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Reporting anonymous claims from gambling addicts

From Charity Gaming Association (Inc)

Issues with reporting anonymous claims from gambling addicts

In the New Zealand Herald of 23 October, its 2008 Qantas award winning journalist, Simon Collins, reported the claims of a self-confessed "pathological gambler" who refused to give his surname because he had a public profile.

According to the NZ Herald "Matt" made the following claims:

• Gaming machine manufacturer Aristocrat is being sued in a civil court action in Australia for designing machines to hook addicts • Aristocrat makes $1.4 billion a year in turnover • He had sunk $1m into poker machines

The first claim is totally untrue. There is no civil action in any court in Australia which seeks damages from Aristocrat for designing machines to hook addicts. The only civil court case Aristocrat has been involved with in Australia has been over stock exchange issues.

A simple phone call by the reporter to check the assertion would have revealed the facts of the matter.

The second claim is that Aristocrat makes $1.4 billion a year in turnover. This too is wrong and could have been checked with a simple phone call. The fact of the matter is that Aristocrat New Zealand's revenue in 2007 was $25.2 million.

The self confessed gambler could have checked that what he was saying in that public forum, organised by the Problem Gambling Foundation, was true.

The Problem Gambling Foundation should have checked that what their client was going to say was true. After all he didn't just turn up there. His participation was arranged by the PGF to make a point to the candidates. They should have ensured the points being made were accurate otherwise they are guilty of trying to mislead the Parliamentarians and prospective Parliamentarians who were present.

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But, most of all, the Herald's reporter had an ethical duty as a journalist to confirm that the claims against Aristocrat were accurate before reporting them without qualification.

The industry is concerned that people with problem gambling behaviours receive all the help they need to recover from their addiction.

That is why the industry has always willingly supported the concept of the Problem Gambling Levy - which now fully funds treatment and research into problem gambling at a cost of $20m a year.

Often, making a public confession can be a useful and cathartic part of the treatment process.

But, problem gamblers are often very adept at denying reality and have developed very comprehensive deception strategies to themselves and others. They frequently exist in a world where the truth and facts about their gambling behaviour, and gambling itself, are reconstructed to suit their distorted world view.

It is also natural, when confronted with the inescapable truth that their personal behaviour has caused their problem, to seek to blame others.

People with gambling addictions are very similar to people recovering from alcohol addictions. They are struggling.

It is unlikely that journalists would uncritically publish assertions about breweries putting additives in their beer to make people drink more if they were made by recovering alcoholics.

It is important that the news media apply the same standards of skeptical scrutiny to claims made by recovering problem gamblers - particularly when they are made in a political forum by an organisation which has a political agenda.


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