MASS MEDIA AND ADVOCACY

INTRODUCTION

Mass media  is a strategic  use of print and electronic  media to promote public debate and promote community  support to change in generating common norms, values, beliefs and policies.

It involves advocacy  for better  and improved  health care  education , human  rights etc. the mass media  do sensitize the general  public  on the implication  of certain government  policies ( media bill, taxation , free education)

 

ROLE OF MEDIA IN ADVOCACY

Importance of Mass Media in Education Programmes

Without good access to national and community media all public education programmes may be disadvantaged. It is possible to consider programmes that rely entirely on face-to-face education, but even these can be hindered if there is not a supplementary programme of advertising for events and news coverage to increase motivation as well as printed material to “leave behind.” As such, assessment of available media options should be conducted.

Media Directories

In some countries, media registration may have resulted in a publicly-available directory. In others, NGOs and government media agencies may have collected such information. Or advertising agencies may keep books that give details on media outlets, including their market share and target audiences.

Early on, educators may want to develop a “brainstorm” list and subsequently their own directory that analyzes available media outlets in terms appropriate to voter education programming. Criteria they may want to use include:

  • Is the media owned or controlled by the government?
  • If controlled by the government, is it obligated under election law to provide free space or airtime for voter education messages?
  • If privately owned, is the management amenable to running public service announcements, such as voter education messages either free of charge or at a discounted rate?
  • What are the published advertising rates of the outlet?
  • Is the media national or community-based?
  • Is the particular medium capable of preparing its own copy or producing its own spots?
  • What are the policy and the protocol of the particular medium for taking spots or copy prepared by the education programme?
  • In what format must spots or copy prepared by the education programme be presented to the media outlet in question?
  • What is the outlet’s market share, i.e. what is the size of its viewing or listening audience or readership?
  • What are the characteristics of its audience?
  • How is the size or characteristics of the audience affected by date and time and by programming, i.e. what are the most popular shows or are papers read more during the week or at week-ends?
  • How many hours does the outlet broadcast per day?

An adequate database will need to be prepared for this information. Because of its importance, educators will also want to cultivate expertise within their own teams in this field and, in addition, develop appropriate contacts amongst outside practitioners.

Power Supply and Other Commodities

Particularly in transitional settings, educators will want to take note of any shortages or disruptions in the supply of valuable commodes such as electricity, gas, paper or ink. If power is in short supply, it may not make much sense to invest in pricey television commercials. Radio may still be an option, however, as radios can be operated on battery power. In such circumstances, print and direct contact may take on an increasingly important role. Educators will also need to take into consideration how power shortages or interruptions may affect production processes: if service providers do not have an independent and reliable power source very often this will extend the amount of time required for production. If paper or ink is difficult to obtain, then print activities may need to be de-emphasized. Even where these supplies exist, fuel shortages might hinder the ability to deliver and distribute print materials. Thus, educators must assess the availability of key commodities and the impact that these will have on the types and mix of media used.

Careful Planning and Assessment

Countries with vibrant media infrastructures are essential to the development of democracy. To the extent that voter education can enhance this by careful selection and promotion of media, it will have long-term impact for future programmes.

INFORMATION

“Mass media” is a deceptively simple term encompassing a countless array of institutions and individuals who differ in purpose, scope, method, and cultural context. Mass media include all forms of information communicated to large groups of people, from a handmade sign to an international news network. There is no standard for how large the audience needs to be before communication becomes “mass” communication. There are also no constraints on the type of information being presented. A car advertisement and a U.N. resolution are both examples of mass media.

Because “media” is such a broad term, it will be helpful in this discussion to focus on a limited definition. In general usage, the term has been taken to refer to only “the group of corporate entities, publishers, journalists, and others who constitute the communications industry and profession.” This definition includes both the entertainment and news industries. Another common term, especially in talking about conflict, is “news media.” News media include only the news industry. It is often used interchangeably with “the press” or the group of people who write and report the news.

The distinction between news and entertainment can at times be fuzzy, but news is technically facts and interpretation of facts, including editorial opinions, expressed by journalism professionals. Which facts are included, how they are reported, how much interpretation is given, and how much space or time is devoted to a news event is determined by journalists and management and will depend on a variety of factors ranging from the editorial judgment of the reporters and editors, to other news events competing for the same time or space, to corporate policies that reflect management’s biases.

Importance

Mass communicated media saturate the industrialized world. The television in the living room, the newspaper on the doorstep, the radio in the car, the computer at work, and the fliers in the mailbox are just a few of the media channels daily delivering advertisements, news, opinion, music, and other forms of mass communication.

