How media influences government

June 22nd, 2015 | by Joanne Koskie

Being an active participant in the news cycle can be an enlightening and empowering experience. We’ve all watched the evening news, or read our daily newspaper, but how many of us can say we’ve been a part of this process?

From a healthcare perspective, the news media – traditional or digital – presents a unique opportunity for individuals or groups to bring broad public attention to an issue – namely, by sharing insights from their journey with an illness and a particular challenge they are facing. The personal, first-hand experiences of patients or caregivers are what make for compelling news stories that get noticed by government influencers and decision makers.

A media story or campaign around a healthcare issue can serve a variety of advocacy purposes, including:

  • Influencing or changing public opinion in favour of your issue, so you can grow your base of support
  • Making a private issue public so you can bring the full pressure to bear of all those among the electorate who support your issue
  • Raising awareness and educating government and the public about your issue, why it is important, and why they should care about it

But can a media story really lead to real-world change?

Believe it or not, media stories are a critical part of the advocacy process, and can play a key role in spurring change at the government level. If your issue is featured in a print story, online article or broadcast segment, you can be assured that your provincial Minister of Health will be made aware of it.

If a health issue is featured frequently in the news over a defined time period, the greater the pressure upon the government to fix the situation in order to keep it out of the news. When media efforts are coordinated with government relations activities (for instance, meetings with elected representatives, letters, petitions, etc.) the more impactful the exercise.

Going to the media is not usually the first step

In advocacy, speaking with your elected member of provincial parliament (MPP, MLA or MNA) should almost always be the first step. In fact, most reporters will make a point of asking if you have reached out to, or met with, your elected official, whose job it is to represent the interests of their constituents – you – before government.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Groups or individuals can take their issue to the media as their first step in the following cases:

  1. When action is not yet needed by government
  2. To set the stage, educate or provide background on a little known issue
  3. When urgent action is needed by government

Importantly, when time is of the essence – for instance, when someone is in a life-or-death situation – appealing to the media at the same time you reach out to government will help elevate your issue as a priority.

Sharing your story with media for the first time can be a little scary. It takes a lot of courage to share personal details about a journey with disease with the public, and might be challenging for individuals who are dealing with illness. But, it is important to note that most reporters just want to help you get your story out, and the resulting media coverage can play a crucial role in progressing your campaign towards the desired outcome.

If you are interested in elevating your healthcare issue through the media as part of an advocacy campaign, and have questions about where to start, check out our free guide – Developing Key Messages for Effective Healthcare Advocacy.

Questions about how to use this resource?
Contact Joanne Koskie at Cohn & Wolfe [email protected]