Journalism is a matter of making choices. Underlying these choices are mental processes operating sometimes at the sub-conscious level. Confronted with RCPCH’s landmark State of Child Health report, released today, what a journalist writes will inevitably involve a process of selection and of prioritising information. A junior reporter knows that they cannot just write what they want but, either consciously or more often sub-consciously, they already know what those above them in the organisation expect and they work toward those expectations as they report. The editor who will accept, modify or reject their draft also is working toward someone above them and they know what is required. In Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-Independence and anti-SNP media, reports which might reflect upon the Scottish Government must, with few exceptions, present a negative view of Scotland in some way. Reports may have positive elements, but the overall picture cannot be taken by the reader to be complimentary to the Scottish Government, the SNP or even Scotland generally given that even the latter might be interpreted to reflect well on the government of the day. Rare exceptions are allowed, as these enable the claim of impartiality, but their infrequency means that they cannot change the overall impact and are known by political scientists as ‘repressive tolerance.’
So, when we see the Herald use, in a story on the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s 2018 report, a link to a January 2017 report with the headline ‘among worst in Europe’ suggesting we will be reading more about the 2018 RCPCH report, we see again, the agenda revealed. There is a similar phrase toward the end of the 2018 report, but many other choices could have been made along the way and it is not even one of the main messages intended by the RCPCH. My headline above comes very early in the report and looks headline-worthy but of course does not fit the story the reporter feels obliged to tell. Long before we get to their headline phrase, we see and could select these:
‘Policies that will improve childhood obesity rates, breastfeeding rates, women’s health during pregnancy, child poverty and child and adolescent mental health have all been welcomed in the new scorecard, which sees the Scottish Government performing far better than the Westminster Government when it comes to its focus on child health. However, doctors say that in Scotland, ‘the key now is to ensure these policy commitments are delivered.’
We then see an impressive list of achievements recognised in the report:
‘Key recommendations from State of Child Health that have been adopted include:
- An announcement to expand the number of health visitors by an additional 500 by the end of 2018 through the full roll-out of the Family Nurse Partnership programme.
- A commitment from Scottish Government to ensure specialist breastfeeding advice and support is delivered to women
- A commitment from Scottish Government to review statutory sex and relationships education in all schools
- A commitment from Scottish Government to create a system to ensure that child deaths are properly reviewed
- A commitment to deliver a Child and Adolescent Health and Wellbeing Action Plan
- A commitment from Scottish Government to tackle obesity by supporting families to lead active lives, encouraging more women and girls to take up sport and launching a consultation with the view to publishing a strategy later this year’
Still long before the bad news, we read:
‘Dr Steve Turner, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s Officer for Scotland, said: It’s heartening that the child health and wellbeing agenda is moving forward in Scotland. At the end of 2017 the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament, providing a positive first step towards reducing child poverty. The Scottish Government has led the way nationally by setting a minimum unit price on alcohol, it has committed to deliver a child and adolescent health and well-being action plan in 2018, an obesity strategy and has committed to adopt a ‘child health in all policies’ approach. All of these developments indicate how serious Scottish Government is taking child health and they will help Scotland become a healthier country for children. “Considering only a year has passed since the launch of our State of Child Health report, it is encouraging that so many commitments to child health have been made. The key now is to make sure these commitments are delivered effectively.’
As we approach the latter parts of the report we find the bit that jumps out to the relief of any reporter from the Unionist media:
‘Currently Scotland has amongst the worst outcomes for child health in Europe, and it’s clear much more needs to be done, specifically around ensuring the health system meets children and young people’s needs.’
Now why did the RCPCH leave this information so late and why was their headline:
‘Child health agenda moving forward but policy commitments must be delivered, say doctors’?
It’s simple, the RCPCH report was an assessment of what has been done and what still needs to be done by the Scottish Government to reduce child health problems. It was also clearly a report aimed at praising the Scottish government for its achievements so far and to encourage it in further developments. It was not a report about the actual health outcomes. That is clear in that no data on this are actually presented nor is there any discussion on the possible causes of the health outcomes such as UK government austerity policies.