ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN PUBLIC HEALTH
The Public Health and its space
The Public Health space comprises the totality (or aggregation) of health situations (physical, mental and psychological state – and not just the absence of illness or disease) in the public or whole population groups (local, national or global)
Public Health encompasses the whole of the human population, heir interaction with one another and even other species on our planet. Even the effect of human and non-human activities affect the health and wellbeing of all animals and even plant species. There is a complexity of inter-relationships that most human beings ordinarily over look and which are causal enough to affect to how we exist – i.e. live, work – whether in good health or otherwise. We bear a strong relationship also to our environment in terms of how it affect us and we affects us.
As a result of this complex chains of reactions, there is a wide range of studies and disciplines affecting our planetary existence. The result of these activities of human and non-human elements (with whom we share our earth) generate a large volume of information that need to be properly disseminated not just in academic fora but also for the public enlightenment, information and even proper education and utilization.
These items of information affect whole or part of societies, nations, racial types and social classes. Sharing the information to the benefit of all must of necessity involve the media as the trusted gate keepers of the human societies, its customs, norms, governance, and other modern paraphernalia and values of modern societies and nation states.
MEDIA – WHO ARE THEY?
The term Media refers to the totality of Traditional and what we have come to refer to as New Media (Electronic, Print & Web based i.e. online) including the men and women who work in that space. Men and women who are Pressmen. These are the ones who man and work in media houses whether traditional or otherwise and who have the responsibility and authority to communicate with the masses. Of course most of them are trained in mass communication to equip them for the roles ahead of them and other communication arts and sciences.
BACKGROUNDTO MEDIA ROLE: It is the Media’s role to pass on, spread, manage, or transmit information from sources to the general public (masses) in particular forms/modes/platforms of communication where each is a practitioner.
The totality of the form and the human element is what is generally referred to as the media today. All Media forms have unitary aim in society and that is for society’s good.
This paper examines the Media and its role for Public Health purposes.
Health is a human right and everyone irrespective of their social status, gender, educational status, race, colour or creed is entitled to good health – In every society /country. This is why the SDGs push for Universal Health Coverage for all persons wherever and whoever they are. Nigeria signed on to these goals in 2015 and had made several attempts to improve its health sector in line with the SDG goal on UHC. President Jonathan even signed the UHC Bill while in office as part of the nation’s transitioning to that platform of health for all citizens.
In the achievement of attainment of holistic health, there are usually many gaps with societies overlooking or not paying enough attention to health status of every citizen – especially those unable to afford Medicare on their own i.e. bear health costs out of pocket.
The burden of communicable or not-communicable diseases as well as epidemics (or Pandemics as in the ongoing COVID-19 global emergency) cannot be borne alone. Governments owe it to citizens to pool resources and share health risks as is currently on-going now.
When this is the case THE MEDIA has major roles to perform in pooling information and bringing them to the public domain for adequate attention to address any and all gaps inherent in society’s health space.
The media therefore becomes a tool of advocacy, enlightenment, support, administering, transformation & change etc. – in fact partners in information management and transmission to the masses.
ROLE OF MEDIA IN ADVOCACY:
Advocacy is to
• Openly support a cause
• Push a cause or Agenda
• Push a viewpoint
• Working to Persuade
• Or Swing or Sway opinion/support for the cause
• Improve a situation/Cause etc. Until envisaged/ target health outcome is achieved.
WHY ENGAGE THE MEDIA
The Media are a primary source of health information. Media can be the best friend/worst enemy of health promotion (so enlist them as friends/partners). Practitioners are human and from varied backgrounds. They are subject to biases etc. like all of us but have a professional obligation to report factually. The Media are Gatekeepers and society’s watchdogs. Media are trained to seek out the truth and present them to achieve communication targets. They are organized to present and use information on several platforms wherever they are and to various audience/reader groups – literate, illiterate, sophisticated, young, old etc. They are stakeholders and partners in progress in development issues. Beyond all the above they have a stake in health – they need to be able to, along with members of their families, access healthcare in the course of their living and working – without paying out of pocket.
