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BMJ. 2000 September 16; 321(7262): 707.
PMCID: PMC1118576

UK and German media differ over complementary medicine

E Ernst, director
Department of Complementary Medicine, School of Postgraduate Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter EX2 4NT ; E.Ernst/at/exeter.ac.uk
T Weihmayr, general practitioner

Editor—The media strongly influences the public's view of medical matters.1 Thus, we sought to determine the frequency and tone of reporting on medical topics in daily newspapers in the United Kingdom and Germany. The following eight newspapers were scanned for medical articles on eight randomly chosen working days in the summer of 1999: the Times, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, and the Guardian in the United Kingdom, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, and Die Welt in Germany. All articles relating to medical topics were extracted and categorised according to subject, length, and tone of article (critical, positive, or neutral).

A total of 256 newspaper articles were evaluated. The results of our analysis are summarised in the table. We identified 80 articles in the German newspapers and 176 in the British; thus, British newspapers seem to report on medical topics more than twice as often as German broadsheets. Articles in German papers are on average considerably longer and take a positive attitude more often than British ones. Drug treatment was the medical topic most frequently discussed in both countries (51 articles (64%) in German newspapers and 97 (55%) in British). Surgery was the second most commonly discussed medical topic in the UK newspapers (32 articles; 18%). In Germany professional politics was the second most commonly discussed topic (11 articles; 14%); this category included articles about the standing of the medical profession, health care, and social and economic systems—that is, issues not strictly about treating patients.

Because our particular interest is in complementary medicine, we also calculated the number of articles on this subject. We identified four articles in the German newspapers and 26 in the UK newspapers. In the United Kingdom the tone of these articles was unanimously positive (100%) whereas most (3; 75%) of the German articles on complementary medicine were critical.

This analysis is, of course, limited by its small sample size, the short observation period, and the subjectivity of some of the end points. Yet it does suggest that, compared with German newspapers, British newspapers report more frequently on medical matters and generally have a more critical attitude (table). German newspapers frequently discuss medical professional politics, a subject that is almost totally absent from newspapers in the United Kingdom.

The proportion of articles about complementary medicine seems to be considerably larger in the United Kingdom (15% v 5%), and, in contrast to articles on medical matters in general, reporting on complementary medicine in the United Kingdom is overwhelmingly positive. In view of the fact that both healthcare professionals and the general public gain their knowledge of complementary medicine predominantly from the media, these findings may be important.2,3

Table
Reporting on medical topics by daily newspapers in the United Kingdom and Germany, 1999

References

1. Miles A. Radio and the comodification of natural medicine in Ecuador. Soc Sci Med. 1998;47:2127–2137. [PubMed]
2. Ernst E. Conventional attitudes towards the use of complementary therapies for asthma. Int J Alternative Complementary Med. 1998;16:11–12.
3. Ernst E. Complementary therapies for asthma: what patients use. J Asthma. 1998;35:667–671. [PubMed]

Articles from BMJ : British Medical Journal are provided here courtesy of BMJ Group