|Community Monitoring in Health Resources for the Practitioner|
Using Media to Promote Accountability
The media- both print and electronic, are powerful channels for communicating an advocacy message to the government and to policy makers. It is also an important tool for public education on the issue of concern. Effective use of the media can result in increasing the visibility and credibility of the issue being advocated. Sometimes it may even so happen that when an issue is getting consistently highlighted by the media, the policy makers start taking action without being directly persuaded to do so. Institutions like the National Human Rights Commission and the National Women’s Commission and their state counterparts are mandated to take suo mota ( on their own) action and in cases of rights violations ask the government authorities to provide explanation, relief and compensation. These commission can and do take such suo moto action on the basis of media reports. Despite the powerful and beneficial role that can be played by the media, media advocacy is better not left to chance. The advocacy plan should include a deliberate plan for media advocacy. If this is not done, there are risks that the reportage on the issue can do more harm than good. It is useful to remember that the media can sensationalise an issue and this may not be useful from an advocacy point of view. In addition to this the media often has the dominant perspective on an issue (which is seldom rights based) and this may reflect in their coverage. Some strategies and activities that may be used for effective media advocacy are given below.
- Identify Media persons and develop contacts – A useful first step is to follow reportage on health related issues in the local newspapers and journals. This can lead to the identification of specific media persons who are report on these issues. Once these media persons are identified it can be useful to get in touch with them, provide them with information about the advocacy issue and key messages by inviting them to events, providing them with press releases, briefing kits, human interest stories and so on. Media persons especially those associated with daily publications need information on a very regular basis, and would like to be in touch with reliable and credible sources. It is necessary to build a relationship of respect and mutuality with some media persons.
- Press releases - Press releases are concise news items describing an event or issue of significance.
- They are the easiest way to get in touch with the media, and when there is a good relationship with the media persons they start looking forward to such press releases, because it gives them a news item without having to work too hard to get it. However it is important to realise that press releases should be prepared for newsworthy items and not all activities undertaken as part of advocacy. Too many press releases may lead to their devaluation. Press releases may be prepared for events, in response to news and events relating to the issue of concern, release of a research report, on anniversaries and commemorative days and so on. When preparing press releases it is necessary to be careful about the newspaper deadlines.
- Press Conference – A press conferences is organised when the information that has to be shared is ‘very significant’. Thus a press conference can be organised to share information about the issue like the release of a report or even to respond to some government announcement or a judgement from the Supreme Court or if there is a celebrity who is willing to endorse the issue. However while a press conference allows for greater interaction with members of the media, leading to greater elaboration of the issue and hopefully a better articulated news item, it can also lead to problems if the preparations are inadequate and questions posed by the media cannot be handled with appropriate data and consistent messages. It is useful to prepare printed handouts and briefing kits for the media persons , and also have space for one to one interaction between the spokesperson and any media person who would wish to do so. Preparation is paramount in a press conference.
- Letters to the editor – Writing letters to the editor is one way of using the media for advocacy. However it is difficult to plan and execute to perfection because the final publishing of the letter is in the hands of the editorial staff. To improve the chances of letter to get published it helps if they are clear, precise and short. It is useful to respond to articles and features that have raised issues similar to or affect the advocacy issue in question. These responses need to be sent in quickly in order to keep them relevant as far as the publication is concerned. Adding your organisation’s name and your position within it (to your name) may increase the possibility of the letter getting published.
- Writing Opinion pieces – Newspaper carry opinion pieces on their editorial pages. These opinion pieces or Op-eds, as they are called are often written by experts or well known personalities rather than journalists. If the advocacy effort you are involved with has been able to gather the support of acknowledged subject matter experts, it may useful to ask them to write a short opinion piece on the issue. The opinion piece should simple language to explain the problem, have clear messages and then provide specific solutions. Alternatively op-ed articles may be placed with development feature services.
- Working with the Electronic Media – There are some similarities in working with the print and electronic media with one big difference. The electronic media – in most cases the news channels require images and ‘sound bites’. This characteristic of the electronic media can be used to advantage with careful planning and preparation. As with the print media the electronic media should be invited to press conferences and other events and they may prepare a brief news-item on the issue. With regional and state specific news channels coming up it may be easier to get coverage. However with a smaller coverage the reach of the advocacy message may also get reduced. With human interest stories the electronic media has the advantage of relaying the image and the voice of the persons involved into thousands of homes. At press conferences articulate spokespersons can deliver creatively crafted messages which can become ‘sound bites’. Giving individual interviews are another method of reaching out through the electronic media. Here again the spokesperson needs to articulate the message very clearly and in the shortest possible time. After editing only a few seconds of the interview will possibly get broadcast. While replying to a question it is useful to weave in the question within the answer otherwise the answer loses context and this may happen during the editing process.