Media and its Role in health


Media is any communication outlets or tools used to store and deliver information or data, and Mass media is used for technologies that are capable of reaching vast majority of the general public. Having evolved from various cave paintings and early writings through a number of modern means, different forms of human communication like radio, Television and internet, have been posing multifaceted impacts from influencing peoples‟ way of life up to modifying institutions‟ approaches and acting up on governmental administration.

In recent years, mass media communication has expanded tremendously in size, scope, and influence. In many parts of the world, not only has availability increased, but programming is increasingly diverse with contents aimed to target all ages, incomes, backgrounds, and attitudes. Developing countries have witnessed a similar pattern which is evident in the amount of time people spend watching television, surfing the World Wide Web, listening to radio, and reading newspapers and magazines proving the point that mass media plays a central role in our people’s lives.

Communities and individuals are bombarded constantly with messages from varieties of ubiquitous media outlets. These messages promote not only products, but moods, attitudes, and judgments. Appropriately used, the media can also play a number of roles in educating the public about health issues and has a responsibility to report accurate health and science information to the public. History has shown that a high level of media coverage about a topic does not only elicit public attention and concern but serves as a catalyst of health care system change too – COVID 19‟s scenario being a good example.

Yet, it is often noted that public health community and policy makers in developing countries do not appreciate this importance and power of the media in shaping the health of the public and stimulating policy responses.

Moreover, media outlets or organizations do not see themselves as a part of, or contributing to the public health system. The effort of health professionals in community education is also confined to facility setups and the vicinity. Consequently, apart from the frightening infectious disease epidemics such as AIDS and COVID 19, many public health issues are not considered newsworthy, overlooked in the public light and on the national political and legislative agendas.

On the other hand, News attention to specific issues may also distort public perceptions and change behavior in unwanted ways. It is important to understand the tensions among news reporters, scientists, and public health professionals, while news media is involved in the public health system. Reporters might not understand basics of scientific methods, proper interpretation of statistics, probabilities, and risk whereas scientists using too much esoteric jargon fail to explain their work simply and cogently. Journalists, in writing attention-grabbing stories, might also violate the norms that guide scientific communication as attempts to translate researches and health interventions into news can be misleading. Studies conclude that both groups are generally untrained in risk communication, fueling the tension and resulting in distorted public perceptions. To help ease these tensions and to improve the quality of the information delivered to the public, health professionals and public health officials, journalists and editors should get opportunities for training and Professional associations like ours should take a lead as we owe it to our audiences.

Moreover, the title we physicians hold, the word „doctor’ is originated from a Latin term docere roughly translated „teach – teacher‟ puts us in an important position of educating the community to bring about a favorable behavioral change and create pressure for changes in policy and regulations. To this end, it is important to recognize the powerful impact of the entertainment media in conveying health information and messages.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” —Goethe

Author: Sifessa Dessalegn (MD, MPH) @SPHMMC

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