Session 15: Global Health and the Media

Dan Green

By: Mathura Thevarajah

Media Panel

The sobering perspectives of the speakers in this session regarding global health and media aroused an artillery of questions at the end, all the while keeping the audience engaged, humoured, and informed. 

Dan Green from the Gates Foundation began his talk by comparing global health coverage to the broccoli of news. The media landscape is changing with a greater number of voices constituting more opinions and less facts, he explained. In essence, reporting is expensive, talk is cheap.

“Accountability in journalism is in serious jeopardy and the solution is that philanthropists and experts have to step up to the plate.”  One example he gave was how The Guardian puts out a newslist of potential topics for the day on their website and asks for experts in the field to send input for the pending paper. We have to make sure that “informed and engaged citizen who are doing really great work are getting their voices elevated within the media framework,” he said.

Donald J. McNeil of the New York Times began his talk with endearing self-deprecating humour that quickly turned searingly honest. Usually inundated with global health stories that just don`t have a chance of being published, he cried out for an angle, “something I don`t already know”. He clarifies, though, that he`s not that cold, otherwise he wouldn`t stick to it. 

Next, Andre Picard of the Globe and Mail illuminated the idea that even though the Globe and Mail is one of the 10 biggest newspapers in North America, with a foreign bureau that is continuously increasing, and a largely multicultural audience, global health is often just an afterthought. Global health coverage is reactive and responds to crisis where writers are dispatched on-demand. Part of the problem is that most reporters don`t have a health or medical background and comprise of a younger technology -savvy, albeit “green behind the ears” generation of journalists. Another problem is bridging the gap between health care professionals and journalists. Health care workers see reporters as “ill-informed and intrusive” and reporters see health care workers as “obstructive, prickly and unhelpful”.  There needs to be open dialogue and more understanding between the two groups in order to foster a healthy symbiotic relationship.

According to Green, global health coverage in the media is like symphonies in small towns; someone has to pay for it out of pocket because ticket sales just won`t cut it. Despite the lack of coverage for the vast array of important global health topics,  the take home point of the panel was that health care workers should never lose their passion and drive for their work. Afterall, as Picard jokes, “it may be broccoli but you can always put a lot of cheese sauce on it.”

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