Because the media are so prevalent in industrialized countries, they have a powerful impact on how those populations view the world. Nearly all of the news in the United States comes from a major network or newspaper. It is only the most local and personal events that are experienced first-hand. Events in the larger community, the state, the country, and the rest of the world are experienced through the eyes of a journalist.

Not only do the media report the news, they create the news by deciding what to report. The “top story” of the day has to be picked from the millions of things that happened that particular day. After something is deemed newsworthy, there are decisions on how much time or space to give it, whom to interview, what pictures to use, and how to frame it. Often considered by editors, but seldom discussed, is how the biases and interests of management will impact these determinations. All of these decisions add up to the audience’s view of the world, and those who influence the decisions influence the audience.

The media, therefore, have enormous importance to conflict resolution because they are the primary and frequently only source of information regarding conflicts. If a situation doesn’t make the news, it simply does not exist for most people. When peaceful options such as negotiation and other collaborative problem-solving techniques are not covered, or their successes are not reported, they become invisible and are not likely to be considered or even understood as possible options in the management of a conflict.

Negatives

The news media thrive on conflict. The lead story for most news programs is typically the most recent and extreme crime or disaster. Conflict attracts viewers, listeners, and readers to the media; the greater the conflict the greater the audience, and large audiences are imperative to the financial success of media outlets. Therefore, it is often in the media’s interest to not only report conflict, but to play it up, making it seem more intense than it really is. Long-term, on-going conflict-resolution processes such as mediation are not dramatic and are often difficult to understand and report, especially since the proceedings are almost always closed to the media. Thus conflict resolution stories are easily pushed aside in favor of the most recent, the most colorful, and the most shocking aspects of a conflict. Groups that understand this dynamic can cater to it in order to gain media attention. Common criteria for terrorist attacks include timing them to coincide with significant dates, targeting elites, choosing sites with easy media access, and aiming for large numbers of casualties. Protesters will hoist their placards and start chanting when the television cameras come into view. It is not unusual for camera crews or reporters to encourage demonstrators into these actions so they can return to their studios with exciting footage. The resulting media coverage can bestow status and even legitimacy on marginal opposition groups, so television coverage naturally becomes one of their planned strategies and top priorities. The “30-second sound bite” has become a familiar phrase in television and radio news and alert public figures strategize to use it to their advantage.

In most parts of the industrialized world, the news has to “sell,” because the handfuls of giant media conglomerates that control most of the press (media outlets) place a high priority on profitable operations. Their CEOs are under relentless pressure to generate high returns on their shareholders’ investments. Media companies face tight budgets and fierce competition, which often translate into fewer foreign correspondents, heavy reliance on sensationalism, space and time constraints, and a constant need for new stories. Reporters with pressing deadlines may not have time to find and verify new sources. Instead they tend to rely on government reports, press releases, and a stable of vetted sources, which are usually drawn from “reliable” companies and organizations. Most overseas bureaus have been replaced by “parachute journalism,” where a small news crew spends a few days or less in the latest hotspot. These same media outlets are also dependent upon advertisement revenue, and that dependence can compromise their impartiality. Many newspapers and television stations think twice before reporting a story that might be damaging to their advertisers, and will choose to avoid the story, if possible. According to a survey taken in 2000, “…about one in five (20 percent) of local and (17 percent) (of) national reporters say they have faced criticism or pressure from their bosses after producing or writing a piece that was seen as damaging to their company’s financial interests.”[2] The drive to increase advertising revenue has led many local news shows to measure out world news in seconds to accommodate longer weather and sports reports.

The news that is reported in the West comes from an increasingly concentrated group of corporate- and individually-owned conglomerates. Currently, the majority of all media outlets in the United States and a large share of those internationally are owned by a handful of corporations: Vivendi/Universal, AOL/Time Warner (CNN), The Walt Disney Co. (ABC), News Corporation (FOX), Viacom (CBS), General Electric (NBC), and Bertelsmann. These companies’ holdings include international news outlets, magazines, television, books, music, and movies as well as large commercial subsidiaries that are not part of the media. Many of these companies are the result of recent mergers and acquisitions. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering revising media-ownership rules that would encourage even further consolidation in the future.

In addition to the control exercised by owners, there are also government controls and self-censorship. The United States, governed by a constitution where the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, has arguably one of the freest presses in the world, and is one of the few countries where the right to free speech is expressly written into the constitution. Yet even the U.S. government exerts control over the media, particularly during times of war or crisis. In many other countries around the world, especially emerging nations and dictatorships, governments impose tight restrictions on journalists, including penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment and execution. In these environments, rigorous self-censorship is necessary for survival. In a major survey of 287 U.S. journalists, “about a quarter of those polled have personally avoided pursuing newsworthy stories.”

