You are currently viewing Cynical alcohol industry spin never stops – media and politicians have responsibility to critically analyse its messages

Cynical alcohol industry spin never stops – media and politicians have responsibility to critically analyse its messages

This week (July 1) once again saw the alcohol industry enjoy unquestioning media coverage of its activities in Ireland. 

The first story was the reporting of the turning of the sod at a Diageo brewery in Co Kildare. This brewery, which will produce alcoholic drinks such as Rockshore, Harp, Hop House 13, Smithwick’s and Carlsberg, has been reported on several times across a range of media.  

It has been reported that both Enterprise Ireland and Diageo are delighted with this ‘partnership’. No doubt the global drinks giant is delighted. €7.5 million is a minuscule drop in the ocean for this hugely profitable global giant. Far more valuable to it are the photo calls set up by top PR firms, with Enterprise Ireland bosses and government ministers, which appear in the media with no critical analysis whatsoever. 

What hasn’t been reported on is why Enterprise Ireland is providing state investment of €7.5 million to this private health harming business. Claims that it is supporting ’sustainable development’ should be analysed for the environmental issues that alcohol production actually causes including its heavy water usage. The more environmentally friendly option is to produce less alcohol not more. 

Minister of State for Agriculture and TD for Kildare South Martin Heydon was at the most recent Diageo/EI PR event, saying the brewery is ‘great news for Ireland’s food and drink industry.’ 

Last time Industry Watch checked, ethanol (alcohol) was not a food, but a psychoactive carcinogenic substance.  

The line is not a mistake but a strategic marketing line – alcohol producers want their products to be seen in the same categories as food and ‘drink’, rather than for what they are.  

Apart from this, the bigger issue is that Diageo does not need taxpayer money and the fact it gets it should be the story here. 

People need investment, not global shareholders. In this case, the people who need  investment are those who suffer at the hands of the likes of Diageo’s products.  

€7.5 million would fund thousands of episodes of treatment for people having difficulty with alcohol. Currently, there is a huge gap in the numbers of people getting treatment versus those who should, and there are no signs that government is going to invest what’s needed to modernise and expand services. 

The other story this week was the unrelenting line from industry that popularity of zero alcohol beer is surging, that Irish people are drinking in moderation and that the alcohol industry needs “Government support through reasonable policies that reflect our changing relationship with alcohol.” 

To be very clear – zero alcohol beer accounts for a 2% share of the Irish beer market. Why it is repeatedly reported in a headline is something that only media outlets can answer. 

What’s more worrying is the payoff that industry gets from touting the line that Irish people are drinking less and so therefore less regulation of alcohol is needed. 

IBEC’s Drinks Ireland is calling for government support and lighter regulation, as apparently because of 2% market share of zero drinks, there is no real problem with alcohol. 

Put simply – industry will never stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes and will use any ploy to attempt to delay measures such as health warning labels and tighter restrictions on alcohol advertising. 

Just last year, IBEC/Drinks Ireland accused the Department of Health of ‘zealotry’ and  ‘railroading alcohol labelling legislation.’ Labelling laws have been law since 2018 and are due to come into effect in 2026. So, hardly railroading. Many other countries are hoping to follow this world-leading law, despite vociferous industry opposition.  

What’s also worrying in all of this is the uncritical media coverage this sector enjoys.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) urges the media when covering alcohol issues to always be mindful of potential conflicts of interest. 

A guide produced for journalists states: 

“Be aware of and avoid pressure from commercial alcohol operators, including industry-funded journalism awards, advertising, industry-owned media outlets, industry-funded thinktanks and conflicts of interest that can divert you from providing reliable, unbiased reporting” 

It further states: “Even from a “lifestyle” or business perspective, you can inform your audience that there is no safe limit on alcohol consumption and list some of its harms, such as mental health issues, cancers, heart disease, strokes, liver disease and digestive problems.” 

Surely it’s not too much to ask that the activities of an industry that causes so much harm to people and communities should be placed into context when being reported on?  

Doing so would allow people to see behind the carefully curated, handsomely paid for PR activities of an industry that is only interested in increasing profits. It’s always worth remembering that the alcohol industry’s profits are highly dependent on heavy drinking.  

Turning sods and feting a tiny market share for zero alcohol is a fig leaf to deflect from the real issues. It is also a cynical industry attempt to persuade politicians and the public, through a constant drumbeat of PR-driven messaging, that everything is OK when it comes to our relationship with its product. 

But alcohol is not a food and it’s not a harmless product. Alcohol is a drug that costs Ireland 2.5% of GDP – €12billion annually in health, social and lost workplace productivity costs every year, i.e misery, addiction and early death for many of our citizens. Those are the facts, without the spin. 

Get more facts about alcohol here