THE MEDIA HAVE A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN ADVOCACY
The media can change the way community members look at Health and Health improving processes. They are therefore the foot soldiers for health. They can make clear who health and health decisions affect and why. They can create a reliable, consistent stream of publicity for Public Health issues and activities.
These activities should include articles, appearances, programmes and news items about the causes of diseases, pandemics, epidemics, vaccinations and the resultant lack of it. Their output would typically include interest stories; success stories; interviews with beneficiaries of health interventions etc. and such others as ‘vaccine & hygiene process dissidents’ – all of which would have been designed or crafted to engage various audience groups.
THE MEDIA HAVE ROLES TO
• Inform, Educate and Entertain
• Motivate community members for action
• Motivate policy makers to get involved.
• Push for Government Policies
• Push for Public Health Funding
• Push for Health Research Funding
• Publicize Initiatives that require Support
• Push for Volunteer Opportunities in normal health times and health emergencies
• Disseminate behavioural change communication/information for collective good.
• Publicize health space successes and disseminate best health practices
Media Practitioners are Fountain of Knowledge and Information Gatekeepers – So they are knowledgeable, sound, trained formally to disseminate information. They are trained to target pervasive public ignorance to debunk them so they are good at getting rid of fake news which has become the norm.
Everyone nowadays is an amateur media person without the skills-set to deliver appropriately. They have the training to target negative stereotypes, misconceptions & misinformation. Their role is to go to the field and report from point of knowledge/experience (evidence based). It is actually a disservice not to involve the media in Public Health space and its reportage.
Most health and development interventions have been known to fail because of lack of Media component in the project planning as well as Monitoring and Evaluation. The Media group offers an informal M&E tool because it is part of their jobs to track the progress of projects and evaluation their effectiveness and otherwise.
Except during Epidemics and Pandemics, health issues reporting is perceived as
– UNGLAMOROUS AND
– SOMETIMES HIGHLY TECHNICAL
– HARD SELL COPIES
Most media houses consider them not highly newsworthy/sensational enough to fast sell; media house are after all businesses with overheads and costs to cover so they really have to sell to their audiences. Still the Media represent our best reach-out tool and can drive Public Health space information management for the best health outcomes. The media will perform excellently when very well engaged and involved in ongoing/salient and even routine health issues. Health touches the life of each and everyone. Engaging the media is a necessity in health matters. Just as in every area of life there rules of engagement with the media corps.
ENGAGING THE MEDIA (TO DOS)
• Capacity Building for the Media to position them as on earlier stated in the public health domain
• Need for a Core Group to work with on Subject – Public Health Issues & its peculiarities – ANHEJ is one such body training and positioning for specialized reportage in health issues.
• Partner with Media Management & Media Owners (Decision/Power Base) for attainment of Public Health equity.
• Inform Media Houses in good time (well in Advance of /Programmes, Communication events, Outreach with follow-ups calls/reminders)
• Always do a reference to your intervention/health event in your invitation. Media houses are a hotpot of activities and yours might get overlooked if not properly referenced.
• The Media will help maintain the tempo – Keep up Visibility for Continuous Impact
• Engage/Partner with Media Houses especially at top levels
• Engage Core Health Journalists Groups/professional groups
THE MEDIA represent the best & authoritative source of information on Public health issues because they go to the source and get out all relevant information. They are partners and stakeholders in the space of Public Health. They are members of the public too, seek and access health along with their families, friends and relations.
Using the media may cost some but it is a wise investment in healthcare and healthcare delivery in the public space. Proper use of the media dissipates fake rumours. When the media is not properly engaged, there is a rise of fake rumours. The media undoubtedly are the go to group when it comes to news and information. They are specialists in their own field and right.