Twenty years ago if I wanted to get a message out though the media I could ring up a talkback radio station or write a letter to the paper. There was no guarantee that I would get to air or end up in print. Today I can (and do) maintain a blog and a website.

Whilst we cannot believe everything on the Internet, it is certainly a democratizing force as it allows us to get information and opinions without the filter of government departments and “experts”. We can then make up our own minds as to what and who to believe.

In health it is important to get different views, as there is considerable spin applied and lots of vested interest. Just this morning there was an article in the paper about how people not getting a flu shot this winter had led to a bad flu season. Reported cases had increased. No mention is made of how some of this reflects increased reporting.

Further into the article it transpires that there had been 15 deaths this year compared to 22 last year. Another spin on this story could be reduction in flu shots leads to 33% drop in flu deaths.

There is no correlation but it would be easy to spin!

Six pages earlier was a story on how screening mammography “halves” the risk of death from breast cancer! Interesting, International studies have shown that between 1600 and 2500 women need to be screened for one woman to have a cancer found that would not otherwise have been found and hence live longer.

A review in the British Medical Journal found that between 0.05 and 0.27% of women avoid death due to screening. Some 0.1 to 2.7% have needless treatment for cancers which would not have affected them and at least 20% have false alarms complete with anxiety and additional tests.

Winston Churchill is reputed to have said that Democracy is the worst form of government known to man except for every other type that has been tried. There are two critical requirements for a democracy to function at its best. One is for there to be transparency about actions of governments and the other is that citizens have a right to free speech, including the right to disagree with governments and other people.

The American Constitution protects the right to free speech via the First Amendment. Other countries do not have this freedom as entrenched. Over the last few months different countries have moved in differing directions.

Burma announced a lifting of some restrictions. Reporters no longer have to submit writings to the state censors before publication. In a country known for its oppressive regime this is a promising step forward.

In Russia the trial of music group Pussy Riot shows movement in the other direction as they were jailed for two years for expressing a dissenting view. Having seen the video on You Tube I must say that their music is not what I would buy and yes they were in a church. A move along notice would have sufficed.

What continues to disturb me is the attack on freedom of speech in Australia. Current laws allow actions to be brought if someone feels they might be offended by what is said. Taking offence at what someone else says is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Likewise it is too easy for people to complain to a gaggle of government departments because they do not agree with someone’s opinion.

Naturally these agencies seek to encourage complaints by periodic press releases reminding people that there is an under-reporting of a myriad of wrongs that may have been reined upon them.

And of course we have the specter of senior politicians who have sought to silence criticism rather then argue the merits of the claims made.

Attempts are also made to shut down dissenting voices in health too. Generally the person will be attacked rather than the merits of the argument.

There are remarkably few facts in this world but billions of opinions. The real problem arises when opinion is presented as fact and attempts are made to silence dissent. This occurs far too frequently!

In health genuine facts are actually few and far between. Most health information is opinion based on available information. This is why ideas are constantly changing. And why it is so important to get either a few opinions and only from those you trust.

In turn, for all of us, ability to speak ones truth is a component of health that gets little attention. Furthermore what is true for one person may not be for another. That is fine. Emotional problems begin when we cannot be truthful to ourselves. This can be the first step towards mental and even physical illness.

Being true to yourself and speaking your truth enhances your health.