Corporate media attack drug users

Issue 

BY MICHAEL ARNOLD

"How your taxes help drug users lie to the police and cheat jail", screamed page three of the July 26 Melbourne Herald-Sun. The article underneath was a sustained attack upon the drug users' magazine Whack, published by drug users support organisation VIVAIDS.

The front cover of the newspaper was headlined "Heroin high rollers", a topic which five of the first seven pages was devoted to. The basic argument was that drug users are all wealthy and having the time of our lives, and we use taxpayers' money to teach others how to experience luxury more effectively.

Whack is an open forum focusing on users' experiences, harm reduction strategies and VIVAIDS projects. It was the Autumn 2001 edition, with the theme "the war on drugs", which raised the Herald Sun's wrath. The edition's analysis of the discrimination, dehumanisation and oppression currently faced by illicit drug users was probably more overt than previous editions.

The Whack article referred to in the Herald-Sun headline discussed dealing with the police. Headlined "What to do when they unleash the Hogs of War", it repeated advice available from any community legal centre — if arrested, give the police your name and address, be polite, but refuse to answer any more questions until you have received legal aid.

The magazine had its tongue firmly stuck in cheek in many articles — a "weapons of the war" series included a "guilt detector" in which police used their moustaches to filter information.

The magazine also featured the "White-winged Herron whose opiate-rich guano is used in the production of street-grade heroin" but which have recently died away because their diet of government bullshit became overly rancid, precipitating the current heroin drought.

VIVAIDS was warned about the impeding media attack when we were approached by a Sun-Herald reporter in early June. Getting support from other community health organisations, we hoped our protests had led the newspaper to bury the article.

Approximately 40% of all illicit drug users in NSW and Victoria have some contact with a drug user group. Three thousand copies of each edition of Whack are produced, each carrying vital harm reduction and health information. For that information to be properly absorbed, it must be presented in ways that are fun, easy to read and culturally appropriate.

Users not working for VIVAIDS produce half of all our content — articles, photos and illustrations. Their participation helps to create a sense of ownership that encourages participants and their friends to adopt the safe using strategies being promoted.

A July 27 Herald-Sun editorial called for VIVAIDS' funding to be cut. Three days later the newspaper featured an article featuring a disgruntled parent whose child had been caught with a copy of Whack. Although Whack is distributed primarily to drug users, students do use the magazine to obtain balanced commentary for assignments. That is also an excuse often used by scared young people when their parents discover the magazine.

The story became "news" in Victoria, with much corporate and government-owned television and radio coverage.

In an opportunistic move, the Victorian Liberals called for our funding to be cut — despite the Kennett government having established almost all our current level of funding.

On August 12, Murdoch's minions sighted a new target. The Sunday Herald-Sun featured an article headlined "Web site promotes illegal drug use". While the site wasn't named (perhaps the newspaper learnt its lesson after hundreds of people rang to get Whack after their last volley) the article appeared to be discussing <http://www.bluenight.nu>.

Bluelight has nearly 20,000 members around the world, and services people who often use the internet as their primary source of drug information. Bluelighters post messages about their experiences with certain pills or trips, share harm reduction strategies, and answer questions posed by people just commencing drug use.

At one point the article quoted Graeme Rule, spokesperson for Drug-ARM — a notorious anti-drug user organisation — comparing those who utilise the internet to discuss drugs to paedophiles.

In the wake of this offensive, drug user activists have committed ourselves to expanding our media — radio shows like Drugtalk at 11am Tuesdays on 3CR; our magazines, and even community TV — as well as working with established community media sources like GLW and indymedia.

[Michael Arnold () is peer education project coordinator at the Victorian Drug Users Group, and hosts the Drugtalk program on Melbourne radio station 3CR every Tuesday at 11am.]

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