March 5, 2014
The soda industry influenced news coverage of two soda tax ballot measures in the cities of Richmond and El Monte, California, according to research recently released by the Berkeley Media Studies Group. Researchers analyzed news articles and industry publications from November 2011 to January 2013 and found that the soda industry infiltrated news stories while camouflaging its identity.
According to the researchers, the industry recruited a broad range of community spokespeople to voice an anti-tax position on their behalf, and many of these sources received industry funding but were not identified as connected to industry. The researchers assert that this allowed soda companies to distance themselves from the political debate and create the appearance that opposition to the taxes came from within the community, rather than from a well-funded PR campaign.
The study also found that the soda industry, which spent $4 million to defeat the proposals, exploited existing class-based and race-based tensions to portray the tax as financially ruinous and regressive. The industry claimed — sometimes directly and sometimes through community spokespeople — that it would be financed off the backs of the cities’ poorest residents, according to the authors.
The study includes recommendations for journalists on ways to improve coverage of soda taxes, as well as lessons from Richmond and El Monte that advocates can use to push for soda taxes in other cities.
To learn more about the study’s findings, join BMSG for a tweet chat, co-hosted by the Rudd Center, on March 6 at 1 p.m. EST, using the hashtag #SodaTaxNews.