Fusing journalism and TB – telling the stories as they are

Media as stakeholders to public health – where are we?

with 4 comments

It’s time to air my pet peeve again!  In the last 30 days, I’ve attended two conferences with very interesting titles – Bringing Evidence into Public Health Policy – Five Years of the National Rural Health Mission, and the International Symposium on Tuberculosis Diagnostics: Innovating to make an Impact conducted by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. The objective of the first conference was clearly to bring researchers and policy makers together so that there could be a moving away from the silo approach where researchers worked on a different plane and policy worked on another with no convergence between the two.  The second conference sought to highlight the desperate need for newer and more accurate diagnostic tools for TB, which was sorely lacking even a century and more after it was discovered.

Both conferences held immense potential for initiatives and discussions that would impact the general public and make their lives better.  Both conferences were packed with content which interested me enough to want to be there.  Organisers of both the conferences understood the importance of media attendance and had given a lot of thought to who they wanted present.  Wanting to go beyond mere event coverage, they had ensured that journalists committed to writing on health were present in addition to reporters who would report the event.  There was every attempt made to ensure that we got the information we wanted and the support we wanted, should we want to pick up any stories from the conferences.  So far, so good.

It was when the sessions began that the problems surfaced.  Researchers and scientists are loyal to one another, they speak to one another and stay together like no other groups I have seen.  In a room that is packed with scientists and researchers, it isn’t difficult for a mere journalist to  feel completely lonely and isolated and unaddressed.

Even to someone as determined as me to sit through the conferences end to end, the sessions were tough to sit through, particularly the post lunch ones!  Scientific jargon and research methodologies were discussed furiously, packed powerpoint slides with abstruse terms, calculations and what seemed like tribal symbols (!) zipped past my already befuddled brain which had also been lulled into a post lunch stupor, and made no sense to me at all.  So acute was my disconnect that as I heard animated discussions around some of the sessions, I only sensed something significant was being discussed and that they made sense to someone somewhere!

I have often, in fact very often, heard it said that the media is agruably one of the most important stakeholders to any issue, be it politics, sports, science or development.  If that were true, wouldn’t more efforts be made to make such conferences more inclusive?  Wouldn’t researchers and scientists make greater efforts to ‘talk to us’ rather than ‘talk down to us’ or worse still, forget our presence?

As a health journalist, who writes on almost nothing other than health, I have the time and the patience to sift through scientific jargon, talk to various people who can demystify complexities of health issues and present them to my readers.  But it’s tough.  How can a general reporter, after attending a conference for a few hours, work to stiff deadlines and make it easy for a lay reader to understand terms like specificity and sensitivity (just some of the simpler ones I heard) without confounding him/her further.  Therefore they take the easiest route, which is to outline the 5 Ws and 1 H and file their stories.  And get unfairly accused for turning in event based reports.

It’s not that attention has not been paid to this aspect.  There are efforts going on across the world to include the media in almost every issue, and to build their capacities for better reporting.  But these are surface efforts and one almost feels they are tokenism.  The efforts are just not enough, and media activities get the least funding and last priority.

It is a well known fact that the general public gets health information almost solely from the media and not from their doctors or from scientists.  Does this not indicate that much more needs to be done in order to empower them with correct and accurate information?  Does this then not mean that the media has to be first knowledgeable enough to impart accurate information?  It would not be an unreasonable demand from the media to ask for much more funding, much more capacity building efforts and much, much more commitment from those who expect the media to walk with them in their efforts to spread awareness on an issue, be it climate change or TB or HIV or any other!!
Bharathi Ghanashyam

Written by JournalistsAgainstTB

January 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Posted in TB and Media

4 Responses

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  1. Dear Bharathi and colleagues,

    I just discovered your initiative ‘journalists against TB’ and I’m very, very happy with it! As a European based foundation working on the development of new TB vaccines, every day we meet people who don’t know anything about the disease and the urgency for new vaccines.

    My attention was triggered by your article ‘Media as stakeholders to public health – where are we?’ It is really a pity that it is difficult to contact researchers to speak with them about their progress in research. Maybe I can help you here.

    Our foundation, TBVI (, works together with over 40 research partners to develop new vaccines for tuberculosis. I’m responsible for communication within TBVI and I think I can help you to get in touch with some of our researcher with interesting results, and who are really able to talk with you about TB vaccines and to explain how things work. Please let me know if I can help.

    Furthermore I’m willing to send you news updates or press invitations about our activities. Is there a list of e-mail addresses I can have? Or maybe better: you can forward this e-mail to your network so people can contact me if they are interested in our news.

    Kind regards and good luck with your initiative!

    Erna Balk
    Director Communications
    TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI)

    Erna Balk

    January 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    • Dear Erna,
      It is indeed heartening to see that there are people like you who are willing to invest time to talk to us and build our knowledge on the complexities associated with TB. I will be very happy to interact with you further on this and will mail you for some information for a story I am currently writing on TB diagnostics. I will also tell my colleagues about this mail and forward them your email id as well. Thank you very much for writing in and let’s collaborate! Would you like us to link up your website to this blog?

      Kind regards,
      Bharathi Ghanashyam


      January 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      • Dear Bharathi,

        Thanks for your reply! And of course it is OK with me to link our website.

        Kind regards,
        Erna Balk

        Erna Balk

        January 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      • Will do as soon as I figure out the intricacies of this action!!


        January 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

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