Role of journalism in pandemic response analyzed in Australia

Three articles about the role of media coverage during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic appear in the recent issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

The articles highlight the important role public health officials place on distributing information to the public and cover relative efficiency of the flow of information between officials and journalists, according to

Adjunct Senior Lecturer Melissa Sweet from the Sydney School of Public Health and her colleagues said that good working relationships with journalists are needed during health crises. Public health officials, she said, need to consider how journalists' perspectives can help to refine and shape communication practices and strategies.

"Despite the intensive and sustained media coverage the 2009 pandemic received, journalists were not consulted as part of the Australian Government's review of the response to the pandemic," Sweet said, reports.

Journalists can play a critical role in determining how the public reacts to threats and potential conflict with public health officials should be avoided.

"The 2009 H1N1 pandemic altered public perceptions of the probability of a pandemic in the future, but has left the public feeling less vulnerable," Dr. Melanie Taylor said, reports.

Taylor, from the University of Western Sydney, analyzed data collected from telephone surveys to determine changes in threat perception among the public. Her research will be used to determine the anticipated compliance with health-protective behaviors in response to a potential future pandemic in Australia.

"Shifts in perception have the potential to reduce future public compliance with health-protective measures, including critical elements of the public health response, such as vaccination," Taylor said, reports. "Follow-up research is needed to determine whether the 2009 pandemic has resulted in enduring public perceptions that might constrain the desired public response during the next pandemic, and to ensure that the current interpandemic phase is used to inform the next pandemic response."