So-called news

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 47, No. 2, March 2005, Page 77 Editorials

I was intrigued by a recent in-depth investigative analysis and insightful reporting by a small cadre of Vancouver’s brightest TV journalists. Several of these obviously intelligent, occasionally articulate, daily electronic visitors to our homes found themselves reporting on the lack of ICU and emergency beds in the Lower Mainland.

The 2-night special report of bed-gridlock in the Lower Mainland, a commonplace occurrence in the past few years, was apparently only newsworthy now because a family whose father had to be airlifted to Victoria for treatment was upset enough to phone a local TV station and alert them to the fact that there were no open ICU beds anywhere in the Lower Mainland. Our local pleasantly attractive-but-perceptive talking heads took this a few steps further and made some comments about a general lack of acute care beds, then rounded it all off with an even more general proclamation about emergency room crowding. Now this was a startling revelation, as I’m sure most TV viewers in BC’s Lower Mainland had no idea that their ERs were crowded and people were having to wait a long time for care during holiday peak times.

The TV journalist responsible for communicating this unhappy message at that time obviously felt that the reporting of this important issue needed further comment in order to cement the importance of this information into the collective consciousness of the viewing audience. As all good TV journalists know, the most effective way to accomplish this is to solicit the opinion of people walking by on the sidewalk outside the TV station. In this instance our intrepid journalist did a 14-second interview with five passersby, asking them their opinion about the recent report that there was an acute lack of ICU beds in the Lower Mainland and, secondarily, if they thought there might possibly be something wrong with the system. 

Of the five taxpayers solicited for comment, I can remember four of the responses (as always I wondered how many people provided answers that the reporter or the news director didn’t like and were deleted):

• “I think the system needs more money.”

• “The feds should give us more money.”

• “Somebody needs to do something.”

• “Actually, I think it’s working pretty good right now.”

Oh, I almost forgot, the President of the BCMA was given a 10-second sound bite as well. However, it is a daunting task to make a decisive, informative statement about “faults in the system” in such a short time (especially when they don’t tell you how much of your response they’re actually going to air) without sounding contrary, negative, and ideologically driven. Our president did as good a job as possible given the circumstance but unfortunately (I think by design) the TV station decided to end the segment with the last person-on-the-street comment. So, we were all left with, “Actually, I think it’s working pretty good right now” as the news moved on to more mundane things like death and destruction in the rest of the world. 

Finally, it bothered me that no ER or ICU docs were interviewed. Neither were any internists, surgeons, sub-specialty people in cardiology, respirology, traumatology, or family doctors, and I wonder, why not? We are the ones that have to deal with these problems on a daily basis and have had to do so for a number of years, not just in the past few weeks. Is the message so bad that the journalists are fearful of creating panic in the streets, or are they fearful of the political fall-out from an embarrassed government? Given the way the recent reporting seemed to be soft-pedaled, I suspect the former is the more likely.


James A. Wilson, MD. So-called news. BCMJ, Vol. 47, No. 2, March, 2005, Page(s) 77 - Editorials.

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