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'Lunchtime o' booze' not an invention

Alcohol control advocates have been known to express the view that journalists, and the newspapers for which they write, are not necessarily sympathetic to their cause. This could be mere paranoia, or it could be that journalists and newspapers actually are hostile to any views they define as `anti-alcohol'. For one thing, in many countries newspapers are keen to attract revenue from alcohol advertising, and pursuing an `anti-alcohol' policy in the editorial sections is unlikely to help in this regard.

There is also the matter of the drinking habits of the journalists themselves. Private Eye's fictional reporter `Lunchtime O' Booze' exemplifies the stereotype of the drunken hack all of whose news stories are found in the local bar. Now, a new academic study shows that while the stereotype is an exaggeration, it may not be a complete invention.*

The study, of 154 relatively senior British journalists, found that as a group they do indeed drink more than the general population. A third of the male journalists reported drinking between 22-35 drinks per week, compared with only 15 per cent of men in the general population. The contrast with the rest of the population was even more pronounced in the women journalists. For example, while only 4 per cent of women report drinking at `high risk' levels, over 18 per cent of the women journalists reported doing so. These reported drinking levels are of course consistent with the figures for deaths from cirrhosis and other alcohol-related causes, male workers in literary and artistic occupations, including journalism, being at around twice the risk of men in general.

But do journalists' drinking habits affect their opinions? The answer seems to be that they do. This is not surprising, as previous investigations have found that one of if not the best, predictors of people's attitudes to alcohol control policy is their own drinking habits: broadly, the more people drink themselves, the more liberal their attitudes to alcohol issues are likely to be. And so it was with the journalists: as a group they were generally hostile to measures restricting the availability of alcohol. Seventy to ninety per cent of them were positively opposed to increasing the tax on alcohol, restricting opening hours and banning media alcohol advertising. Some measures did meet the approval of the majority - tighter laws on drinking and driving, warning labels on alcoholic drink and making the proof of age scheme compulsory. A possible interpretation of these findings is that the journalists were only prepared to support measures that did not directly impinge on themselves.

Source: R. Baillie: Drinking Patterns among a Sample of British Newspaper Journalists. Paper presented at the meeting of the Kettil Bruun Society, Iceland, June 1997.