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01 August 2002

The toxic telegraph


If you really want the public to get alarmed about a public health issue, try hiding it from them.

Unfortunately for Vegfed's executive officer, Ron Gall, nobody told him that before he circulated a letter last summer, recommending that the public be kept in the dark about dangerous levels of natural toxins in zucchinis.

Hindsight is a great thing, but what was he thinking? Surely he would have realised that to any self-respecting journalist, his words, "this issue has not reached the media and we want to keep it that way," would be like a red rag to a bull.

Hiding information about public health issues is unethical and unwise. When the truth is finally revealed, the negative impact is 10 times greater than if there had been a full fess-up at the time.

Our advice: Don't do it!

But let's not get too hard on Ron Gall. Even professional communicators can get it terribly wrong, if papers released during the Corngate saga are to be believed. A leading PR consultant reportedly advised the government to refer to ‘maize' rather than ‘sweetcorn' in its media releases on the topic. The crop in fact was sweetcorn.

- Lucy Sanderson

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