organizations and governments are realizing that providing information to people
in a way that they can understand and act upon is an essential part of offering
quality health service. The mass media as an informant is a powerful force in
our society. Its ability to influence the public agenda, and amplify and lend
legitimacy to the voices of our nation’s debates on important issues renders it
an essential catalyst for change. The rapid spread of television and radio, the
rise of an independent press, and increasing literacy rates makes the mass media
an increasingly powerful force in our societies.
Some of the concerns which were reflected in the previous sessions, when they
talked about over-publicity are very relevant. We all have had at some point of
time, some of the negative fall-out of media at some stage in our life. The population
council actually did a media campaign on EC, using a strategy that was known as
Media Advocacy involves the
innovative and strategic use of mass media. Media advocacy is intended to make
explicit the conflict of values and the political nature of public health that
cover sensitive issues such as alcohol and drug-related problems, HIV/AIDS, violence
and contraceptive methods. Similar to the news, the primary strategy of media
advocacy is story-telling. But unlike the news, media advocacy attempts to tell
a story in a way that promotes specific outcomes. As Michael Pertshuk, one of
the architects of this approach explains, media advocacy is the strategic use
of media for advancing a social or policy initiative. Initially, the goal
of media advocacy must be determined and articulated. Then a story needs to be
developed based on facts and values and made meaningful to a clearly defined audience.
The primary audience will likely be a more clearly defined group of decision makers,
legislators, community leaders or community groups. Media advocacy is about targeting
the two or three per hundred who will get involved and make a difference. It is
about starting a chain reaction and reaching a critical mass Media advocacy
by using mass media strategically, aggressively and effectively can become a significant
force for influencing public debate on Emergency Contraception.
There is a need for Media Advocacy for Emergency Contraception as opposed to a
Traditional Information Campaign as it is a sensitive subject.
Using emergency contraception within the specified time period, which is soon
after unprotected intercourse, remains critical to its effectiveness. Therefore,
women need to have the knowledge about the method and the regimen in advance and
must be able to access it either in advance of the need for use or upon identification
of need. This may prove to be difficult in many service delivery settings.
Some providers may restrict emergency contraception only to certain groups of
women whom they consider appropriate users based on their personal beliefs or
values. Some individuals and groups will oppose Emergency Contraception in the
incorrect belief that it acts as an abortifacient. Hence, the nature of the political
and service delivery obstacles to expansion of access, coupled with the fact that
women must have advance knowledge of emergency options, present a communication
challenge. For these reasons, a communication campaign for Emergency Contraception
must pay attention to:
- the needs of the intended
- anticipated problems such as provider
- limitations on IEC component of service
delivery systems in the absence of a policy statement, and
- the content of key messages.
Council’s strategies involved:
December 1996, the Council organised the first national workshop on emergency
contraception in India. The workshop brought together leading women’s health advocates,
service-providers, policy-makers, reproductive health researchers and members
of the media from India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and
Vietnam. Most participants had never heard of emergency contraception before receiving
the background material. While the workshop provided information about the method
to participants, more importantly, it offered a forum for participants from diverse
countries to share their experience with EC and for the group to discuss the appropriate
niche for emergency contraception methods in India.
Population Council planned a media campaign to strengthen
provider’s knowledge and understanding of Emergency Contraception, increase women’s
awareness of availability and distribution of methods, and thus increase access
to Emergency Contraception. In order to strengthen communication efforts and the
media campaign, the Council undertook a multi-centric collaborative research project
in three states to obtain Indian data on the provider and user knowledge and attitudes
on eC. The respondents were policy-makers at the Centre and State level; service-
providers including doctors, nursing personnel, pharmacists and health workers;
and clients in need of family planning in the age group of 15-49 years.
The study indicated that there was a unanimous agreement on the need for EC and
making it available. There was a general lack of awareness and a need to dispel
misconceptions. There were also some concerns about EC leading to promiscuity
and side-effects on future fertility and on the menstrual cycle, which need to
be dispelled through media campaign and sex education. There was unanimity among
all respondents on EC being provided by the trained health workers or the medical
community. The study, also identified :
- social, cultural and religious
- principal and subordinate messages
to be communicated for specific audience segments.
c) Information dissemination through the media
The Council’s media campaign sought to raise awareness
among the public and to build support for Emergency Contraception. A major success
of the campaign was that the television and radio messages were developed in close
collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Family Welfare, Women and Child
Development and Information and Broadcasting. In addition to the media campaign,
information fact-sheets were prepared for policy-makers, service-providers and
users. These fact-sheets were widely disseminated in India and are now being adapted
for dissemination in Bangladesh.
Some of the
lessons we learnt from our media campaign were:
There are low levels of awareness about oral contraceptives across India. Hence,
information on Emergency Contraception has to be very clear and precise.
• Due to low levels of awareness and biases, each article
placed in the media must be carefully thought through. Information cannot be disseminated
through newspapers, unless the reporters are well-informed.
Since there is no dedicated product, a communication campaign can only raise awareness
about the concept without going into specific dosages till a dedicated product
is made available.
• While providing information
is critical, it is also essential to build support among key constituencies.
• The media campaign must be based on locally relevant data.
It is also necessary to maintain an ongoing dialogue with relevant stakeholders.
The idea is to present issues in a way that are newsworthy, are of high level
of interest to the public, and have direct links to community well-being. Rather
than being supplicants for public time, media advocates present themselves as
partners in the news-making and news-gathering process. By having various
experts assist the media in framing messages, we ensured that the information
on Emergency Contraception was factually correct, unbiased, and provided the right