20 years of communication on drugs: What are the new challenges for a monitoring centre?
Issues linked to information are challenging questions for monitoring centres working on drugs and especially for those involved in the EMCDDA Reitox network: they should be in capacity of disseminating scientific information to various key audiences: practitioners, drug professionals, policy makers, medias and citizens. Such a mission requires pedagogy given that drugs topics are controversial and their media representations (which may influence public perceptions and decision making) often marked by sensationalism.
Scientific knowledge on drugs has strongly evolved during the past 2 decades while the Reitox and observatories have flourished. New surveys facilitate data production and a better understanding of the phenomenon. At the same time, mainly due to Internet, the information process have deeply changed. New ways of communicating through social networks emerged and made possible knowledge transfer without mediation. More people are sharing contents and commenting while dissemination of information goes faster: it is therefore necessary to question the adaptation of the observatories’ communication function.
Based on the experience of the French focal point in communication, this presentation highlights the new challenges a monitoring centre have to face regarding the information on drugs: multiplication of issuers, information going faster without verification, fake news…
This work is the result of various reflexions initiated in the framework of Reitox academies regarding communication and exchanges with international partners. It is based on an analysis of media coverage from French daily papers, magazines, online news and television reports (featuring surveys results, information on new psychoactive substances, trafficking subjects…). It is also based on the French qualitative TREND unit (National Emerging Trends Network) findings on media representations on drugs.
- Despite the fact that knowledge on drugs has evolved, media representations still propagate a simplistic view of these issues. For example by focusing on dramatic accidents and staging “the young innocent victim” taking drugs; by exaggerating drama associated to natural disasters (tsunami, epidemics); by favouring “teratology” to qualify users (cannibal junkie, zombie); by focusing on sexual context which sometimes turns into voyeurism; by referring to dominant stereotyped characters (Scarface syndrome); and from time to time by promoting drugs.
- This happens in a more competitive context: information goes faster and so does misinformation. A high speed sequence of errors may lead to fake news and be very harmful for institutions in terms of reputation and even, occasionally, for population in terms of health safety.
- Adapting and renewing its communication tools seems therefore essential for a monitoring centre. It still must be able to provide valuable resources or data and, in parallel, deliver a “highly synthetized info“ in new formats. It has to anticipate, get prepared for the unexpected while being more flexible and reactive.
Scientific knowledge development on drugs and the new possibilities to disseminate it through social networks have not changed the dominant discourse which often remains approximate. This apparent paradox underlines the key role of monitoring centres and their need to develop innovative communication strategies adapted to the multiplication of media formats.