Background Increasingly unhealthy commodity industries (UCIs) strategically use the news media to influence public opinion and the political agenda in favour of advancing their preferred policy options. In politically-charged pricing policy debates, such as Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxation industry efforts to disrupt the introduction of these pricing policies has been significant. By comparing MUP for alcohol and SSB taxation media debates using discourse network analysis (DNA) we aim to visually map the actors and their relationships highlighting similarities and differences across industry sectors.
Methods Eleven national UK newspapers, spanning political views and genre, were searched using the Nexis database between May 2011 and November 2012 to identify all published articles relating to alcohol and pricing, and between May 2015 and November 2016 to identify all published articles relating to sugar/beverage and tax/levy. Statements made by actors and organisations in the debates were inductively identified and coded using network analysis software to produce relational data to generate visualisations of discourse networks.
Results For MUP for alcohol 1435 statements made by 151 individuals from 87 organisations were coded in 351 articles. For SSB taxation 3882 statements made by 214 individuals from 177 organisations were coded in 511 articles. The construction of MUP for alcohol and SSB taxation networks provides the first visual evidence of the positioning of industry representatives across two policy debates.Both networks show tight discourse coalitions of manufactures acting in opposition to policy advocates, with the largest corporations most active, and most central in these coalitions at key points in the debate. Less active industry representatives and cross-sector corporations (such as supermarkets) are more peripheral to the network, indicating both cleavages within industries and across corporate actors.
Conclusion By comparing the discourse networks across two highly contested pricing policy debates, we have visualised the complex network of actors and relationships operating to directly influence pricing policy-making via the media. Conducting comparative discourse network analysis across policy debates shows promise for better understanding the common tactics of different UCIs to disrupt public health policies. This is important for supporting public health advocates to develop more effective media advocacy strategies for exposing and opposing UCI tactics and strategies and in identifying public health messages which might be targeted to generate public and policy support for pricing policies.
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