Government launching charm offensive on GM crops (8/8/2005)

1.Hutton wants media to end 'scare stories' on GM crops
2.John Hutton - Monday Interview: Cabinet Office Minister


Professor of linguistics Guy Cook in his book 'Genetically Modified Language' exposed how GM proponents see journalists as fickle, unconcerned with the truth, and motivated only by the need for a 'good story', while they characterise the press as pumping out scare stories about "Frankenstein foods".

And lo and behold Tony Blair's latest "ultra-loyal Blairite" at the Cabinet Office tells us in the interview below that he's going to be wooing newspaper editors to improve their GM coverage because "'Frankenstein food' makes a great headline but it's a travesty of the truth."

In his research Cook found that among GM proponents, "There is a limited discussion of types of opposition, with over half of the references to the press, for example, focusing upon the phrase 'Frankenstein foods' used in theDaily Mail". Yet, Cook found this phrase is now most commonly used not by journalists or opponents of GM but by proponents, who use it both to characterise the press in general and as an example of language used to sway people's opinions. Cook found, for instance, that one of Blair's MPs used it no less than five times in just half an hour!

And the chapter on journalists in Cook's book shows just how misleading "Frankenstein foods" is as a catch-all for British media coverage of GM. Not only does it not typify the style or content of many papers' coverage, but there are a series of newspapers (Cook focuses on The Times and The Sun) with a generally pro-GM editorial outlook.

Cook also notes how stories reporting speculative GM solutions to intractable problems (e.g. GM allergy-free peanuts, GM grass to help hay fever sufferers) are widely, and generally fairly uncritically, published in all types of newspapers. This means that stories designed to promote the GM cause, such as Bananas will slip into extinction 'without GM', turn up even in newspapers which tend to be critical of GM.

Of course, Prof Cook, was investigating UK press coverage as a linguistic scientist and, whatever they claim, the Blairites aren't remotely interested in the scientific reality - just in being able to give a clear run to corporate interests without too much awkward "red tape".

1.Hutton wants media to end 'scare stories' on GM crops
By Andrew Grice, Colin Brown and Katy Taylor-Richards
The Independent, 08 August 2005

A cabinet minister has revealed that the Government is launching a charm offensive to stop the media reporting scare stories about GM crops.

The campaign led by John Hutton, the Cabinet Office Minister, led environmental pressure groups to warn last night against the Government "softening up" the media for controversial scientific developments. The EU Commission will today approve the use in animal feed of a GM maize that allegedly showed a link with low liver weight in tests on rats. Anti-GM campaigners said agriculture ministers would now greenlight the maize for use in food, lifting a ban on its EU import.

Tony Blair dispatched Mr Hutton to talk to media chiefs because he fears Britain could miss out on economic and social benefits amid public hostility to GM.

Mr Hutton said he wanted to persuade the media to report sensitive issues such as GM crops and foods in a "more balanced" way to prevent crucial decisions being based on emotion rather than scientific opinion. But he insisted he was not trying to pressure the media.

Helen Hodder, of Friends of the Earth, said: "Rather than telling the media what they should think, the Government should be listening to what people want."

2.John Hutton: 'The media are entitled to be sceptical but the scientific context is important'
The Monday Interview: Cabinet Office Minister
By Andrew Grice
The Independent, 08 August 2005

When the Cabinet Office Minister John Hutton gave a presentation to the Cabinet last month on his drive to cut government red tape, he joked that before the meeting he had to slim a 100-page report from his officials about the initiative to just three pages.

Promising a bonfire of unnecessary regulations is one of oldest tricks in the Whitehall book, straight out of Yes Minister. But when Tony Blair promoted Mr Hutton to the Cabinet on his 50th birthday the day after the May general election, he ordered him to get to grips with the issue in a wider and more systematic way than any previous government by redefining the public debate over "risk".

And the Prime Minister told Mr Hutton to try to persuade the media to adopt a more balanced approach to the potential risks from scientific and technological advances. Mr Blair believes Britain (and Europe) is falling behind in biotechnology, the "industry of the future", and may miss out on its huge economic and social benefits because the debate is being dictated by "conspiracy theorists".

So Mr Hutton, flanked by the Government's chief scientific and medical officers, has had talks with broadcasters on how to ensure people are given the maximum information about future risks with minimum alarm. Talks with newspaper editors will follow. Other issues are more sensitive. Mr Blair is famously pro-GM and is worried decisions about it are being driven by emotion rather than science.

As a loyal Blairite, Mr Hutton is happy to raise the Prime Minister's banner. In his first newspaper interview in his post-election role, he agrees intervention by politicians in the media is "difficult territory" but insists a mature and open debate about the risks and challenges facing the nation will help it to make correct decisions.

The former Health minister confesses the Government almost wasted millions by installing temporary screening equipment at ports of entry during the Sars epidemic in China two years ago in response to a media frenzy. It made the right call, but only just.

And he says during the scare over the MMR vaccine, the health of children was damaged because the media gave so much prominence to the views of Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who raised the alarm over a possible link with autism, now dismissed. "You had 99.9 per cent of scientific opinion on one side and .1 per cent on the other, but their views were given equal value and prominence," Mr Hutton says.

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