Friday, December 05, 2003

The depressing rise of the drama-doc

A new drama based on the link between autism and the MMR virus is to be broadcast soon by Channel Five.

However, the station is under pressure from doctors in the field not to broadcast the film, called 'Hear the Silence'. They say that the story gives too much credence to the views of Dr Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who first made the link between the vaccine and autism. One of Wakefield's former colleagues told producers that the film, '...inappropriately indicates Dr Wakefield to be more reasonable and thoughtful than the history would suggest...You may seek to justify the inaccuracies by invoking the notion of artistic licence. However, there is no room for artistic licence when the lives of children are at risk.' It is hard to disagree with this assessment. The scare has led to falling vaccination rates yet the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly against Wakefield's theory.

But should the show be pulled? While the UK is not yet at the same stage as the USA where ever news-worthy event is immediately turned into a TV movie, there is an emerging fashion for 'factual dramas' based on one-sided views of hot topics. Who can forget 'Smallpox 2002', based on the scenario of an infected terrorist walking the streets of London, spreading disease. Or how about 'The day Britain stopped', a kind of chaos theory illustration of how our fragile transport network could be crippled by a sequence of relatively minor incidents? Appalling though these films are, it is better that they get shown rather than have broadcasting effectively anaethetised by a group of well-meaning scientific advisers. But it would be even better if these films were never made at all.

Calls to axe TV drama on MMR, Guardian, 3 December 2003

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