chapter  11
21 Pages

Risk and regulation: CAM products, practitioners and the state – perspectives on ‘risk’ and ‘protection of the public’ in the Australian media

ByMonique Lewis

This chapter has arisen from my research into mainstream newspaper reports on herbal medicine in Australia. The objectives were to determine the dominant topics and frames that occurred in media reports about herbal medicine over a five-year period, and to measure the prevalence of risk references in newspaper reports during this timeframe. Sociological investigations into media representations of herbal medicine (and CAM, more broadly) are not common. My research attempts to address a gap in the research, using an interdisciplinary approach that draws from sociological theories of health, medicine and CAM, as well as media and risk. The research systematically measures the frequency of various themes and framings, using content analysis. Consistent and vigilant attention to and commentary about CAM news frames can contribute to supporting a critical literacy of health issues as well as what the media tells us about them. Media framing analysis highlights the importance of understanding news culture and news-making in a broader sociopolitical and cultural context that considers the news institutions and journalists themselves (subject to timing and opportunity), as well as those news sources or ‘claims-makers’ who communicate their messages to media and compete to have their ‘reality’ dominate the news frame (Johnson-Cartee, 2005). As a marginalised form of medicine, exploration of these representations reveals the tenuous position of herbal medicine in the context of mainstream Australian healthcare. My findings demonstrate the extent to which the stigmas of benignity and the placebo effect have subsided (although certainly not disappeared), making way for an increasing recognition of plants as substances that are pharmacologically active and potent. These representations occur in both scientific and lay discourses (Lewis, 2011a), although this chapter focuses on the lay discourses found in mainstream news reports. Through the analysis of media representations, it becomes apparent that risk discourses have ultimately helped rather than hindered this more recent positioning of herbal medicine in the Australian healthcare landscape. At the same time, herbal medicines remain peripheral to mainstream Australian healthcare. The omission of any herbal medicine products from the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS),1 and the fact that herbal

medicine practitioners and naturopaths are unregulated and excluded from the government’s Medicare scheme, draws a picture of herbal medicine’s marginalised position in the healthcare context. The media representations of herbal medicine under analysis here do demonstrate sociopolitical responses from a range of stakeholders in the face of a ‘CAM uprising’ which poses a substantial challenge to biomedical dominance in Australian society and culture. This chapter first addresses the relevance of understanding media literacy and the news construction process in a world of ever-flowing news stories, which is a driving force of my research. I contextualise the modernisation of herbal medicine in Australia, offering insight into the consequences of its scientisation, pharmaceuticalisation and commercialisation. I also highlight the subsequent tensions that have arisen between evidence-based medicine (EBM) and traditional herbal medicine researchers and practitioners. The issues surrounding the culture and politics of risk are presented, drawing from risk society and complexity theories. These are particularly useful in understanding the challenges posed by herbal medicine to biomedical hegemony, and the rhetorical tactics that arise in response to these challenges. An overview of other CAM media research is provided, presenting the range of findings of other relevant media research to date, some of which are contradicted by my findings. The method of content analysis that considered both manifest and latent codes is then described, followed by the research findings.