Positives

Without the media, most people would know little of events beyond their immediate neighborhood. The further one goes outside of one’s circle of friends and family, the more time-consuming and expensive it becomes to get information. Very few, if any, individuals have the resources to stay independently informed of world events. With the news, however, all one has to do is turn on a television or turn to the Internet. Even when it is biased or limited, it is a picture of what is happening around the world.

The more sources one compares, the more accurate the picture that can be put together. In addition to the media conglomerates, there are also a range of independent news outlets, though they have a much smaller audience. Some of these provide an alternative view of events and often strive to publish stories that cannot be found in the mainstream media. Technological advances in many industrialized (primarily Western) countries make it possible to read papers and watch broadcasts from around the globe. While language skills can be a barrier, it is possible to live in the United States and watch Arab-language broadcasts from the Middle East, or to get on the Internet and read scores of Chinese newspapers. Having access to these alternative voices limits the power of monopolies over information.

Another important benefit of a functioning mass news media is that information can be relayed quickly in times of crisis. Tornado and hurricane announcement can give large populations advance warning and allow them to take precautions and move out of harm’s way. In a country suffering war, a radio broadcast outlining where the latest fighting is can alert people to areas to avoid. In quieter times, the media can publish other useful announcements, from traffic reports to how to avoid getting HIV. It is a stabilizing and civilizing force.

Along the same lines, the news media allow elected and other officials to communicate with their constituents. Frequently, the delegates at a negotiation will find they understand each other much better over the course of their discussions, but that understanding will not reach the larger populations they represent without a concerted communications effort. If constituents are not aware of these new understandings (and subsequent compromises) during the course of negotiations, they will almost certainly feel cheated when a final agreement falls far short of their expectations. To achieve ratification, delegates must justify the agreement by discussing it with and explaining it to their constituents throughout the entire process and the media is often used for this purpose;

  1. Democratic discussion – used in enhancing  democratic  principle  through  sound principle s  debates  as a result , act as a mechanic  which set public  Mass media particularly news media helps in democratic discussion and around policy debate. The media   seta agenda for discussing of an issue and establish boundaries tot at discussion.
  2. Ability to communicate- it provide a forum through which comm. Members are heard as well as their views regarding certain policies. The media advocacy  is desired  product  is the ability of community member  to be heard  and to exercise  influence  over the  policy  environment by gaining  access to news  media and farming  problems  from policy  perspective . Common group can apply pressure to key decision   makes to change the undesirable element in society. This intern influence policies e.g. the outcry of the general public media led to the instructing of the bill.
  3. Empowering people with knowledge and skills. Media advocacy help to create a trained group media advocate and thus build the capacity of community for further change.
  4. Documenting social injustice. Acts as a mechanism of pointing out infringement of human right by the then ruling parties e.g. Nyayo house torture, Tom Mboya assassination. Mass media help in  documenting  previous  social justice in society and relating  with the  way concerned  institution are doing  to improve  the situation  . example  of injustice  include  misuse of public office , misappropriation of public funds  , child abuse , child labour  , prostitution , tribalism in civil service.
  5. Mass media is the suitable form of advocacy because of its media accessibility. This help people to get news media and express their ideas.
  6. Create awareness. Mass media helps people  to be aware  of their problems , these  awareness  has changed  people attitude  toward  change .
  7. Promote on going campaign. Media advocacy may be used  for ongoing  campaign to ensure the need  of policy change  is kept on the polite  agenda  g. campaign  on burnt  tobacco , discrimination  whether gender  or tribal.
  8. Media advocacy is opportunistic to use media to convey information to special targets / interest groups.

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE CHOICE OF MEDIA FOR ADVOCACY

Audience

Some formats are more effective and more appropriate for specific audiences. For example, high-level policy-makers have little time and many constituents. The message needs to give them the facts and move them to action quickly; also, always leave information for them or their advisors to read later. Effective media for policy-makers include briefing packets or fact sheets, delivered via face-to-face meetings or policy forums. A PowerPoint presentation can be an effective means to open discussion at such a forum.

Cost

Some media require significant resources. Whereas a fact sheet or briefing note can be made using desktop publishing, tapping into mass media such as radio or television can be extremely costly. The Coalition may seek out free or reduced-cost opportunities if the mass media is the medium of choice.

