Information overload, emotionally aroused brains and the practice of journalism.

Political scientist Markus Prior claims that “the share of politically uninformed people has risen since we entered the so-called information age”. Prior’s analysis is cited in What is Happening to News, a book authored by veteran newspaperman Jack Fuller, in which he tackles the current crisis in journalism. According to Fuller, journalism is important and is responsible for informing us about our world.

Fuller discusses the current media landscape where large numbers of the public are deserting the traditional forms of print media, news and current affairs programs. He claims that with the advent of cable television and the internet, media consumers are easily distracted and are avoiding hard news and current affairs, leading to a less informed populace.

His research delves into the realms of neuroscience showing how our brains are being ‘inundated’ with ‘messages from everywhere’ which ‘pound away at the senses, trying to force their way into our ancient brain’. Information overload, work pressures and multi- tasking result in an ‘emotionally aroused brain’ that is more amenable to sensational news coverage, or to having a comedian presenting the nightly news.

We pour over the clever headlines, skim the scant paragraphs and due to multitude demands on our time, neglect to check the article’s veracity or otherwise. A recent story published in the Herald Sun reported that the health department was extending its free parent whooping cough vaccination program due to a huge increase in the number of children coming down with the disease. The brief report in the Herald Sun included a stock photo of a distressed child requiring a breathing mask and feeding tube strategically placed above the report, arousing our emotions but sadly not awakening the sceptic within.

Blogger Meryl Dorey claims that the media’s reporting on the issue of vaccination lacks facts and that decisions to vaccinate need to be made based on scientific research. According to the Herald Sun report, cases of childhood whooping cough are rising with 5500 cases reported in Victoria for the year 2010.

This very short article urges parents to avail themselves of the offer of a free whooping cough vaccine in order to protect their child from getting the disease. But it fails to mention that 95% of children are vaccinated against it anyway. Max Laughton, the author of the article Extra jabs for whooping cough has omitted many relevant facts and trends regarding the contentious issue of vaccination. For example, in the year 1991, 71% of Australian children were vaccinated with the whooping cough vaccine and 318 cases of the disease were reported. In 2009, with 95% of children vaccinated there were 30,000 cases reported. This report needs to ask why inspite of the current high vaccination rates there is an increase in the cases of children with whooping cough. It also needs to raise questions about the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“The increase in the incidence of whooping cough is not just happening in Victoria,” says Meryl Dorey, who also runs the Australian Vaccination Network. “This is happening around the country and across the world- wherever the vaccination is being used. Rates of vaccination have never been as high as now and yet we had 30,000 cases of whooping cough in Australia last year. I just don’t believe that the whooping cough vaccine gives immunity,” says Dorey.

Dorey believes that it is very irresponsible for the health department to just tell people to have this vaccine because its use hasn’t been studied in groups such as the elderly. “The AVN says that before you make any decision about vaccination you should be fully informed about the treatment and its effects,” added Dorey.

Informing the public about the risks associated with vaccination wins you few friends as Meryl Dorey discovered when a complaint made about the AVN’s practices led to the activist group being stripped of its charitable status. But inspite of her considerable setbacks the health activist continues to inform parents of their rights to question vaccination.

The Herald Sun as Australia’s biggest selling daily newspaper with more than 1.5 million Victorian daily readers owes its readers more than mere sensationalism. Author of What is Happening to News, Jack Fuller describes ‘the social mission of journalism’ as ‘the courage to gather and disseminate information when powerful people and institutions do not want the information known’

Helen Lobato 2011


Meryl Dorey's AVN site got a massive slap on the wrist because it claims to provide a balanced view of the benefits & risks of vaccination but does nothing of the sort. For example, her site claims that measles (a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people a year) is harmless. Mainstream media reporting of health issues is often superficial - but Dorey's work has little basis in reputable medical science. Approach with caution.