Objective: To analyse and compare newspaper coverage about heroin during a period spanning two government policy decisions to approve, then prevent, a trial of heroin prescription to dependent users.
Method: All articles published about heroin spanning the two policy decisions (1-19 August 1997) were collected from seven major Australian newspapers. Analyses included content and orientation analyses of all articles and discourse analysis of articles (excluding letters) containing value-laden statements about heroin prescription. Comparisons were made of content, orientation and subtextual themes employed by opponents and proponents of heroin prescription.
Results: 231 articles with references to heroin were identified from seven newspapers, 28% were published by The Daily Telegraph. This newspaper campaigned against the heroin prescription trial with 66% of news articles and 100% of opinion items negative in orientation, compared to averages of 11% and 16% of news and opinion articles published by comparison newspapers. Seven subtexts were identified in coverage opposing heroin prescription including "surrender in the war on drugs", "government as drug pedlar" and "deserving/undeserving citizens". Six subtexts supportive of heroin prescription were identified including "failure of prohibition" and "time for new approaches".
Conclusion: The mid-1997 policy reversal on heroin prescription was due, in part, to the higher activity of opponents following approval of the trial and because proponents did not reframe discourses used to denigrate the proposal.
Implications: To be successful, advocates of new policy need to recognise and reframe negative discourses to create new dominant themes which address the concerns of the public.