Government 'luring' mediapersons into writing positive stories -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Government ‘luring’ mediapersons into writing positive stories

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: The government has been trying to lure mediapersons into writing “positive stories” concerning polio eradication programme so as to be among the recipients of the planned Media Awards, sources say.

In a meeting held last month, the National Communication Technical Committee in Islamabad decided to give awards to reporters covering polio beat with a view to cope with challenges posed by the vaccine-preventable childhood disease. The meeting also viewed media a daunting challenge to the awareness campaign about polio eradication and immunisation that negatively impacted the programme.

The awards ceremony, to take place on the World Polio Day (October 24), will honour journalists from print, electronic, websites and broadcast media outlets from across the country. The entries for competition to clinch the award shall include stories filed during two months (Oct 30–Dec 31, 2013) instead of throughout the year, which seemed to be designed to ensure that no negative story – highlighting refusal cases etc – appear in media in these two months, the sources said.

Awards are given on annual performance, the officials said.

According to them, the government in collaboration with the Unicef organised the awards for journalists covering polio in 2009 and 2010 wherein regular health reporters were awarded medals on the basis of their work on polio throughout the year.

The officials said that the government had been facing a gigantic task of addressing refusals against oral polio vaccine (OPV), which was hampering countrywide anti-polio efforts. Pakistan with 36 cases is among three polio-endemic countries in the world and it has been facing security as well as administrative challenges to tackle the problem.

A recently-conducted ‘Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices study’ by the health department noted that only five per cent of the stories published between January and March 2013 contained misinformation that tended to erode public confidence in polio vaccination and immunisation against nine childhood diseases. It said that 98.9 per cent people knew about polio which included 58.9 per cent from TV, radio and newspapers, indicating people’s reliance on media for information on child health issues.

The media, which on average publish 700 polio-related stories every month, has been an important partner in the polio eradication campaign.

The sources said that the government wanted to stop news reports critical of the polio eradication campaign through temptations to media people. They also said that strangely none of the local reporters was invited to a polio awareness workshop held for media last month in Peshawar, which is one of the high risk areas for polio in the country. “We were surprised when we didn’t see any local health reporter there,” the sources said.

The reporters who had already received medals in the government-Unicef sponsored ceremonies felt let down when not invited.

Relevant officials, however, said the Media Awards were aimed at creating linkages for sustained flow of information and building the capacity of media to report on polio accurately.

They said that they acknowledged the importance of media support to the polio eradication campaigns and the award meant to encourage reports to scale up awareness among masses about immunisation to ensure eradication of polio.

The awards entitled “Is Pakistan’s polio eradication within reach” will be given in five categories; television, radio, print, print (regional language, including Pashto, Sindhi and Punjabi), and photojournalism. The entries should highlight issues of immunisation and polio eradication in Pakistan.

DAWN