Why I’m cancelling my SMH subscription: letter to the editor

Edit: the editor, Darren Goodsir, called me personally tonight to discuss these issues. In particular, the article about using alternative therapies to treat cancer received a lot of attention both internally and externally, and it appears it has been amended to address the concerns raised in my letter.

To the editor, Darren Goodsir,

I have been a long-term reader of SMH.com.au. I used to think that the Sydney Morning Herald represented some of the highest quality journalism in Australia, independent from the News Corporation empire and from the influence of government which is increasingly becoming a problem at the ABC. Unfortunately, two recent issues have made me cancel my paid subscription to SMH.com.au.

The first issue is to do with what I consider to be a racist headline that appeared on the site on January 28th 2013. The headline was “Blind woman groped on train by refugee who asked for a kiss”. The mention of refugee is unnecessary and I cannot imagine the SMH writing “Woman groped on train by white person”. The headline focuses attention of the criminal actions of one person on to an entire group in an unjust way.

I believe that this headline appeared on the front page as part of an editorial decision to participate in ‘click-baiting’, as the issue of refugees surely generates plenty of attention on the site. While I find the process of click-baiting itself problematic, the click-baiting that occurred in this case amounts to race-baiting, and I can no longer financially contribute to an organisation that does this.

The second issue is to do with the promotion of ideas which are harmful. On the 29th of January, the SMH published “The way of the wellness warrior“, a story about a woman who ignored medical advice for her cancer and instead chose to self medicate using alternative dieting. A link was put at the bottom of the article to the Cancer Australia website. On that site it states “There is little evidence that alternative therapies are effective. Most have not been assessed for efficacy in randomised clinical trials, though some have been examined and found to be ineffective.” No mention of this position is made in the article, and a link as an afterthought does not wash the SMH’s responsibility of the anti-science propaganda that you have promoted.

Convincing people to ignore medical advice, especially with conditions as serious as cancer, is extremely dangerous. One of the great minds of our time, Steve Jobs, died as a result of not taking medical advice to treat his pancreatic cancer which had a good chance of survival. Promotion of such ideas is just as bad as the promotion of anti-vaccination ideas. They can have deadly results and the SMH will have blood on its hands if even one person dies as a result of becoming an adherent to this.

The new payment method for the SMH allows me to do something that I was unable to do previously; I can financially punish the SMH for both of these sins. I therefore request that my subscription be cancelled.

James Jansson