A question in Holyrood on Wednesday 5th November 2019 has triggered a response by expert on media effects, Professor John Robertson, late of the University of the West of Scotland:
Bill Bowman (North East Scotland) (SCAUP): To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the findings in the Office for National Statistics report, Personal well-being in the UK: April 2018 to March 2019, which records 15.3% and 9.8% increases respectively in levels of anxiety over the last year among people in Angus and Dundee, and what its position is on whether the performance of NHS Tayside might have contributed to this.
Mr Bowman is correct to draw attention to this apparent spike but has misunderstood the reasons for increased anxiety in the general population. Bowman is presumably referring to the cases of breast cancer and mental health treatment given much attention by BBC Reporting Scotland in the last 6 to 9 months. The actual performance of NHS Tayside, later defended by experts, which he alludes to, only affected a small number of people directly and so cannot explain a spike in anxiety levels among the wider population.
However, as most of us know, it is the representation or reporting of events which can cause widespread anxiety. So, the daily TV reporting, dwelling-upon and revisiting cases of alleged malpractice, regardless of the fact that they are extremely rare events which most of the population will never experience, can have a disproportionate effect and distort viewers perceptions of reality.
Researchers have already shown that the fear of crime, including medical malpractice, in most western countries, is greater than it should be given the actual level and that those who consume high levels of violent or traumatic media reports, including news reports, are prone to generalised anxiety disorder.
Now, in Angus and Tayside, Mr Bowman wonders if the ‘performance of NHS Tayside, might have contributed to’ the increased anxiety. The answer is, of course, that while the actual performance was satisfactory and only experienced by a tiny minority, it cannot, but the BBC reporting of NHS Tayside might have been.
In these two cases, it was BBC Reporting Scotland which led the accusations of malpractice, even using the word, ‘dysfunctional’, to describe the Oncology Department. Readers will know that subsequent comments by experts revealed the reports to have been utterly wrong but by then damage may have been done to the confidence of thousands living in Tayside. Indeed, some may have suffered serious harm, mental and/or physical, due to fear of coming forward for treatment they needed because of the BBC Reporting Scotland coverage suggesting they might be at risk if they did.
For fuller accounts of the faked NHS Tayside news reports: