ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 60 FEBRUARY 2010
DRUG WAR – MEDIA WAR
Although more and more people, scientists, politicians and intellectuals recognise that drug prohibition is a bad idea, the truth is that for the ordinary citizen, common perceptions are the same as they have been for decades. Drugs harm and kill, and therefore they should be prohibited! In the public debate and in the media, nothing is said that counters this. There is a huge gap between what is said by anti-prohibitionists and what is felt by the people who vote and elect those who make new policies.
But if scientific evidence proves the inefficacy of the prohibitionist regime, why do social communicators ignore this? It is a strange situation, not least because journalists in democratic countries in the West insist on showing the world that they are free, fair and genuine, and tend to criticize countries that practice censorship.
Like it or not, the criterion for a story to be published is that many people wish to read, hear or see it. Therefore we are constantly overwhelmed with reports on enormous drug captures, busted criminals and swift fortunes gained or lost, or on the sad side of the story, the deaths and diseases of numerous victims who carry little responsability, but are punished by the law.
So why are we not confronted regularly, not even occasionally, with reports on the effective results of prohibitionist policies? Why are the scientists or the politicians who question this system not visible?
It is weird! It is worse than that, it is not honest. Especially when we see news reports that give a distorted view of the facts.
In early summer of 2009, an analysis by the Cato Institute on the policy of decriminalization in Portugal concluded that consumption had not increased, neither had drug-related diseases and death. The latter even decreased significantly in some cases.
So you can imagine our surprise when we saw all Portuguese TV stations report few months after with the headline: “Death by Drugs increased 45% in Portugal in 2007!” We could not believe this story, one that quickly became an international headline as well, above all because we possessed official data of the statistical department of the Portuguese Institute on Drugs, which did not seem to justify this conclusion at all.
The truth was easily discovered: these results only showed that the means, methods and quantity of proved “drug deaths” were much more advanced than those of research in previous years. It is impossible to maintain that the number of drug related deaths increased, as was confirmed later by the competent authorities, but the damage had been done. And the earlier news story showing the success of policies that had decriminalised drug use was again in the shadow: -“Ah but…but the deaths increased!”
As we all know, the ordinary citizen gets his news from the headlines. He neither has time nor capacities to read scientific reports, or just messages that confirm the truth, above all when he is not willing to change his opinion.
Another thing that we do not understand, is why among so many journalists who defend the truth at all costs, no one goes against the stream and starts to systematically publish the truth on drugs? Especially because so many consume drugs regularly!
I have posed the question to many journalists and to my surprise many did not even want to answer, others postponed it and others were vague, always referring to excuses: “The negative message for children, the stigma, the fear of status loss..” At the end of the day mothers don’t like their daughters to date junkies, neither do bosses like to hire them. Others made clear that a large part of the media today are owned by companies that follow strong commercial and/or political interests, and there is no interest in starting this discussion, at least until now, who knows in the future!
Someone also said that the information that they receive is contradictory and sometimes even false, or based on theories that are not proved scientifically. There is a lesson on something that we as activists can do. Should we invest more energy in the efforts to make our message reach out to the public? That is possible, but only when we publish facts with reason. The times have changed completely, today nobody is more concerned with making the real truth known than we are.
Undoubtedly, the web of prohibition is so well established, that among its numerous tentacles with their numerous creative heads and numerous ways of capturing the victim there is one that functions very well in the press offices in this old continent: vanity!
“I consume and I am so intelligent and able that not even my boss knows and therefore I maintain the job and in this world of unfair competence I even manage to be promoted”! Are drugs the cause and reason of irreverence? No, the drug issue is too serious to be covered or hidden in such a futile way.
On the one hand the fundamentalist conservatives, on the other the ignorant cowards and in between the activists who shout all day long against the enormous injustice and cruelty of a system that persists during almost half a century in torturing, detaining and killing millions of human beings throughout the world.
Are we alone? Well, there are more of us every day, and our evidence and arguments increase and become more solid. Anything missing? We need to reach out to every citizen, every individual, because they will vote and elect those who will install the system. Today of course this is only possible through the media. From the moment that we unite our energies and focus on one objective we will be able to move mountains.
We have learned that in this struggle we can only make one step at a time, nothing moves and changes quickly. But when at least the steps are solid, they won’t fade and many more will follow.
We have been told that in spite of everything we need a sober society in order to act and think. But will the need to stay sober prevail in this system, or will this system fall exactly because there is no room for conscience alterning experiences and sensibility? The great utopists of the 20th Century always defended a better society, one in which man could benefit from his “soma”. The human brain needs stimulation, and more than only the mere satisfaction by food and survival, like other animals do.
It is undeniable that all societies have always used at least one psychoactive substance. With time, other substances have arrived. In its discoveries, Europe found and adopted tobacco, among others. And it exported the hardest drug of all: alcohol. With globalisation, all products reach everyone, and the question is: does the State intervene regulating its distribution, or does it leave it in the hands of the black market?
The human brain is too complex and demanding to have it denied something. The fact that health has evolved from a sound principle into a sometimes terribly desastrous concept that is imposed from above, is something that needs to be considered, studied and questioned if not by all then at least by those who pretend to tell the truth. Or should we all stop smoking, drinking, abstracting, imagining, feeling and looking beyond? Ignore everything that was obtained under the influence of drugs..? Abdicate from quantum mechanics?
Someone also told me not to be naïve and think that the great economic interests that benefit from drug trafficking will slowly retire and abandon one of the best businesses ever without a fight. As in politics, who controls the media dictates what the citizens want.
The war on drugs will take place in the media, by silent manipulation. But as in the great revolutions in favour of justice, here we are to speak, denounce and above all spread the truth!
By: Jorge Roque (with the help of Peter Webster)