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Comment: The wrath of an angry Auntie

There is something slightly troubling about the coverage the drinks industry has been receiving lately in the UK media – particularly on the BBC.

Events of the last couple of days have merely served to enhance the unsettling feeling that the BBC, affectionately known as ‘Auntie’, has been fed an anti-alcohol agenda by the government.

Monday night’s Panorama programme – “The Truth About Happy Hour” – painted a disturbing picture of alcohol abuse among young revellers in the northern town of Oldham, yet it wouldn’t have made for good TV if it was any other way.

While violence and public disorder of any sort is 100% indefensible, did the show’s sensationalist portrayal of the mayhem that grips town centres every weekend really show us anything we didn’t know already?

People like to have a drink at the weekend. Shock. People like to save money so they will hunt about for the cheapest deal. Shock. Sometimes people will even have a few drinks at home before they go out, known ominously as ‘pre-loading’. Pick me up off the floor.

Having sat through the ‘investigation’ offered by Panorama, one could easily have come away with the feeling that alcohol is at the core of all society’s ills. Yet what was the actual message the show was trying to get across?

Aside from highlighting the sheer impracticality of the new licensing regulations being trialled in the town, whereby increasingly frustrated punters queued for the bar in single file Post Office-style lines, the show shied away from placing the blame with anyone but the shops, bars and clubs serving the featured inebriated morons their alcohol.

What it should have done was highlight the need for deep-seated cultural change. The government, however, will not consider such a message acceptable, for it is their Britain, their British culture, which would be criticised.

Far better for the government that the blame be laid at the feet of enterprising retailers trying to attract customers during an economic downturn, than at an education system which has so blatantly failed to instil values, respect, knowledge and common sense among the rampaging masses that tear through the streets of Oldham and urban centres across the UK every weekend.

Db does not in any way condone irresponsible discounting, nor do we endorse the actions of bars which continue to serve alcohol to drunk people. What we would like to see, however, is an admission that responsibility for the cultural problems facing our country, such as alcohol abuse, such as anti-social behaviour, such as a lack of public education on the dangers of binge-drinking and pre-loading, are first and foremost the responsibility of the government. But then the BBC would never dream of upsetting the boss, would they…

No sooner had Panorama stopped bashing the booze than Britain awoke to the ‘news’ that alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer.

There doesn’t seem to be much these days that doesn’t cause cancer, but one can only imagine the glee felt by government health ministers when this latest shot-in-the-dark was offered up by a bunch of scientists.

It offered yet another chance to portray alcohol as the enemy of the people, and I for one would not be surprised if they were straight on the phone to the BBC newsroom to ensure the story was given prime billing on BBC Breakfast.

Naturally, the story was all over the breakfast news that morning. Do you think the story would have been given as much air time if the offending cancer-causer was our dear old cup of tea? Of course not.

They will pounce on any chance to highlight the evils of drink, but one has to wonder where the order to do so came from. They did it with tobacco, now they’re doing it with drink. We’ve seen it all before.

Alan Lodge, 12.08.2009 

What do you think about the coverage alcohol has recieved on the BBC lately? Is it unfair? Do you think it has been fed an agenda from Westminster? Or do you believe recent coverage merely reflects the reality of the alcohol culture in the UK? Email your views to

Peter Bowyer, director, Marlborough International (UK) Limited 

"I fear that Alan Lodge’s heart-felt comments are only preaching to the converted, although I won’t go as far to agree that the Government are actually instructing the BBC as to how to schedule programmes and content. Whilst we may not agree with everything that the BBC does we do live in a sort of democracy – well, we used to anyway – where roughly equal coverage was given to differing views. In general the BBC does give an even handed view; we cannot forget the Oz and James adventures which more than adequately promoted our cause.

"It is worth commenting though that the BBC used to publish a magazine called Food and Drink (I think) but if I am correct the drink side of that publication has been completely abandoned. On that basis there is indeed scope for conspiracy theorists to conjure up thoughts of direction from people in Whitehall, but I fear that it is just political correctness – in an institution known to be riddled with that blight – gone too far. I won’t harm to remind the BBC of this every now and then."

Margaret Rand, Waitrose

"I don’t have a television, so can’t join in the debate, but that was a good piece. The government needs alcohol to be a problem, because it’s such a good fund-raiser. And it’s certainly not going to say clearly that binge drinkers are stupid and uneducated because a) it educated them, and b) they have the vote."

Russel Gillwald, marketing director, Wild Africa Cream

"Political correctness – a contradiction in terms if ever there was one, yet it is embraced with absolute fervour in English society. I saw the BBC piece about alcohol causing mouth cancer, I’ve also seen several other inserts showing inebriated youths misbehaving. What I haven’t seen is any coverage of drunk pensioners misbehaving, why not? That’s because nearly all of us grow up after testing the boundaries during our youth – we change as we get older, that’s why the book “Abseiling for the Elderly – A Step by Step Guide” isn’t a best seller. About the same time as the “you’ll die if you drink” insert, there was one about railway crime, showing cctv footage of youths smashing trains, trying to derail them and other forms of distasteful conduct aimed at British Rail. Questions: What are young teenagers doing playing on railway lines after dark, or indeed at any time? What about the social responsibility of their parents? Is getting drunk after trying to derail a train such a bad thing?
"Homo sapiens is a simple organism whose basic instincts haven’t evolved much since cave-man days. Then, if you fancied someone you clubbed them over the head and dragged them off to your boudoir. Nowadays society frowns on such behaviour, but does that mean the instinct is gone? What’s happened is the expensive, time consuming and often less effective “dinner-and-a-movie” has replaced the club, how we get the job done has become more important than getting it done. Between your home and your office count the number of signs either telling you not to do something or warning you of grave danger. If there are less than twenty I’d be surprised. Recently, while walking by the Thames, I saw a sign on a railing that read “DANGER – DEEP WATER. RISK OF DROWNING”. I retreated in fear, thinking that the ferryboat moored nearby was floating in six inches of water. Where would we be without the signs?

"We live such boring, controlled and structured lives that naturally we want to have a bit of fun and let off steam now and then. But wait – fun leads to chaos and social degeneracy, so the thought police have decided that if they stop us from having fun all the collateral damage caused by it will go. They haven’t stopped to think that its our nature to have fun, its instinctive, and if you doubt that just look at your kids, they’re only happy when they’re having fun. All we try to do is teach them how to do it so nobody gets hurt, and saying “don’t have fun” doesn’t work. Is big brother ever going to change our instinctive fabric? I don’t think so, especially if its going to be by scaring us into submission."

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