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Barriers to effective health journalism

This paper examines factors which have an impact on the ability of health journalists to report accurately and effectively and to support informed debate on health. Many researchers are wary of media misreporting and sensationalism, and thus shy away from engagement with the media. At the same time, the lack of accessible and accurate information and research from national health ministries, health agencies and governments in some countries, drives journalists to seek information from alternative sources, including pharmaceutical companies. In other settings, political pressures and even direct intimidation are used to discourage investigative reporting on particular government health policies or on the health impacts of particular industries.

This paper draws on data gathered for the Health Journalism Partnership (HJP, 2006) on the state of support to health journalism worldwide. It includes: a global survey questionnaire of over 450 organisations engaged in health media support, key informant interviews in 16 countries, and four in-depth case studies of the part played by the media in particular national health responses, such as the role of the Jamaican media in tackling stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS.

Drawing on the HJP research and existing studies on the agenda-setting role of the media, this paper outlines priorities for improved support to health journalists. In addition, it highlights areas for further research and policy action, not least ways to promote greater engagement between journalists and researchers and health agencies that would enhance the potential role of the media in effective health responses.

This paper was cited in the publication, “Engaging media in communicating research on sexual and reproductive health and rights in sub-Saharan Africa: experiences and lessons learned,” published by the African Population and Health Reseach Centre in 2011. The research paper can be found here.

This paper was presented at the Global Forum for health research. For more information please click here.

A pregnant woman has her blood pressure taken and pulse listened to by a health worker before she has a rapid HIV test at a clinic in Freetown. The woman is participating in a PMTCT program which aims to prevent mother to child transmission. - Giacomo Pirozzi/ Panos Pictures

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