The last decade has seen a steady increase in Canadian media coverage on opioid use. The mounting number of opioid-related deaths — over 9,000 since 2016 alone — has led to the characterization of the issue as a crisis or epidemic.
A 2019 University of Toronto-affiliated study analyzed trends in news reporting related to opioids in Canada from 2000–2017 to understand how the portrayal of the issue has changed in the media over time.
Co-authors Dr. Fiona Webster, a medical sociologist and an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University; and Dr. Abhimanyu Sud, a physician and an assistant Professor in U of T’s Faculty of Family and Community Medicine, discussed the findings of their research with The Varsity.
“The point is not to demonize or vilify the media, or any particular journal per se, but to look at how the media both creates and reflects back to us what our own social values are, [and] what our own beliefs are,” Webster said.
An evolving narrative
In their analysis of 826 Canadian news articles, the emergence of prominent themes around opioids varied greatly from 2000–2017.
The authors noted a clear departure from discussions dominated by clinical pain care and the promise of opioid treatments in the early 2000s to growing concerns over the highly-addictive nature of the substance and critiques of the pharmaceutical industry at the turn of the decade. Concern over physician prescribing practices and deceit by the pharmaceutical industry were then replaced by an emphasis on the illicit drug market and its adulteration with fentanyl in the latter half of the 2010s.
“We found in our study that pharma’s role in all of this for the most part disappeared from view as the crisis continued,” said Webster. “And we thought that was very interesting, and it is important to tell that story.”
Critical content analysis
To identify the underlying societal values and beliefs that have influenced the definition of the opioid crisis in public discourse, the authors used an approach called ‘critical content analysis.’
This method involves “looking at [opioid coverage] with a view not just to describe what we found, but to think about who benefits from these types of stories, [and] who’s being excluded or marginalized,” explained Webster.
The analysis was in part informed by critical theory and what has been termed the ‘new capitalism,’ especially due to its implications across social life. In the case of opioids, individuals with chronic pain or experience with opioids are often among the most vulnerable members of society, and the consequences of advanced capitalist practices materialize through what Webster describes as “ongoing attacks on social welfare systems.”
“We could see that people were being positioned as criminals… [which feeds] into people’s ideas that we should be reducing social benefits for people, that these types of people are somehow unworthy of our attention and our support as a society.”
This belief is closely tied to that of personal responsibility in health, which has led to the moralization of health issues, such as substance use and dependence. Indeed, a 2017 research study showed that patients with substance use disorder face higher stigma for their condition in society than those with other psychiatric disorders.
“That… neoliberal positioning is related to this idea that people are individually responsible for things like their own health, and that view completely ignores the structural and social inequities that produce health disparities,” said Webster.
Beliefs such as these are especially harmful because they not only reinforce stigma against already-marginalized groups, but also preclude conversations about systemic change.
Defining the scope of the problem
The authors noted frequent use of sensational language to characterize opioid use by Canadian news outlets when tackling the opioid problem.
And yet, defining the scope of the issue itself, along with its origin in particular, was often nebulous. “Is the crisis the drugs? Is the crisis how the drugs are used? [We] need to be specific about the locus of the crisis if we want to actually address it,” said Sud.
The authors also identified repeated efforts to assign blame to particular groups or individuals, such as the government or physicians, as a prominent theme. References to criminality — illegal drug use, drug trafficking, and drug-seeking behaviour — were also found to be a recurrent topic in articles attempting to define the nature of the problem.
Furthermore, their findings showed a tendency for high-risk opioid use to be described as a self-contained phenomenon. This is opposed to academic research, which shows it existing in conjunction with other substance use problems and mental health conditions, as well as socio-structural determinants of health.
When asked about her thoughts on the relative lack of coverage on these underlying factors, Webster cautioned against taking too simplistic of a view, but theorized that “It reflects the values of our society and the fact that we would rather think that these problems are caused by drug cartels and street users.”
Indeed, the opioid crisis does not exist in a vacuum; there are many institutional and systemic forces at play. Webster noted that deep-rooted issues such as racism, classism, and gender bias are all implicated in the rise in overdose-related deaths. However, this nuance is rarely captured in news articles.
A telling example is the relative absence of reporting on the impact of opioids on Indigenous communities in Canada, despite there being extensive evidence of Indigenous people being disproportionately affected. This effect is attributable to a historical social context of intergenerational trauma, colonialism, and racism that has been inflicted onto Indigenous people.
The social construction of the “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” opioid user narrative
The authors sought to draw attention to the ways in which the opioid crisis was being socially constructed, and in particular, the ways in which media reporting distorted reality.
A pervasive narrative theme identified in their analysis was the idea of the legitimate versus illegitimate user. Legitimate users were those who became dependent after being prescribed opioids by a physician.
