‘MUTATING’ SWINE FLU has re-heated the publics concern over the virus but has the media’s treatment of the disease and approach to Tamiflu as a ‘miracle’ cure that is now with the new resistant strain of Swine Flu created worry where it isn’t warranted.
On Friday the 20th November it was confirmed that Tamiflu resistant strain of swine flu had spread between patients at the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff. Two days prior to this announcement Senior Lecturer in Health Journalism Dr John Lister spoke about the Media’s relationship with Swine Flu at a talk at Coventry University.
When discussing the problems with reporting Swine Flu Lister considered the varying severity of the virus, how far or fast it spreads and the public’s acceptance of seasonal flu as a dangerous virus, as areas where the coverage often differs dramatically. He also spoke about the big pharmaceutical companies with a clear vested interest in the ‘crisis’, saying: “If you hit it right marketing drugs, targeting at this particular area it can be hugely profitable”
Most people are reliant on the media for their information on Swine Flu and Lister criticised the dailies that are: “More inclined to dramatic news” to sell papers but continued, saying: “A lot of these journalists are torn between hyping up the problem and looking for the dramatic headlines but the same time echoing patient concerns”
The reasons for the uneven reporting of Swine Flu resembled the issues that face Journalism as a whole according to John Lister. Reliance on press releases, little time for investigation and the pressure of 24-hour news coverage are all aspects of modern journalism that have led to crisis talks within the industry.
However Health Journalism has its own problems, many journalists don’t understand technical aspects of health issues that then require experts to “hand hold them through” issues such as Swine Flu. Also the Media’s requirement to ‘Dumb down’ coverage, particularly in short broadcast news items that can’t explore the issue in any real depth.
Lister summed up by saying that journalism often doesn’t have the expertise and: ”the science is tied up by big business and there’s politicians involved who are swayed by the wider public”
The entire video of the talk is available at the Coventry University Youtube page