Front Row yesterday included discussion of and a clip from a Channel 5 drama called ‘Hear the Silence’ about the controversy over the MMR jab and autism. Monday’s Start the Week also discussed the drama, with Juliet Stevenson who stars in it.
The bit of dialogue we heard on Front Row confirmed my worst expectations of what such a drama would be like. Oh great, thought I when Mark Lawson first described the subject matter. Plucky victimized parent takes on medical establishment and shows how wrong it is about everything, thus convincing everyone that MMR jab causes autism. And sure enough – the bit of dialogue was well-acted, to be sure, but it was also utterly predictable. Chilly rational uncaring doctor tells mother some boring facts about autism, passionate upset angry mother tries to convince c.r.u. doctor that the boring facts are beside the point, that her son was fine before the jab and autistic after it. In short, the doctor is repellent and the mother is highly sympathetic. Great. So the audience is manipulated into having an opinion on the link between the MMR jab and autism that has nothing to do with evidence or research and everything to do with the way a screenplay is written and acted. Um, is that really an ideal way to form public opinion?
They did talk about the controversy on Front Row though, and they talked about it more (having more time) on Start the Week. That’s good. But not everyone who sees the drama will have heard the discussion, naturally. And the trouble with this whole subject is that it’s not a situation where one course of action is dangerous and the other is safe. It’s not safe to omit the vaccination(s). So it’s difficult not to think that actors and screenwriters are not really the best people to be shaping the debate at this stage.