How the media is able to rally public perception about legal highs

Written by Legal Highs NZ on . Posted in Legal Highs, Non-Psychoactive, Synthetic Cannabis

“Warning as new legal highs hit shelves” – the headline for Stuff’s latest scare mongering article about the new “legal highs”.

We break down just how easy it is for the media to generate fear and rally public perception in any way they see fit.

As we reported last week, the legal highs company behind the “Tai High” brand recently released a brand new “legal high”, three of them in fact, just three weeks after the nationwide ban on all remaining legal highs in New Zealand.

Media hysteria and political warfare was largely responsible for the governments sudden U-Turn in their legal highs policy, to spite the governments own health department being very sure of the fact that the risk from all current synthetic cannabis products, was at the time, actually extremely low – Peter Dunne was forced put the facts behind him and immediately ban all remaining legal highs.

The media barrage was hard and heavy, coming in from all angles and all major news outlets, the ratings were sky high and the public were tuning in to see King Campbell of Campbell Live take down those evil legal highs manufacturers, one week night at a time.

Now here we are, just three weeks later, and new products seem to have made their way back on to store shelves already, much to the bewilderment of many. But no one is more excited than the media, the potential for another story, another way to twist and turn public perception for those all too important clicks and ratings.

Stuff were the first to write their important news piece, a “warning” to the public, which we will break down now;

First of all the all important headline reads;


WARNING – The all important headline must start with some sort of warning to the public about the dangers of these “new legal highs” – of course the media don’t have all the facts yet, but they must issue a warning. Shoot first, ask questions later … right?


Then, we start the article off with some negative words and associations – something to initiate an emotional response, fear and concern about the products. “A poisons expert has warned of risks to users’ health” – who is the poisons expert exactly, and why is he or she issuing a warning about a product they likely have little or no hard facts or information on?


Then, without hesitation, the article drops right in to a slam dunk of hysteria generating propaganda, likely written in such a way to get those reading the article to really start getting upset. They very cleverly start discussing unconscious 13 year old girls and synthetic cannabis – how is this even directly related to this particular story or product you ask? Well it’s not really.

The story continues to “reveal that users described black vomit, suicidal thoughts and blacking out repeatedly after smoking the substances” – now for your average person reading this story, likely skim reading during their lunch break, it is bassically now associating the brand and non-psychoactive product TAI HIGH with all of these negative things, unconscious 13 year old girls, synthetic cannabis, black vomit, suicide – with absolutely no relation to this Tai High product, and no evidence to back up any of these claims.

Now we are starting to get an understanding of how the media write an article in order to create a certain perception about a story. It’s really quite impressive.

The article continues by describing common reports of repeated vomiting, stomach pains and other ill-effects, likely continuing to confuse most readers about exactly which product or substance is being discussed or reported here.

We eventually get to a paragraph describing the main ingredient in the new Tai High as “Turnera diffusa, or damiana” – finally, we are back on track. This part should have probably been right at the beginning, before all the scare mongering, but simply reporting on the facts doesn’t build enough of an emotional response in a reader for this media outlet.


Looks like we spoke too soon, without the facts, or having the product independently tested, we dive straight in to this;

“a National Poisons Centre spokeswoman said such products were NOTORIOUS for being CONTAMINATED with ILLEGAL substances”

Such products? What such products? – We have not heard of Tai High or any other brand of packaged herb base being contaminated with any illegal substance, but it’s certainly possible.


And then they decide to finish of with a few beauties, the best of which is the bold ‘FEELS LIKE DYING’ – after which they follow up with four negative quotes from apparent synthetic cannabis users, their family and friends.

It’s very easy for the media to pick one side of any agenda and turn that in to their story. It’s very easy for the media to sway public opinion one way or the other. A good honest media outlet would report a story without bias and without an agenda, but unfortunately a weak story without bias is a story without ratings, and a story without ratings, simply isn’t a story at all.

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Legal Highs NZ

Legal Highs NZ

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