Why do so many in the media enjoy a beat-up?

This morning on ABC 774 radio, Kathy Bedford, a temporary morning announcer, raised the matter of a brutal assault on Dr Mukesh Haikerwell, past President of the AMA, that resulted in his being admitted to the Western General Hospital in suburban Melbourne for ‘brain surgery’.  Fortunately he is recovering well but will need rehabilitation.  Had Kathy focussed on the brutality of the assault on a gentle man who has done so much to improve health care, or even on the nature of his injury and what can be done to save lives and prevent permanent damage in such cases, she might have engaged her audience meaningfully.  Instead, she played the line that Dr Haikerwell might have received ‘preferential treatment’ by being given neurosurgery at Western General rather than at a large city hospital where such surgery is more commonly performed.  She asked: “If Dr Haikerwell could receive surgery there for head injury, why are others transported to city hospitals?”

She carried on this conversation in almost total ignorance of the different types of intracranial bleeding that could occur after head injury.  Despite two doctors explaining the different trajectory of different types of intracranial bleeding and the different consequences, she persisted with her ‘preferential treatment’ query.  This was despite both doctors explaining that one type of intracranial bleeding following head injury, so-called extradural haemorrhage, requires extremely urgent treatment.  Lives can be lost in a matter of minutes unless surgery is undertaken.  Not wanting to speculate on Dr Haikerwell’s situation, both doctors emphasized this in general terms, but to make the point, one described a case when despite an urgent operation in the ward immediately on admission, the patient had died. 

This did not deter Kathy from her pursuit of the possibility of a well know doctor receiving preferential treatment, even after one doctor informed her that there were neurosurgeons on staff at Western General who regularly performed brain surgery, referring elsewhere only the most complex cases.

Even when she acknowledged receiving a batch of text messages castigating her for her insensitive interview with the doctors, she pressed on, seemingly undaunted.  It was as if, having dug herself into a hole, she was determined to dig her way out and restore her credibility.

When radio journalists decide to stretch credulity to make something out of a situation, a so-called ‘beat-up’, they should at least bone up on the technicalities.  No one expects journalists to be medical experts, but if Kathy had taken a quick look at Wikipedia beforehand she would have sounded less foolish, and listening attentively to what the experts had to say would have been a sound cautionary move.  But the desire to ‘beat-up’ seemed too irresistible.

That this journalism upsets those who know better is bad enough; what is worse is that the public may be mislead and persuaded to the view that this patient did unfairly receive preferential treatment because he was a well-known doctor, which was the whole point of her story.

The media has the capacity to influence thinking profoundly.  It needs to be very careful how it promulgates information, and sensitive to its ‘rabble-rousing’ potential if it gets its facts wrong, if it interprets them incorrectly, and especially if it indulges in blatant ‘beat-ups’ in pursuit a ‘good story’.


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6/10/2008Well said, Ad Astra. Sad to say, I don't believe this isn't a once off event. 774's morning program has continually disappointed since the (hopefully temporary) departure of Jon Faine. From Ally Moore onward, the critical analysis and detailed understanding of nearly every topic covered has become substandard. Only ABC Tasmania's Tim Cox has satisfactorily filled Jon's shoes (during a brief late 2008 stint). So disillusioned am I with what Aunty offers (today's efforts being the icing on the proverbial cake) that this prodigal son has returned to the loving arms of 3RRR (well, at least after my daily dose of Fran Kelly).


6/10/2008...late 2007 stint...

Greensborough Growler

6/10/2008Nice post. Fair and balanced just like the ABC should be. Bedford was disgraceful.


7/10/2008I can see you chose this item from ABC radio to illustrate the point about media beat-ups, but the reality is that there are plenty of more egregious examples. The current furore over the photographer Bill Henson's receipt of permission to scout for models at a school in Victoria is just one example. To read the thunderings from the tabloid newspapers, you'd think that this fairly harmless act has severly damaged the 'fabric of our society' (whatever that is).

Francis Xavier Holden

9/10/2008Faine himself is/was not above the confected outrage and beatup. The sad part about Bedford's nonsense is that Haikerwell, rather than being favoured, may well have been said to have recieved sub optimal treatment by NOT going to a bigger hospital than Western. The sensible conclusion to anyone who cares to have some knowledge is that any largish hospital is as good as another for most things.
I have two politicians and add 17 clowns and 14 chimpanzees; how many clowns are there?