Public health seems to be the last priority of media. Despite the importance of public health initiatives , media does not focus upon it as it does on health tragedies. A good case in point was the AMRI Hospital fire which was covered by the media.
Recently India went 11 months without a single new case of polio being declared. this was a hall mark achievement and a crowning success of the pulse polio initiative. But this went unreported.
Now the public health infrastructure has started focusing on eradicating Measles, but again the media has chosen to ignore it.
A similar analogy can be found in the great job being done by the NHS in the UK. Their public health and community dental programs are one of the best in the world. But again the British media often chooses to ignore it rather focusing on the changes and the mismanagement in NHS.
So clearly media is more focused upon reporting a health initiative gone wrong rather than focus on the initiatives that are doing well.
Why is that?
For one I think Media revenues are driven by advertising, which in turn depends on ratings. Ratings are generated by viewership and generally people like to watch sensational news. SO bad news sells while good news may not have the same impact.
A good analogy can be the coverage of the Hooch tragedy in West Bengal. Which has been widely covered by the media but not the success of the pulse polio program.
Secondly to attract audience there need to be some celebrities that focus on some public health initiatives. A good example was Indian super star Amitabh Bachchan who led the pulse polio campaign in India.
Similarly Lance Armstrong has led the campaign against Cancer and Michael J Fox for Parkinson’s disease.
But having celebrities can back fire as most of them have their own agenda’s and this might seriously hamper the message.
Third option could be to develop local champions against a particular disease or health condition. People are more likely to listen to their local community champions rather than some celebrity sitting far away. These champions would make the message more genuine and hence will be able to attract attention to the issue.
In conclusion media would cover public health if and only if it helps them boosts their ratings. Good options are to make the story more sell-able by focusing on the local issues and its impact. this would be definitely covered by the local media.
For national media I think associating public health initiatives with celebrities is the best option. But one has to be careful of the true intention of the celebrity.
Finally local issues even in public health are best pushed by local champions and then it becomes a public interest story.
In conclusion, the media is made up people from the same society that we will live. As long as they don’t feel for the issue, it is difficult for them to cover the issue.