News Media and the Influence of the Alcohol Industry: An Analysis of Media Coverage of Alcohol Warning Labels With a Cancer Message in Canada and Ireland
Media coverage of alcohol-related policy measures can influence public debate and is often more aligned with interests of the alcohol industry than public health. The purpose of this study was to examine the framing of news coverage of alcohol warning label (AWL) initiatives that included a cancer message on alcohol containers in two different countries. Policy contexts and industry perspectives were also evaluated.
The study identified and systematically reviewed news articles published between 2017–2019 covering an AWL academic study in Yukon, Canada, and labeling provisions in a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in Ireland. Both included a cancer message. News stories were coded for media type and topic slant; inclusion of alcohol industry perspectives was examined using content analysis.
Overall, 68.4% of media articles covering the Yukon Study (n = 38) and 18.9% covering the Ireland Bill (n = 37) were supportive of AWLs with a cancer message. The majority of articles in both sites presented alcohol industry perspectives (Yukon, 65.8%; Ireland, 86.5%), and industry arguments opposing AWLs were similar across both contexts. In articles with statements from industry representatives, the label message was frequently disputed by distorting or denying the evidence that alcohol causes cancer (n = 33/43).
News coverage of AWLs with a cancer message was more supportive in Canada than Ireland, where alcohol industry perspectives were consistently foregrounded. Industry arguments opposing the cancer label bore similarities across contexts, often distorting or denying the evidence. Increasing awareness of industry messaging strategies may generate more critical coverage of industry lobbying activities and increase public support for alcohol policies.