There is a growing literature on news media representations of alcohol-related issues. However, current scholarship has neglected critical political economic frameworks to interpret media coverage of alcohol. This paper presents such a framework that conceives of news organisations as corporations that share the values and interests of political and economic elites. The media are thus expected to present viewpoints that are more aligned with the alcohol industry than the scientific consensus on public health policy would warrant. The media are also expected, but to a lesser extent, to present a certain amount of support for public health perspectives because these are supported by a few socioeconomic elite groups (the medical professions, progressive politicians). The case of Ireland from 2012 to 2017 illustrates the framework empirically. Four main newspapers’ coverage of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and related policies is examined. Results show that, overall, 44.0% of articles support public health measures and 56.0% are opposed or remain neutral. It is argued that the media are not strong proponents of public health for multiple reasons: there are more articles opposed to or neutral toward public health measures than supporting them; the number of supportive articles remains relatively small and there are still many pieces presenting drinks industry views; there are virtually no calls in the media for stronger
measures; supportive coverage is partially explained by the pub owners lobby’s support for minimum unit pricing; the media often downplay or ignore the negative consequences of alcohol, such as its role in accidents; many news articles normalise drinking and promote events sponsored by the industry; there is not a single Irish journalist covering alcohol issues systematically; and other policy issues that are prioritised by elites receive multiple times more media coverage than public health measures. In short, the media reflect the views of the political and economic establishment on public health measures: there is some support from the medical professions and progressive politicians, but overall, there is a clear reluctance to support strong public health strategies. One main recommendation for public health advocates to promote their perspectives is to diversify the mass media and make them less commercial in nature, as well as to engage with non-corporate, so-called progressive “alternative media” outlets.
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