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A content analysis of prescription drug information in the UK print news media

By H Prosser and K Clayson


Objective: to determine the frequency and nature of news stories of prescription drugs in a range of widely distributed UK newspapers, and to examine what information is presented. Setting UK newsprint media. Method Content analysis. Key findings: seven-hundred and eighty-five daily and 130 Sunday newspapers were examined. A total of 556 articles mentioning at least one prescription medicine were identified. The majority of news stories (n = 352) present one of two dominant, but conflicting characterisations of modern medicine. On one side, most articles (n = 251) are positive in their portrayal of medicines, with an emphasis on the potential benefits of new drugs. Of these, only 21 (14%) were concerned with new drugs currently available and licensed in the UK. On the other side, a smaller number of articles represented ‘negative news’ about medicines, generally reporting the side-effects or iatrogenic effects of prescription drugs. Positive stories frequently excluded mention of the harmful effects or potential risks of drugs, and equally, ‘negative’ stories frequently excluded any mention of a drug's beneficial effects. Just over one-third of articles (36%, 128/352) included reference to other treatment options. Fifty-six per cent of articles referred to the findings of a specific research study. Of these, 58% cited a specific information source - a journal (66%) or scientific meeting/conference (34%). Conclusion: the findings indicate that while the news print media are prolific communicators of information about medicines, the information provided is often incomplete and ambiguous, thus constraining the reader's ability to evaluate the risks and benefits of medicines and make informed treatment decisions. It emphasises the benefits of new drugs, particularly those yet to receive a product licence, and the harms of established prescription drugs. Findings highlight the need to make medicines reporting in the UK press more comprehensive

Topics: health_and_wellbeing, media_dig_tech_and_creative_econ
Publisher: Wiley
Year: 2008
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