Health Ethics: The role of the media

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By Anita Mirekua Ampomah

News stories relating to the world of medicine are mostly popular. Most people express concern about their own health and that of their family and friends.  But, sometimes reports can be misleading and confusing. For instance, ‘Egg is good for your health’, another time egg is not good for your health. The reporter’s job is to speak directly to sources, look critically at both sides of a debate and write a balanced story that is factual and accurate.  

In medical health news, reporters also have to derive sense of complex scientific data and present it in a way that everyone can understand.  However, in the hands of inexperienced reporters, the true meaning of medical research may get lost in translation. Rather than inform or educate accurately, stories may exaggerate and mislead. These inadequacies can be a problem as the public usually first hears about the latest scientific findings regarding advances in health and medicine from the news media.

Stories can end up generating false hopes or fears. These can range widely, from stories about clinical hands-on practice to research, or from disease prevention to new drugs and techniques, or health risks to health policy.  Given that the potential for medical reporting to have powerful effects on the public, it’s important that reporters understand science – its language, processes and topics – before they translate the information for everyone else. Having enough background knowledge and experience will prevent being misled by unfamiliar claims and assertions.


Reporters have to make their articles and news items appealing and interesting to a lay audience. That means a story based mainly on dry lab results often needs some compelling storytelling to capture the public’s attention. A common journalistic technique is to insert a personal account from patients or others to tell the story and improve it for readers, listeners or viewers.

Individual stories are one of the tools journalists use to promote audience understanding of complex health issues. However, despite being a useful device in complicated medical news, putting a “face” on scientific facts and figures without further context may only serve to skew the story’s content and quality. When this happens the public can be swayed to change health behaviors on the basis of a lay person’s account rather than by the weight of scientific evidence.  Avoiding single source stories and including an independent “expert” can counter some common failings in health news. Experienced medical reporters also know asking the “right” questions of sources will avoid some rookie misunderstandings.


The Conversation
Academic rigour, journalistic flair

The writer is a  staff of Atinka Media Village, operators of Atinka TV, Atinka FM, Agyenkwa FM, Ahotor FM and . Aside reporting, Mirekua also presents ‘The Clinic’, an educative health programme on Atinka TV