Old news, recurring theme: Caribbean Media Overlook Health Stories

This is an almost five-year-old story, but I felt compelled to share it since this directly correlates with one of the reasons I began this blog. Haven ranted here and written here about my frustrations with media organizations in the region, I am excited (well, in one sense yes and in another so sad) to see published data on just how much health stories are not being covered. The report, from PAHO and CARIMAC analyzed print and electronic press in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and found that

“only 16 percent of stories had a health angle, although an additional 19 percent had the potential for a health focus. The study also found that stories covering HIV/AIDS issues more often than not utilized overtly negative terminology.”

Since this was to be a pilot study (found here), I am hoping to get additional published data on the original study as well as follow-up investigations from other countries. What were the results? Are there any similarities and/or differences in the coverage of health news across these islands? Which stories were covered most? Through what lens? Who was most likely to be interviewed? Whose voice is present? Whose voice is missing?

Apart from the implications of these studies for media organizations, I am also concerned about the implications for the health of the people served by such news organizations.Various studies show that populations gleam a great deal of health information from reading/listening or viewing media and entertainment programs, including from reading news reports. By excluding health information from the agenda, or by including it but only through limited lens, new organizations are failing at proving their audience with vital public health information.

Where is the Caribbean…in the press?

The more news I read, the more I’m convinced that the Caribbean is badly missing from major presses. Recently, the BBC decided to close its Caribbean bureau. This is sad news not only to those across the Caribbean region but to people of caribbean decent living in the United Kingdom, the United States and indeed across the world. I enjoyed listening to BBC Caribbean Magazine or BBC Caribbean Report on radio stations from the Virgin Islands or Dominica. It is a shame that such esteemed reporting will no longer be with us.


Image courtesy Hard Beat Communications.

As someone with deep interest in what goes on in the region, as well as with particular interest in public heath and health policy and communication, I often wonder where will I get credible news. Many newspapers across the region seem content to post news releases from government officials or to grab news off the presses rather than to do their own investigative journalism. Additionally, if a newspaper ventures into investigative reporting, the focus is much more on the negative consequences for those involved than on how best to learn from what we read and/or see.

I find it quite disconcerting that I am unable to find more credible health reporting across the region. And that something like the dengue outbreak, cholera or World AIDS Day seems to be the only time worth saying anything. Newspapers needs to stop making governments and policy makers drive the agenda for their stories. This is a disservice to the public. I remembered vividly my time at London School of Economics and our discussions on the importance of the media in the public sphere. We often discussed the role of the media, particularly newspapers and radio, in informing and educating the public. I’ve been a part of situations where radio reporters simply grab whatever is reported on in the newspapers for the day or replay word for word a press conference and call it news. More definitely needs to be done to have an educated public and to drive public discourse.