“They don’t misuse [opioids] or divert them or crush them or sell them, but they use it to treat their pain,” Sud noted of the typical media portrayal. “Most explicitly, they’re no junkie.” They were described as ‘the common person’ — otherwise upstanding citizens who had fallen victim to misfortune. Importantly, legitimate users were those perceived as being worthy of care.
“We call this a critical analysis… because we look at what’s there, but you also look for what’s not there, or… what’s not explicitly constructed versus what’s explicitly constructed,” Sud explained.
“So in constructing this legitimate patient, you construct also the illegitimate patient, the person who’s a junkie, who uses street drugs, who’s not working, who’s not employed, and [who’s] not contributing to larger society,” he continued. “This was one of the most… telling sort of construction, because we see this is in the discourse around solutions and interventions around the opioid crisis, and it creates a lot of problems because it pits people against each other.”
The ‘junkie’ stereotype is neither new nor accurate, and as Webster noted, these individuals are often characterized in “very one-dimensional ways,” which is not only stigmatizing but damaging for families who have lost a loved one to overdose.
And while these categorizations themselves are problematic, Sud explained that they can create even more problems when used as the basis for policy.
This work comes at a critical time, as an unprecedented overdose crisis unfolds in Canada and across North America, and media reporting plays an increasingly influential role in shaping the public’s perception of the issue.
Both Sud and Webster reflected on the need for people to “be careful consumers of media of all forms,” and to think critically about the types of stories being told rather than just accepting them at face value.
Disclosure: Indhu Rammohan is the President of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy U of T Chapter.
Nagorno-Karabakh: Information war and competing media narratives – Al Jazeera English
While international media focuses on the fighting, it is a conflict largely seen and read through official tweets, Facebook posts and emails.
Tbilisi, Georgia – Nagorno-Karabakh is today uniquely isolated in more ways than one.
From Azerbaijan, it should easily be reachable from the capital, Baku. But there is no way through the armies stationed on the front lines, separated in some places by not more than a few hundred metres of no man’s land, encamped in a vast network of impenetrable trenches and surrounded by minefields.
When I last travelled there to cover an outbreak in hostilities in April 2016, an asphalt road from Armenia deteriorated the closer we approached the territory. It was a tense, bone-jarring ride.
Some of the roads have since been resurfaced thanks to a more youthful and less corruption-prone government in Yerevan, but that first sight of the “Black Garden” is no less alluring – a forested mountain range sloping down to meadows and plains baked yellow in the fierce heat of summer.
The region is geographically isolated, but so too are its people – isolated from the narrative.
There are fewer than 150,000 people living in Karabakh (today almost exclusively ethnic Armenian).
There are tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis exposed in farmsteads and villages along Azerbaijan’s side of the so-called line of control. And in Armenia, there are thousands of villagers close to the border with Azerbaijan.
We are talking about the people not wearing military uniforms – all vulnerable to the heavy weaponry now being deployed.
They are the civilians referred to in a daily headcount of casualties, or those who have escaped with their lives but have seen their homes peppered by shrapnel, roofs blasted off, or walls reduced to masonry rubble.
They are those who have endured the threat of all-out war for decades, living through sporadic cross-border violence, mortars, missiles and sniper fire, making it often impossible to go out and farm their fields in safety.
And they are the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis and Armenians suffering from the trauma of exile. As many as a million people are refugees or internally displaced people from the inter-ethnic conflict over Karabakh in the 1990s and the ghastly pogroms in the Azerbaijani SSR as the Soviet Union was collapsing.
Reaching Karabakh and the people who live in and around it was never easy. The pandemic has deterred newsrooms from dispatching journalists to travel.
Now their human stories risk being drowned out by officialese. A sterile terminology thrives, the language of security bloc acronyms and geopolitics, spouted by presidents and ministers, spokespeople, and us, the reporters too.
The international media focuses its attention once again on the fighting, but it is a conflict for now largely seen and read through official tweets, Facebook posts and emails.
We watch through cameras mounted on military drones and hilltop high magnification lenses. The videos depict tanks, anti-aircraft defences and personnel carriers disappearing in puffs of smoke.
Young recruits barely out of school are human beings too, but pixelated or hidden inside this war machinery.
Some claims are a distraction. Azerbaijan says foreign fighters are assisting Armenian forces. Armenian officials claim Syrian mercenaries are already imposing Islamic law in Azerbaijani villages.
At the time of writing, fewer than 48 hours since the latest fighting began, none of it – yet – is independently verifiable.
Official sources have monopolised the messaging. And internet restrictions in Azerbaijan have stifled conversations between its citizens on social media.
Much of the official messaging seems vainglorious – Azerbaijan’s defence minister describes the liberation of occupied lands as a “sacred duty”.
An Armenian tweet shows a pious priest brandishing a Kalashnikov.
