This year’s Winter Olympic Games has been marred with scandals regarding athletes being on “performance enhancing drugs”. The concerned parties claim that such drugs give athletes an unfair advantage over those who are not taking such substances, while the fact that Russian athletes have been disproportionately singled out for overtly political reasons, alludes to the fact that there is a less than objective motivation behind the recent ‘drug scandals’ at the Olympics.
But if the issue of public figures on drugs is important, it would seem that those who claim to speak the truth as journalists ought to be the first ones to be tested for the use of narcotics of any kind. While there are certain facts that are beyond dispute, most notably the date of a battle, an election, coup or revolution, when a particular figure was born and died – the interpretation of facts necessarily entails subjectivity on both the part of the purveyor and on the part of those on the receiving end of the analysis.
But just as there are certain basic ways in which athletes are trained and execute acts of athleticism, it is the subjective and highly individualistic way in which athletes ultimately complete which separates the gold medallists from those at the end of the race.
Far from suggesting censorship, I propose that consumers of news and analysis be offered the same information that food consumers are offered in respect of the nutritional information printed on food packages and that consumers of athletic based entertainment are in respect of the Olympians they watch in stadiums, on television or online.
Indeed, like the Olympics, a concert or a fireworks display, news and analysis is just another form of entertainment. It is entertainment for those who are stimulated, excited, moved and/or enraged by real life events and the interpretations of those events. As such, news consumers ought to be privy to the same consumer information as those in other sectors.
When it comes to the news industry, the vast majority of outlets claim that they are providing factual entertainment as opposed to the fictional entertainment in many films or dramatic presentations. Because news relies on an element of truth to provide an entertaining product, in the same way that the Olympics relies on selling an honest drug free competition as an entertaining product, the same standards of a level playing field ought to apply to the news business as they do to the Olympics and other sporting events.
Modern drug testing equipment is relatively inexpensive and portable. A small sample of urine is typically all it takes in order to determine whether an individual has recently been under the influence of a chemical substance. The easiest and fairest way to go about such a consumer information regime, would be for individual journalists or news organisations to voluntarily publish drug testing data on a regular basis so that news consumers know whether or not the information they are receiving has been the product of a sober mind.
But why stop at journalists? Politicians ought to be subject to mandatory drug tests. Since politicians receive their income via the public purse and pursue activities which ought to be for the public benefit, the public who pays to sustain the political class, ought to know whether or not such individuals can be trusted to execute these decisions in a manner which is literally sober and free from undue influence. If there was a way to test for undue physiological influence in a scientific manner, I’d advocate for that too.
One wouldn’t want to engage the professional services of a taxi driver, doctor, business partner or heavy machinery operator if they were on drugs, so why should drugs be tolerated anywhere else? People spend millions of dollars on entertainment of all varieties through the course of their lives and as such, these consumers have a right to know about the reliability of the kinds of entertainment they consume. Clearly, if entertainment was not important, vast amounts of money would not be spent on producing, selling and promoting it.
If a voluntary drug testing regime was set up for journalists and a mandatory one for politicians and those who work for state-run broadcasters, people would feel more secure in knowing just how much credence to put into the statements of individuals who may or may not have their minds altered by dangerous chemical substances.
If it is good enough for the Olympics, it is good enough for the news reporters as well as the news makers.