MEDIA AND PUBLIC HEALTH

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The changes and developments in economic, technological, social and cultural areas caused mass media (such as newspaper, radio, television, cinema, internet) to have an important role in social life. Over time, face to face communication between family, friends, at school, at work has been replaced by mass media and the media, which can reach a wide audience in a short time through mass media and the media’s power to influence the public attitudes, thoughts and behaviours which may be widely disseminated has increased.

With the words of the the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, which is a public legal person in charge of organizing and controlling radio and television activities in our country; “media is a general term that covers all mass media such as books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film, internet.”[1]

The media has the function of preserving the integrity of the social structure and accelerating the flow of information. The media is of great importance in sharing information, thoughts and news with the public and in creating agenda and public opinion. For this reason, nowadays, while the use of technology has reached the highest level, the transfer of up-to-date, accurate and complete information with mass media becomes more important, especially in health-related issues.

In fact, the periods in which the society should be informed and the awareness should be raised the most are the periods when extraordinary situations occur. In these periods, conspiracy theories, fake news and untrue information appear more than ever. Misinforming the society, wrong data and information are a serious danger for public safety and public health. The most up-to-date example regarding this issue is COVID-19 infectious disease. The disease has been registered as a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization. There are conflicting news about this virus in many media channels just like SARS and Ebola outbreaks and as a result of the rapid spread of these news which are easily accepted as valid information by the audience/listeners, the mental, social and physical health of the society are endangered.

Health news should be published by leaving the actions made to receive high ratings for the sake of being attractive and creating sensation aside, by calculating the damages that the news may cause. The following provisions are stated under the Health title of the Ethics Rules for the Journalists in the Part 2 of Turkey Journalists Rights and Responsibilities Declaration[2] which was prepared by Turkey Journalists Community and adopted in 1998 and revised to its final version in 2019: “There should be no publication about health, or publication that would drag people into despair or give them false hope. Research in the medical field should not be published as finalized results… Diagnosis and treatment methods that are not based on scientific evidence should not be included in the news. Medication advice should never be made…” 

In an ethical declaration prepared by Turkish Medical Association[3] during the pandemic process; the problems that arise in the media regarding the human health are determined. Some of the problems determined are as follows:

  1. Introducing a medical intervention which is not accepted in scientifical terms as a valid and common method, for some diseases,
  2. Not considering the speed of information production in the field of health while making news,
  3. Making programs that can be effective in adopting wrong role models in the society.

In the same declaration[4], besides these determinations, Turkish Medical Association has made some recommendations for the media and media staff and has stated that the media should have the responsibility of confirming information they reached before publishing any news and they should establish direct contact with the medical vocational institutions in this regard. Within this scope, the media institutions should cooperate with health institutions such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) and do not publish any news besides official sources in order to prevent the wrong information that may cause fear, panic and anger.

It is important for the public health for public to reach the correct and real information in the publications made due to the pandemic for them to raise awareness in line with this information. Yet, the media is such a powerful tool that it affects millions[5]. Considering the power of the media on the society and the speed of the spread of the news among the society, it should not be forgotten that, it can have a huge impact on the society to present an incomplete treatment method as it is complete, to share an incomplete medical research or study with the public without definitive results.

In accordance with the Article 8 of the Law No. 6112 on the Establishment and Broadcasting Services of Radio and Televisions (“Law”); Media service providers who have editorial responsibilities in the selection of the content of radio, television and optional broadcasting and who decides on the arrangement and broadcasting of this service, should provide broadcast services with a public responsibility understanding and in accordance with certain principles and they should prepare a news as based on the principles of objectivity, trueness and accuracy. In addition, they cannot publish the news that is possible to be investigated within the scope of press professional principles, without being investigated or ensuring its accuracy (Law, art.8 / 1 (i)). Broadcasting services cannot encourage behaviours damaging the general health (Law, art.8 / 1 (l).

An administrative fine shall be decided for the media service provider who violates the principles, obligations or prohibitions determined in the relevant clauses of the above-mentioned article of the Law and/or who does not comply with the obligations determined by the supreme board within the scope of the Law between one and three percent of the gross income of the commercial communication of the previous month before the violation is determined, considering the severity of the violation, the occasion of the broadcast and the area of the broadcast. As of the date of this memorandum, the amount of administrative fine cannot be less than 1.000 Turkish Liras for radio organizations and 10.000 Turkish Liras for television organizations and optional media service providers.

Undoubtedly, the media is not the only reason for the negativities that may occur in the publications about health; at this point, the responsibility of physicians cannot be denied. Providing health-related news in an unhealthy way is possible only if physicians and the media comply with the ethical principles of the media. For this reason, misrepresentation of the public should be prevented by considering the seriousness of the situation by the media. As a result, using the media in a proper and beneficial way should be the main purpose. Yet, the importance of information and the correct transfer of it between people is important especially in the period we are currently in.

Att. Kortan Toygar


[1] https://www.medyaokuryazarligi.gov.tr/sorular.php

[2] https://www.tgc.org.tr/bildirgeler/t%C3%BCrkiye-gazetecilik-hak-ve-sorumluluk-bildirgesi.html

[3] This is a vocational institution which is a public institution which doctors in Turkey may become members of.

[4] Media and Health Declaration, https://www.ttb.org.tr/makale_goster.php?Guid=d6542fcc-903e-11ea-9b7d-6d38d16eb233

[5] Yrd. Doç. Dr. D. Ali Arslan, MEDYANIN TOPLUM, BİREY VE KÜLTÜR ÜZERİNE ETKİLERİ

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