Newcastle's minimum unit pricing plans: an exercise in click-bait and fake news

26 January, 2018

If you Google “Newcastle minimum unit pricing” you will be presented with a fascinating insight into the machinations of modern day journalism.

The Sun led the way yesterday with the headline “Grog on the Tyne”, declaring that Geordies will be slapped with a 50p booze tax to curb alcohol-related issues from revellers.

Readers of the article will be under the impression that Newcastle-upon-Tyne intends to defy Westminster by pressing ahead with plans to introduce a minimum unit price on alcohol across the city.

The story was then picked up and republished by The Daily Mail, The Express, The Star, The Independent, even the Lad Bible.

It made several good headlines and allowed the tabloids to link to pieces about drunken Geordie Shore stars, but there is only one problem: there is absolute no story there at all.

This is a issue that we reported on all the way back in 2013, when licensing officer Stephen Savage told us he was not worried about defying central government because “someone has to make a stand”.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne was mulling over a voluntary scheme, whereby it would impose the condition on retailers in areas that suffered from alcohol-related harm.

But the city did not introduce a minimum unit price on alcohol then – it would be illegal, as central government has not made it a policy – and has no plans to do so any time soon.

Every five years, the council has to republish its licensing objectives and simply uploads old documents. The wording in the council report is exactly the same as it was five years ago and the authority has no plans to press ahead with any such scheme.

It was even forced to come out and defend itself to its local paper, clarifying that it lacks the power to enforce minimum unit pricing on alcohol. But the nationals are unlikely to write about that because it does not make such a sexy headline, and you cannot really link it to Marnie Simpson and Chloe Ferry.

So next time you read about a binge drinking epidemic or how evil the drinks industry is in one of those titles, think twice about the level of research that has actually gone into the piece.




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