Risk

When going public with an advocacy issue, especially a controversial one related to family planning, risk is always involved. Certain advocacy tactics entail more risk than others. Face-to-face meetings with a known audience may not entail risk, whereas public debates and live forums can turn into “heated” events.

Nevertheless, risk can be minimized through careful planning, selection of speakers, rehearsals, and so forth. Whether you or a surrogate will be delivering the message, a ready list of talking points is always helpful.

 

Visibility

Your choice of medium can also maximize the ability to make use of a contact or connection to raise the visibility of an event. Perhaps a celebrity or high-ranking public official is willing to pay a site visit to a project or make the opening speech at a meeting. Such an event may provide an excellent opportunity to recruit other decision-makers and promote a particular advocacy objective.

Impact of mass media on advocacy

Media advocacy is the process of disseminating policy-related information through the communications media, especially where the aim is to effect action, a change of policy, or to alter the public’s view of issues. While a strict definition of “media” advocacy is limited to the strategic use of mass media in regard to a policy initiative, public health views the term more broadly. Almost identical techniques are often used to encourage people to change health behaviors as those directed towards changing policy; and media advocacy may be a single element of a specific campaign as well as an ongoing process. Media advocacy is practiced at all levels, from national to community based campaigns. The ultimate targets of most media advocacy are politicians and other decision makers.

Media advocacy activities may be proactive and initiated by public health workers, or they may be reactive. Reactive media advocacy involves taking action when required, especially when opponents of health policy actively seek to mislead, change the agenda, or divert attention to other issues.

Media advocacy may be used for an ongoing campaign, perhaps to ensure that the need for a new health screening service is kept on the political agenda. Similarly, a health organization may use media advocacy over a short period—to launch a campaign to increase the uptake of a new screening service, for example, or to publicize a new report on health inequalities.

An example of media advocacy with several different interim goals is an ongoing campaign against tobacco. Certain information is directed towards politicians and other opinion leaders whose support is needed for ant tobacco measures, while different but related information is aimed at current or potential smokers. While the first is aimed at changing policy, the second seeks a behavior change. Both, however, share the overall goal of reducing tobacco-induced disease. In addition, an ongoing media advocacy program on tobacco will also involve monitoring the media for misleading information put out by those with vested interests in selling tobacco, and offering a prompt rebuttal.

Media advocacy is opportunistic. It exploits opportunities to use the media to convey information to large numbers of people, including special target groups. Those who work in media advocacy have a good understanding of the way the press and broadcasting organizations work; and they maintain good relationships with journalists, so as to be readily accessible to supply information and comment, and work with suitable experts who can give interviews and assist journalists whenever necessary.

It is important to differentiate between media advocacy, an essential part of what is often termed “public information” work, and paid media campaigns, such as television spots or informational advertisements in newspapers, which are a common feature of “public education” programs. In contrast to the opportunistic and ongoing nature of media advocacy, paid media campaigns involve a more programmed delivery of education-oriented information, based on prior research, to specific target audiences. A public-education program may sometimes be supported by media advocacy, and vice-versa, but more often media advocacy is practiced on its own.

How Media Advocacy Works

Media advocacy for public health assumes that public health advocates and journalists have something to offer each other, that there is a convenient symbiosis between their professions. Those on the health side have potential stories, and they want to get coverage for them as part of a campaign to bring about change, and journalists want new stories to fill time or editorial (i.e., no advertising) space in their media. Journalists often rely on specialists to help them gather, analyze, and comment on the material they use, and sometimes to suggest stories in the first place. Public health advocates either are such specialists, or they can provide access to them. They also provide ideas for new stories, new angles on old topics, and substantive information to help the journalist to produce an article or story.

Furthermore, health is a popular topic. Most people have a personal interest in anything affecting what is, as many see it, their most cherished gift—their health. Public health leaders, therefore, by the very nature of their subject, have a head start when competing for the attention of journalists and for space in their media.

Anyone can do media advocacy—from an individual or members of a small, community-based health organization to the largest state or federal government health agency. Few tools are needed other than a telephone and, preferably, personal computing equipment. In larger organizations, a press and public affairs department will usually carry out much of the work, involving others as required. In a smaller organization the functions may be part of an information officer’s duties, or, in a very small unit, they may be performed by one person, perhaps the chief executive.