Controlling the narrative and the media obscures the human suffering. The pandemic, the geography and the information war make it all the more difficult to penetrate the isolation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Engine Media Provides Update on Acquisition of Allinsports – Canada NewsWire
TORONTO, Sept. 28, 2020 /CNW/ — Engine Media Holdings, Inc. (“Engine” or the “Company”; TSX-V: GAME; OTCQB: MLLLF) announces that it continues to work towards closing of the previously announced acquisition of Allinsports (see press releases of April 22, 2020 and August 10, 2020). The Company has advised the shareholders of Allinsports that all closing conditions of the transaction have not been satisfied – the shareholders of Allinsports have advised the Company that they believe otherwise. The parties continue to discuss resolution of these matters. Further updates will be provided as they become available.
About Engine Media Holdings, Inc.
Engine Media is focused on accelerating new, live, immersive esports and interactive gaming experiences for consumers through its partnerships with traditional and emerging media companies. The company was formed through the combination of Torque Esports Corp., Frankly Inc., and WinView, Inc. and trades publicly under the ticker symbol (TSX-V: GAME) (OTCQB: MLLLF). Engine Media will generate revenue through a combination of: direct-to-consumer and subscription fees; streaming technology and data SaaS-based offerings; programmatic advertising and sponsorships; as well as intellectual property licensing fees. To date, the combined companies have clients comprised of more than 1,200 television, print and radio brands including CNN, ESPN, Discovery / Eurosport, Fox, Vice, Newsweek and Cumulus; dozens of gaming and technology companies including EA, Activision, Blizzard, Take2Interactive, Microsoft, Google, Twitch and Ubisoft; and have connectivity into hundreds of millions of homes around the world through their content, distribution and technology.
Cautionary Statement on Forward-Looking Information
This news release contains forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of Engine to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. Often, but not always, forward-looking statements can be identified by the use of words such as “plans”, “expects” or “does not expect”, “is expected”, “estimates”, “intends”, “anticipates” or “does not anticipate”, or “believes”, or variations of such words and phrases or state that certain actions, events or results “may”, “could”, “would”, “might” or “will” be taken, occur or be achieved. Forward-looking information contained in this news release include, but are not limited to, statements relating to closing of the acquisition of Allinsports and the satisfaction of all closing conditions thereto. In respect of the forward-looking information contained herein, Engine has provided such statements and information in reliance on certain assumptions that management believed to be reasonable at the time, including assumptions as to obtaining required regulatory approvals. Forward-looking information involves known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements stated herein to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking information. Actual results could differ materially from those currently anticipated due to a number of factors and risks. Accordingly, readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking information contained in this news release.
The forward-looking statements contained in this news release are made as of the date of this release and, accordingly, are subject to change after such date. Engine does not assume any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether written or oral, that may be made from time to time by us or on our behalf, except as required by applicable law.
Neither the TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.
SOURCE Engine Media Holdings, Inc.
Public urged to call police first, not use social media, to report suspicious incidents in Mount Pleasant – Vancouver Sun
Vancouver police are urging the public to call investigators first — instead of posting on social media — with reports of suspicious activity in Mount Pleasant.
The reminder comes as police investigate suspicious events in Mount Pleasant that were reported in social media posts. The posts allege a man in a silver sedan has been approaching or following women in the Mount Pleasant area, asking to borrow phones or inviting them to approach the vehicle. Other posts allege similar incidents are also taking place in Kitsilano and Burnaby.
The flurry of informal reports has prompted the creation of a neighbourhood safe walk and plenty of action on group chats and social channels, although police say they have no evidence to link any of the reported incidents.
“We want them to call police right away,” Const. Tania Visintin said to anyone who has had a similar experience in recent weeks. “Don’t go to the internet and write it on Twitter, don’t tell your barista or server. Call us so we can investigate.”
“We just want the first thing not to be people going to social media, we want you to call us so we can track these incidents and we can see if they’re all linked.”
Visintin said Monday that a handful of suspicious circumstances had been reported directly to police in the Mount Pleasant area in recent weeks and that investigators are taking them seriously. And while there is an understandable desire for residents to warn others in the community, Visintin notes that unconfirmed social media posts can create a lot of fear.
“If we truly believe that we need to warn the public, we 100 per cent will and that will come from our mouth right away,” she said, noting there is nothing wrong with warning others, but that it’s important to contact police first with information that can help an investigation.
“If anything, we should all get out of this is awareness. We need to remind everyone — men, women and children — to be alert, be aware of your surroundings, know where you are, have your phone on you charged in any kind of situation so this is a good reminder of that.”
Visintin also noted that many of the posts about the recent circumstances are written by individuals on behalf of a friend or are secondary sources, which poses a challenge for investigators who need to speak directly with victims.
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