Communicating with the media

"The media" have already been mentioned, referring to a wide range of communication organizations, methods and technologies. In the final part of this module, the focus is on how someone like you can:

  • Communicate your key messages about vaccine safety to the mass media – including the counteracting of negative rumours,
  • Deal effectively with questions from journalists working for newspapers, television, radio and (increasingly) the authors of online blogs and internet news services,
  • Design a press release or prepare for an interview by following some simple principles.

There are positive and negative aspects of media coverage.

Positive aspects of media coverage

Well-researched, responsible journalism is important. It can help:

  • Communicate public health messages,
  • Expose malpractice and negligence, and
  • Highlight controversy and inconsistencies in policies and strategies affecting the public.

Negative aspects of media coverage

The news media have to make a profit, e.g. by selling newspapers or advertising space on television. If some journalists are only interested in features of your story that boost sales figures, the task of communicating becomes more difficult.

Journalists decide on what the news agenda is and cover news that interest their target audience:

  • Newsworthy stories are more likely to be dramatic, are targeted at affecting many people, and may focus on famous people or young children,
  • Stories could be controversial (e.g. the MMR vaccine and autism), or involve conflict between individuals or organizations and often focus on scandal, corruption and fraud.

Adverse events following immunization are likely to be reported as they involve children and possibly prevalent negative rumours. They can result in sensationalist reporting, especially if the journalist did not fully understand the issue.

AEFI coverage can be extremely negative if you are not prepared to answer media questions and to get on top of the news before journalists do. Understanding the media, how they work and what they want and establishing good relations with specific media and journalists will help to ensure fair coverage.