Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Fat tax

The big news story of the night (other than prostitution reform, of course) is the government's proposed "fat tax". Unfortunately, the media seem to be ignoring the fact that the government isn't actually, well, proposing it.

The story seems to have come from an ACT press release, trumpeting the fact that in answer to a parliamentary question, the Health Minister had confirmed that

the Public Health Directorate is currently working on an internal paper on differential food taxation and food advertising, to reduce obesity in New Zealand. This paper is to be completed by September 30

What everyone seems to be ignoring is that an internal paper is a long way from a government proposal. Government departments do these sorts of studies all the time as part of the policy review process (both to consider alternatives, and to be prepared in case a minister has crazy ideas), without it ever being anything more than an academic exercise. As a case in point, you can bet your bottom dollar that Treasury has people thinking about what would happen if we substantially lowered or even eliminated income taxes, without there being any suggestion that the current government has any plans to do so (or even that Treasury will formally reccommend such a policy).

But I guess this is what happens when everyone is waiting for the big story, and you've got a few minutes or column-inches to fill. Take a press release, report it uncritically, and don't stop to think about what you're actually reporting on...