Working with the news media is important because news coverage is often people's first source of new information. Also, news coverage helps confirm and reinforce the information that people receive about family planning programs from other sources, such as entertainment programs, brochures, field workers, family members, and friends (28). Particularly where the news media are independent of official control, people see them as credible, important sources of information (73).
Informing people and encouraging healthy behavior. With their broad reach and powerful influence, the news media can help to improve reproductive health practices. As people are exposed to new information, ideas, and values—such as using contraception to control their fertility—many become increasingly aware and interested and, eventually, some decide to take action. At each stage in this process communication plays a key role (55, 76). News coverage can contribute at each step:
Knowledge stage. Awareness of new information is the first step toward new behavior. News and feature stories can make people aware of the benefits of family planning and of the existence of contraceptive methods and services and can help overcome myths and false rumors.
Persuasion stage. Frequent news coverage helps legitimize family planning, both as a practice and as a topic of conversation. Feature stories about field workers or family planning users can present role models.
Decision stage. News coverage helps people make informed choices about using contraception based on expert opinion and others' experiences.
Action stage. News and feature stories can inform people about how to take action, such as how to use contraceptive methods, where and when to go for services, and how much they cost.
Confirmation and advocacy stage. Coverage in the news media can reinforce individual decisions to adopt family planning and can serve as a forum for members of the public and opinion leaders to endorse family planning and offer testimonials from personal experience.Influencing policymakers. Accurate news coverage often helps family planning and other reproductive health care programs earn the support of national policymakers(29). Their commitment is important on both the supply and demand sides—to assure the resources to provide services and to endorse popular interest in using them (60).
Policymakers follow the news media closely because the news both reflects and shapes popular opinion (52, 63). In many countries the news media set the agenda for public discussion and debate by deciding what issues to cover and how to report on them (65). By drawing a situation to public attention, the news media sometimes even seem to create events rather than just report them (64).
Policymakers pay attention to stories with such headlines as:
"Poor Lands' Success in Cutting Birth Rate Upsets Old Theories" (The New York Times, January 2, 1994);
"Refugee Centre Sits on Population Time Bomb" (The Mail, Ghana, July 5, 1994);
"Who'll Have to Pay? The Cost of Dealing with AIDS in Asia Will Run into the Billions" (AsiaWeek, November 1993).