Fusing journalism and TB – telling the stories as they are

Finding some answers

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We have 9 posts on this blog; we’ve been up for only a week and two days of this week were spent trying to unravel the mysteries of blogging and understanding what a tag means, how to create categories, and what a dashboard does.  I’ve still not found answers to many of these mysteries but have decided to go ahead anyway.  It’s the content that matters, I tell myself and not whether my text is left or right aligned or is in html or visual or whatever.

We’ve had over 550 visitors to the blog and interestingly, the two blog posts that got the most readers were on the media.  One was entitled Why does TB not make News? and the other was Media as stakeholders to Public Health – where are we? This tells me two things.  One, that this kind of initiative is sorely needed and two, that more people like me across the world are grappling with how to negotiate space for TB in the mainstream media.  And we’re all fighting a losing battle.

Having raised questions, I feel obligated to debate some answers as well.  Let’s deal with the first.  Why does TB not make news?  My possibly uneducated guess would point to the fact that TB is viewed too narrowly as a medical problem and medical problems per se do not consistently make news unless they are epidemics like H1N1, which need restrictions on travel and other precautions, and the media therefore responds promptly. Other medical problems make World Health Day supplements, they make special editions or advertorials or they make it to science and medical journals.

Here are some gaps on TB coverage that strike me as odd.  Where are the people in stories on TB?  Have we projected them adequately to the media as the primary stakeholders and that their stories need to be told?  Have we approached the media with adequate confidence that TB is not just a medical problem and has very strong linkages to the way we live, the way we eat and in fact even in which country we live?  Have we explored its linkages to lifestyle issues such as substance and alcohol abuse?

We tout repetitive figures and statistics but what about the faces behind the figures?  What about the little orphan child who has lost her parents to HIV and lives with her destitute grandmother, and has had two attacks of TB which have ravaged her frail form?  And all because we don’t have good diagnostics that can catch her problem in time.  And that the drugs currently available are too unpalatable for a little child to stick to for six months.

Human stories aside, projected interestingly, TB can in fact find its way to business journals  as it can be linked to levels of GDP and productivity of people sick with TB.  It can make great political stories as it can throw insights into the way a country is governed and what the powers that be are doing towards poverty alleviation.  I read an interesting story the other day, where several employees working in plushly appointed call centres are falling sick with TB.  These were all employees who hailed from very humble backgrounds and possibly lived in congested areas and localities.  Does this not tell us that they live in skewed circumstances, one in their work place and one outside?   It made an interesting story and actually found a whole page in a prominent paper.  And yet, this is an exception rather than the rule because think TB and we think science.

The second relates to networking and partnerships.  Without meaning to point fingers or find fault, do scientists and researchers (social science researchers included), make concerted efforts to engage deeply with the media?  Aside of the stray press conference around their events, do they invest time in the media?  I speak for India when I say that hungry as I am to build my knowledge on complexities associated with health, be it TB, HIV or the broader public health, I am starved for resources who will provide me with information.  I am one of the lucky few who has access to some very able and willing people who will readily speak with me.  But is this true across the board?

So the issues could be brought down to the projection of TB beyond the science and of sustained engagement with the media.  This calls for much more investment in the media, without expectations of immediate results.  And this must not be on mere trainings, but something much deeper.  It calls for creation of networks of experts, media members and other stakeholders; it calls for much more exposure for the media to international developments, particularly the vernacular media. It means creating a passion in the media to report on TB and this takes time and it takes money.  The dividends will be richer than the investments!!

Bharathi Ghanashyam

Written by JournalistsAgainstTB

January 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Posted in TB and Media

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