Understanding the role of media in disseminating public information on health is important, as well as how media users utilize it. This was the point of focus in a health and media and information literacy conference conducted recently by the Department of Health at the University of the Philippines Bahay ng Alumni.
Ramon Tuazon, president of Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication and secretary general of Asian Media Information and Communication Center (AMIC), said that much of Filipinos are over-entertained and under-informed without understanding the effect of some television programs in general.
“Health programs shown in Philippine television showcase more of entertaining, emotionally-driven, rather than truly educating and pushing the meaning of public service,” Tuazon said.
“Due to consumerism and commercially-driven stories as purpose of media especially in public service that will make the audience more of entertained rather than informed and educated, the public preference became also more of entertainment over information and education,” he added.
Tuazon also explained that the level of health literacy in the Philippines is low because media messages that are supposed to create public understanding and knowledge on health, are much of for awareness and not for real application.
“We make stories that are tabloidish in sense rather than seeking and exposing truth on health facts, by accepting shallow health stories with element of oddity and human interest,” he said.
Tuazon said some stories that possess low health literacy purpose—including a mute woman became talkative after eating cheese, inhaling fart could low blood pressure, dead body which was unearthed immediately urinated and defecated – only offer entertainment rather than information.
“Same with television, media health programs are generally demand-driven rather than supply-driven,” he explained. “Most of the programs preferred popular health needs or common topics like ubo’t sipon [cough and colds], which will later increase the ratings rather than discussing rare diseases because public do not know and understand it,” Tuazon added. “Because the public just consume it, their literacy in knowing health in full is low.”
Understanding health literacy
Commercially-driven stories are also crafted to attract private companies to sponsor a television episode or program.
“Public service health programs is a mere reflection on the kind of quality of public health service in the country, as influenced by market sponsors,” Tuazon said.
“The public in the community should create separate health programs relevant in their places rather than relying much on the topics produced by mainstream media, because the need is greater than want,” he added.
As suggested, community-based health delivery interventions and creating innovative and indigenous heath promotion initiatives are more important through the help of health research by local units. Steps on how to capacitate health education and promotion officers (HEPO) to achieve that were presented in the conference.
“Empowering public in health literacy include popularizing research and technical data – HEPO as linker, popularizing technical terms without diluting intended messages, creating [or co-creating]own media platform for specific [priority]audiences, focusing on target audience by educating mother, family and community, and through mobile health applications, everyone will become health and media literate” Tuazon said.