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A Cogent Tome On Health Media

Updated: April 21, 2012 4:54 pm

The mass media functions both as a reflector and a shaper of a society`s attitudes and values and as such represents a forum within which one may understand and influence public opinion. While questions of medical ethics may be largely confined to academic and scientific spaces, their importance to society at large cannot be denied, and how issues of medical ethics play out—if at all—in the media could tell us how society understands and processes these questions. In fact, in today`s culture of pervasive media and commercialism, issues related to public policy and civic life have cropped up in unexpected ways. At the same time, there has been a shrinking of spaces for informed public debate and discussion on such issues. Most of the discussion is restricted to closed academic forums or interest groups. The mass media is therefore important as a space where an open society can learn about, and possibly engage with, issues that affect life and living. Against this backdrop, Dishonest Medi(a)cine endeavours to examine the role of health media comprehensively. The writer Dhananjay Kumar, Editor, Health and Social Affairs, Nai Dunia, and has been covering health for over 20 years, probes the medical underbelly with ruthless clarity. He argues that health reporting in the country needs to be purged of maladies that are engulfing its roots, branch and body.

The book emphasises that a responsible health media may actually improve the health of the nation and decrease the number of people requiring expensive treatment. However, given the complexity of issues concerning the healthcare sector, and the limitations of the media to deal with them in a manner that could fully inform public, it is important first to understand how issues of ethics in health media are presented in the mass media, and then to encourage a dialogue between journalists and healthcare sector about how the media can foster a better public understanding of these issues.

Discussion of ethics appears to be problematic given the adherence to traditional news values when covering healthcare. Yet, the healthcare community and the media need to pay more attention to explicitly focusing on ethics in their interactions. For, fascinating headlines and punch lines, not critical probing, are the qualities that ensure the space for the news. Sensing this penchant for catchy headlines for health stories, PR companies hire creative people to make fascinating press release.

The 192-page book which is divided into 17 chapters highlights that health reporters are looked at as half-baked doctors. People think health reporters exactly know which doctor is the best for a certain disease but the fact is they are as much at the mercy of doctors for their news as patients are for their treatments. However, in spite of health reporters’ alacrity, the quality of health reporting would always be a reflection of the attitudes of doctors who are the sole source for health reporters to check out the facts regarding treatments.

It is rightly said that media use is an index of development. The greater the use, the higher will be the level of education. As social beings, humans are sustained through mutual interactions, exchange of ideas, information and views with the fellow beings. However, the media too suffers from some pitfalls, growing consumerism and materialism have adversely impacted our media. The partisan attitude, sectarian outlook and biased individualism in some sections of media are a testimony that media too is susceptible to harmful influences. Often, in fierce rivalries, ethics of journalism are thrown out of the window to settle old scores. Running after opportunistic gains is another malady our media suffers from. The writer has presented the murky affair with ruthless probity and hence the book is a must read.

By Ashok Kumar

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