What The Indian Media Keeps Getting Wrong While Reporting Medical News

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the quality of journalism in India is probably at one of its lowest ebbs today. News channels and print media have become as much a source of entertainment as of delivering facts. Most are run based on vested interests, handicapped by political pressures and personal agendas. When the highlight of journalism becomes an Arnab Goswami screaming till his lungs pop out, and becoming an anchor equally adept at giving back derogatory remarks, the essence of the fact is lost.

A journalist is meant to find out the facts, try to chaff out the ‘masala’ and present it concisely and honestly to the citizens. As such, they harbour a great responsibility because people believe what they report, and hence, it shapes the ideas, beliefs and biases of the masses. They invariably play a significant hand in charting the future course of the economy and the democracy.

Unfortunately, the quality of journalism has gravely deteriorated over the past few decades. It has become immensely difficult to determine what to believe and what to shun. Construed facts and even blatant lies are often reported without a pinch, as long as it ensures exceptional TRPs. This pertains to all walks of life and professional domains and especially so in healthcare.

Healthcare is a very sensitive and specialised field where the margin for error is often far lesser than anywhere else. Rarely is there a greater need for accuracy and precision than in this profession. It’s a rapidly evolving field that is in a constant flux. What is new today, might be old news tomorrow. To understand and report on this is, therefore, no easy task. So the media must be given the benefit of the doubt. But that said, they must also strive to at least get the facts right and ensure responsible reporting.

Allahabad Jagran: No Glargo Coma Scale was found in the hospital. This Test is performed to check head injuries.

A recent example is the so-called “Glargo Coma Scale” that the Allahabad Jagran reported missing from hospitals. There exists no such thing. There is a scoring method called ‘Glasgow Coma Scale’ which is based on a practical method for first responders to measure the extent of head injuries. Such reportage is highly dangerous, for it can incite public outcry and even violence. Incidents like a colleague brutally killing another by slitting his throat and stabbing him gain little traction on media, but things like supposed aliens abducting cows do. Doctors and health professionals suffering acts of violence by agitated attendants and mobs have become common. A new video clip surfaces every few days from all parts of the country. The government has actively tried to curb such incidences but with little results to show.

The media, obviously under political pressure, has been guilty of under-reporting acts of violence and hooliganism by several small-time politicians over healthcare professionals. For instance, the incident at a Kanpur medical college a few years back when the students were beaten up inside the hostel premises. It took the temporary suspension of elective medical services in the city and state to garner enough traction and attention.

The death of over 50 children at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur was widely reported to be due to an acute shortage of oxygen supply but later, the government claimed it to be caused by an encephalitis outbreak. In the wake of the initial reporting, there were several sackings and resignations of key personnel at the hospital to appease the public. A situation that could have been handled much better and investigated a lot more carefully, had the callous reporting not led to such an uproar from the community.

While at the same time many articles are published publicising/ criticising certain individuals or institutions without having their facts in place. The reputation of a healthcare professional or a body once tarnished is impossible to redeem. It’s a service with its whole foundation based on one thing – trust. Once the trust is gone, everything over and above eventually collapses.

What the media has not realised is that irresponsible reporting has led to the erosion of the healthcare public relations. This has resulted in the development of mistrust and an air of scorn around each other. Not all of this is baseless – but callously equating a rotten few with all healthcare professionals is just unacceptable. The government should have checks in place that call for greater accountability for what is reported.

The media/newspapers could also at least have a healthcare professional as an editor to avoid grave misreporting of basic facts. A greater emphasis has to be made on not just reporting an incident but also an apt and succinct analysis of the situation. Leaving things open to interpretation by the public with half-cooked facts is a dangerous recipe which will only culminate with disaster. Journalism is a potent tool and if wielded wisely will lead to the betterment of one and all.

I am an optimist, and I imagine a perfect world where things are balanced, and the world lives in harmony. Such expectations might never be met, but an attempt must nevertheless be made. Unless we try, we shall never know.

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