Among the most common activities of media advocacy are the following:

  • Monitoring media for coverage of relevant topics; this service is often contracted to specialist agencies, or may be achieved via Internet-based services.
  • Identifying and disseminating interesting news stories that support public health policies.
  • Responding to journalists’ inquiries and information requests.
  • Supplying access to experts who can assist journalists.
  • Preparing press releases and background papers.
  • Arranging press conferences.
  • Planning a media diary, including identification of special dates and opportunities.
  • Responding to misleading or erroneous items in the media.
  • Listing and training individuals to act as experts and spokespersons on particular health issues.
  • Searching for new angles on existing stories, and new spokespersons and organizations to back and to speak publicly for the policy—a wide variety of professionals and organizations may be recruited to support public health policy.

To maximize the effectiveness of media advocacy, journalists should be treated with a certain priority; and everyone who can help with a story, such as the chief executive, key experts, and other contacts should observe this policy. It is easier to contact journalists than many other professionals—most are dependent on keeping in touch with their sources and other key contacts, so they tend to be readily accessible.

Where a coalition of health agencies and individuals is working in pursuit of the same goal, it is essential to coordinate activities and information. Disparities in facts and figures provided by different coalition partners may be seized upon by opponents of the policy being proposed, not only damaging the public credibility of those supporting the policy, but discouraging journalists from trusting, or even approaching them again in the future.

For most public health topics, special opportunities will arise for attracting the attention of journalists, and thus getting coverage. In particular, special occasions such as key meetings, publication dates of new statistics or reports, and other important dates (such as anniversaries) should be examined in advance to see whether they can serve as pegs on which news stories can be hung.

Among the pegs and material that can attract media coverage is:

  • Publication of a new government policy affecting a health issue.
  • New research, such as a study of a disease or of a health care procedure.
  • Changes in trends of a disease, or of a factor causing ill health.
  • Official action on a health issue.
  • Special considerations of women, children, and ethnic groups with regards to a health issue.
  • Latest trends in health status or health behaviors among exemplar groups, such as doctors, teachers, or athletes.
  • Schools activities about certain health problems.
  • Civil-rights issues associated with health.
  • Special days or weeks designated as a focus for health issues.

Public health advocates can also make good use of physicians and other health professionals as experts to provide journalists with comments, information, and analysis. In the age of mass communications, with opinions constantly being heard from people described as “experts” on many topical issues, public cynicism may devalue what experts say, as few may be perceived as neutral. However, physicians and other health professionals tend to be perceived as primarily interested in people’s health, especially when opposing those with obvious vested interests.

Medical and health publications offer special opportunities for coverage of public health stories. Apart from their potential subject interest, journalists on health publications will tend to have more relevant background knowledge and contacts than those in other media. In addition, some of these journals, especially the leading medical scientific publications, are themselves highly influential with the general media. Most health correspondents on newspapers and in broadcast media scan the leading medical journals, which often serve as the source or inspiration for their own stories.

Benefits of Media Advocacy in Public Health

There are many benefits of the creative and energetic use of media advocacy in public health. Many public health issues are closely integrated with other aspects of public policy, and therefore part of public debate. It is thus appropriate for public health leaders to inform the debate and ensure that appropriate issues are raised and that accurate information is published.

Among the advantages of media advocacy is that it can reach a wide audience, including key decision makers, and that issues and information presented within news items in the media tend to carry more credibility than those presented in paid media advertisements or in public relations material. It is also inexpensive: apart from the participants’ time, there are relatively few costs. In addition, media advocacy on one issue can develop a closer rapport with journalists, which in turn may later benefit coverage of a separate, unrelated health issue. Similarly, it can build the capacity of public health agencies to treat strategic media initiatives as an integral component of health campaigns.

Media advocacy on any area of policy, including public health, can face certain problems, some being a function of success. For example, journalists may feel that coverage of a particular issue has reached saturation. Among other common problems are individual events (and people) are often more attractive as elements in a story than the policy issues underlying the story; health may be seen as a personal responsibility, with public health policy viewed as irrelevant, superfluous, unwanted, or costly to the taxpayer; in libertarian terms, public health policy involving the regulation of certain commercial activities may be seen as politically undesirable; and mass media can trivialize serious issues. As with all aspects of media advocacy, creative thinking and constant reevaluation of strategy are likely to offer the best solutions to these problems.

Challenges of mass media for advocacy

  • It is expensive.
  • Language barrier. All people may not be accessible for media used.
  • Accessibility of media. Target population may not be accessible for media used.
  • Level of illiteracy. This will affect target population level of understanding the message.

 

REVISION QUESTIONS 

  1. Explain the role of mass media in advocacy
  2. Discuss the factors that may influence media advocacy
  3. Discuss various may influence the choice of mass media various social issues
  4. Discuss impact of mass media in advocacy
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