue. Of course, we all know that a woman's reproductive cycle comes to an end eventually, but the question is whether this is a matter that women are becoming hysterical about. While the press would have us believe that women are becoming hysterical, an analysis by Susan Faludi of all the articles shows very clearly that this is not the case. The articles tend to concentrate on individual anecdotal cases, which do not stand up to close examination. When wider interviews are conducted about women's life choices the responses are very different. Though this might be an issue that is not as important as the life-threatening issues raised by the Hon. Beryl Evans in this debate, I was moved - in fact I felt it was essential - to raise the matter in this debate because of an article that appeared on page 18 of yesterday's edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Guess what it is called? "Tick, tick, tick. Beating the biological clock". Here we go again, trying once again to beat up the story that women are becoming hysterical because they are running out of childbearing years. This is simply scaremongering and most irresponsible reporting. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to have placed on record that it is irresponsible. I commend the Hon. Beryl Evans for raising this most important and urgent matter of public interest in the House today.
The Hon. BERYL EVANS [2.34], in reply: I thank all members who have taken part in this discussion, and I am heartened that there is agreement about this matter. I emphasise that my criticism of the media does not relate to everyone in it. Like everything else, there are some who seem incapable of reporting truthfully and there are others who report magnificently. I repeat what I said earlier, that the Australian Journalists Association code of ethics requires journalists to report and interpret the news with scrupulous honesty. They should not suppress essential facts; nor should the truth be distorted by omission, or by wrong or improper emphasis. The problems arise when a glamorous or startling article is printed without any detailed explanation or without an understanding of the consequences of printing it. The printing of such an article is a cause of unnecessary distress for people with medical problems. They are led astray by these reports.
By the same token there are some things that should be published. For instance, a wonderful grant of $12.42 million has been given to a leading group of people to conduct research into cardiac technology, which is the biggest killer of Australians. Yet, strangely enough, I had seen no report of this research grant until the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti referred to me this morning a report that appeared in the Newsmaker
magazine of the University of Technology, Sydney. That matter should be publicised and those who are involved in the research should be listed. Organisations involved in this research include Westmead hospital, the University of New South Wales, Sydney University, St Vincent's Hospital, and the University of Queensland. The list goes on. Money that is allocated for medical research should receive publicity; it is news. One of the advantages of living a long time is that one has many things to look back on. I look back to 1955 when my father returned from overseas to be told that he had carcinoma of the bladder. Following an examination he was told that it was completely inoperable and that he had three months to live. At that stage we knew nothing about things such as cobalt machines, which at that stage had been in use in Canada and England for two or three years. It happened that two doctors were visiting Australia, and we asked whether it would be worth trying this treatment; I flew to England with my father on 24 hours' notice. He lived another 25 years - a very damaged man, but he lived much longer than was expected. That treatment was new and was something that should have been publicised. Because of that experience my family raised sufficient funds to buy the first cobalt machine for New South Wales, and we gave it to St Vincent's Hospital.
As I said, we had not known about this new technology. If it had been publicised, much good could have come from it. Two things upset me this week. The first was the segment on the "7.30 Report" about a magical gadget that would record abnormalities on a laptop computer, though there had been virtually no testing of it, other than with some 300 women at the King George V Hospital. The second was the announcement that a vaccine had been found for cervical cancer. However, the vaccine is effective only against viral warts, and in nine cases out of 10 viral warts do not produce cervical cancer. No details of that were given in the report. Those types of report are disillusioning and should be corrected. Misleading reports should be discouraged; they cause anxiety among many people. The interesting thing about cancer is the word itself. I remember my father saying, "Please don't say it,because that is the thing that we hate to hear". When any cure is suggested for cancer, everyone latches on to it in the hope that it will provide an answer. One of the quotes I read earlier was from a doctor who said that the cure will come not as a flash in the pan but from thorough research. My plea for this State is for the media to be more sensitive and to report more carefully, to avoid raising the hopes of people unnecessarily. We must always try to do our best, we must encourage continued research, and we must not belittle the things that good people do.
Discussion of matter of public interest concluded.