Blog: Chris Brook-CarterRead all about it - the devil's drink

Chris Brook-Carter | 26 October 2005

For months now, the drinks industry – both soft and alcoholic - has been in the UK press’ line of fire. This Website has always made its position quite clear: the drinks industry must be part of the solution to both alcohol abuse and child obesity, but to view it as the only cause of these problems is ridiculous. But try telling that to the newspapers who, this weekend, plunged to new depths in their desperate search for scandal.

Coke was the victim to that bastion of balanced reporting The Mail on Sunday, which ran a story under the headline “Coca-Cola’s secret scheme to target children on the Internet.” Imagine my surprise, then, when this proved not to be a piece blowing open Neville Isdell’s secret trade in child labour, but an “expose” on how Coke is to start a new on-line marketing campaign aimed at making the brand trendy again amongst 12- to 15-year-olds. Coca-Cola was painted as the villain for trying to “reconnect” its flagship product with its target audience, surely the goal of every brand manager in every FMCG company the world over, rather than a ploy to pervert the world’s youth.

Sunday’s edition of the Observer, meanwhile, led with a story about how the drinks industry is planning a “ruthless campaign of economic incentives and psychological tricks to get customers to drink as much as possible when licensing laws are relaxed.” This “ruthless campaign” involved paying bar managers bonuses should they exceed sales targets – again no different to any other business. There were some worrying accusations about the mass sale of shots in the piece, but no evidence that irresponsible behaviour by publicans or producers is widespread.

However, any complaint I had with the lead story paled into insignificance against the colour piece the left-of-centre paper ran as back up. An Observer journalist chronicled a night out she spent in a city just outside London, claiming she was sold “enough drink to kill me”.

The language used was unbalanced and judgemental, and I quote: “It seemed as though everyone was drunk, but no one was turned away from the bar. The bouncers walked straight past the woman with the whipped cream, the couple simulating sex in the corner and the two barmaids gyrating to Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’.”

More important, however, is the fact that this journalist’s argument is flawed. She blames the bar for selling her a total of 64 units of alcohol, 32 each for her and a friend, but admits that she gave the drinks away to other punters. Given that the reporter was not sinking all these drinks herself, was working and clearly maintained a good eye for detail, we can only assume she wasn’t drunk and should therefore have expected to have been served.

Not only does the hunt for scapegoats fail to solve these delicate issues satisfactorily, it actually adds to the problem by avoiding one vital question – when will the responsibility of the individual once again be taken seriously as part of the solution to alcohol abuse?


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