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Keywords:

  • alcohol;
  • content analysis;
  • policy;
  • television news

Abstract

Objective: To describe television news coverage between 2005 and 2010 of alcohol, health and relevant alcohol-control policies, with a view to informing policy advocacy.

Methods: A content analysis of all alcohol stories archived by the Australian Health News Research Collaboration. We recorded what triggered a news item, the main topics covered, whether risks to health were communicated, whether alcohol-control policies were featured and which news-actors appeared.

Results: We identified 612 stories, where 69.2% were triggered by a particular newsworthy incident or the release of new findings. The most frequently reported alcohol stories were focused on associated harms (30.2%) and ‘binge drinking’ (19.0%). A majority (75.3%) reported a variety of positive and negative health effects, yet mainly focused on short-term consequences. Combined, 63% mentioned an alcohol-control policy, yet no one particular policy was featured in more than 10% of all stories. The most commonly featured news-actors included public-health professionals (50.0%), members of affected communities (28.4%) and government representatives (24.3%)

Conclusions: Problems related to alcohol were well-established foci of news attention and reportage and covered a broad spectrum of issues related to public health goals, yet less coverage centred on long-term health consequences or effective policy solutions.

Implications: Future policy advocacy could focus on moving the debate away from simple problem definition to better communication of long-term health risks, existing policies, and evidence of their effectiveness and arguments for their adoption. Future research might consider audience understanding of the information.