Dear journalist and member of the South African media
The 2017 Responsible Drinking Media Awards are now open. What’s in it for me, you say? Well, while we can’t promise you the prestige that comes from a CNN Award, we can allocate a small portion of a reshaped and improved society to you. How about that?
South Africa needs strong media. Not only because we are in a current period of economic growth constraint, political uncertainty and reduced consumer spending; but because South Africans are killing themselves with alcohol. Yes, literally drinking themselves to death. And they need help. Your help.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked South Africa¹ as having one of the highest rates of alcohol-related road deaths, where as much as 58% of deaths were attributed to alcohol consumption. The bottom line is – whether these people were celebrating and got carried away, or had a problem with alcohol, they should have known better than to get behind the wheel of a car.
They should have been reading about the factors that contribute to alcohol abuse and where to find help – for themselves and their loved ones – in the media they choose to consume.
So, while the global ranking reported by the WHO in May 2016 may have caught us all off guard, it wasn’t until Christmas 2016 and then Easter 2017 when Arrive Alive’s road death statistics were released that we all really got outraged.
It was in the words that you had written and produced – featured in national newspapers, radio broadcasts, podcasts, glossy magazines and knock-and-drops from coast to coast – that South Africans learnt about the staggering death toll from what are supposed to be the two biggest family holidays in our country.
South Africa’s festive season claimed 1 714² lives – a 5% increase on the previous period. At the release of the preliminary report, Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters, attributed a significant number of these deaths to, among other things, driving under the influence of alcohol.
Easter 2017 was no different. In the statement by the Minister of Transport Mr Joe Maswanganyi at the release of the preliminary Easter road safety figures³, the Minister highlighted that there was a remarkable 51% increase in road deaths compared to 2016. More than 2 800 motorists were arrested for – out of a long list – drunken driving.
What’s interesting to see, is that as the alcohol-related road-deaths increase, so too have the numbers of stories being reported in the media. Many of these stories have been entered into and shortlisted for the Diageo Responsible Drinking Awards (RDMA). In 2016, the initiative attracted a record number of entries – 242.
We really hope that perhaps this staggering upsurge in entries into the competition since its inception in 2010 shows that the media know and understand their growing responsibility to educate and shape a society that is in desperate need of information.
Like many alcohol companies in the world, Diageo believed that alcohol can be part of a balanced lifestyle, when consumed moderately and responsibly by adults who choose to drink, and can play a positive role in social occasions and celebrations. They also understand that misuse of alcohol, however, can cause serious problems for individuals, communities and society. But there is often a fine line between the two.
It is along this fine line that the education of consumers becomes a shared task for media, and the beverage companies, alike.
As a journalist, you sign up to shape opinion, strengthen society, create public awareness, provide advice and share information. Your articles and inserts which feature in magazines, newspapers, television shows are sometimes the only platform available for rehab facilities, counsellors, consumer advocacy groups etc. to reach a large number of people, quickly.
Not everyone has access to help, but 98% of South Africans have access to some form of media.
The entry numbers for the RDMAs show that there are members of the media who have decided that the abuse of alcohol is a societal issue and one that must be tackled head-on. Every single entry is testimony to the fact that the media continue to play such an important role in education and engendering of social change.
We leave it to you to decide where you stand.