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Friday, October 31, 2008

Engaging with the media : Advocacy

Media advocacy is a way of getting an important issue adequate and accurate coverage. An initiative in Bangalore showed how media advocacy highlighted the issue of a dying river and resulted in questions being asked in the state assembly.

A tiny news item on the front page of the Bangalore edition of The Times of India dated January 18, 2008 was headlined ‘UK not to use “War on Terror” term’. The news brief went on to state: ‘The UK has distanced itself from the US “War on Terror” with the British ministers dropping the term and deciding to use jehadis as mere ‘criminals’ rather than an ideology-ridden group of desperadoes.’

Page 15 of the newspaper carried a more detailed news report with the headline ‘UK drops “War on Terror”’. The news report explained the rationale behind the position and why it was significant. ‘As you disrupt radicalisation, you must be aware of how you describe it and must not do so in a way that is inadvertently inflammatory’ it said.

This is a telling example of the way in which opinionmaking is encouraged through the use of terminology and language. Past instances of similar nature are also evidence of different efforts to promote appropriate terminology. This is evident in efforts to stem stigma and discrimination in people with HIV/AIDS, disability, mental health and now terrorism. Therefore, when ‘naxalite-infested area’ is replaced by ‘naxalite-occupied area’, the change in the media language indicates real moves within the media to enable a change in attitude while communicating to the reader.

This is indeed a part of advocacy through the media.

Defining media advocacy

Broadly understood as the strategic use of mass media for advancing a social or public policy initiative, media advocacy is not new. Here, the advocacy makes use of a set of techniques drawn from public relations, advertising, news reports, investigative journalism, letters and grassroots lobbying to influence or change public opinion. For, often, it is through the media that non-profit organisations can contribute to the processes of framing public policy issues and actively enter and participate in public debate. Newspapers and television are important players in this effort.

Another approach is networking or working with members of other organisations with similar objectives. Through networking, the membership base of the issue and the critical mass required can broaden to reach out to inform a larger group of people about the change that is desired. Formation of coalitions and alliances can also provide platforms for shared work and planning.

A third area is creating and distributing media independently. The mobile and internet services are handy tools for this. These platforms help to relate direct experiences and explain the issue from a perspective that is appropriate. In other cases, too, creative and low cost media options can complement mass media content.

The importance of building media partnerships is perhaps the starting point in this cycle towards social equity and justice. Recent years have shown several innovative efforts to engage with the media. Short-term issue-based sensitisation programmes, seminars, trainings and awards are some of the more conventional approaches. Bursaries, fellowships and small grants have also been instituted to enable journalists to follow a story through.

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Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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