July 28, 2005

The Media and Health Information

As a web site that reports on the topic of health (specifically, schizophrenia) we try to provide as accurate and complete a picture of the research, commercial news that is relevant to this area. With over 10,000 pages of information on this web site we think we're covering the topic at a reasonable level of depth.

Increasingly, however, the US media is coming under fire for being a generally poor provider of health information. In a new article on the Public Library of Science (Medicine) points out some particular flaws in medical reporting:

"Surveys consistently show that Americans get most of their health news and information from television. One study documented troubling trends of brevity (an average of 45 seconds per story), absence of reporter specialization, sensational claims not supported by data, hyperbole, commercialism, disregard for the uncertainty of clinical trials, baseless predictions of treatments based on basic science studies, single-source stories, and a paucity of coverage of health policy [6].

Television viewers are likely to see many more one-sided political ads about health policy issues than balanced, comprehensive news stories about such issues. In my current research, I am analyzing health policy news coverage on three award-winning TV stations in three different parts of the United States in 2004. Despite the fact that American voters ranked health care as their third leading concern (after war and the economy) [7], the three stations I monitored devoted little time to health policy issues. My analysis shows that in ten months (326 hours of stations' key late night newscasts) on these three stations, there was only one story on the uninsured. Presidential candidates' health policy platforms drew a combined total of seven minutes of news—an average of 23 seconds per story, or about 15 seconds per station per month of the 2004 campaign. Whether it is preclinical news that is not ready for prime time, or clinical news that oozes optimism over unproven ideas, or a disdain for health policy news, television journalists seem to have abdicated their possible agenda-setting role."

To See the Full Story: What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of the Media in Disseminating Health Information?


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