The Population Institute's 27th Annual Global Media Awards
The Environmental Change and Security Program Report—the annual report from the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP)—was recently named the winner of the Population Institute's 27th Annual Global Media Award for Best Population Journal. The 11th edition of the ECSP Report received the award for promoting dialogue on the connections among environment, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy. On December 5, 2006, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted ten other winners—including journalists from Ghana, Thailand, and Romania—and Population Institute representatives for a series of briefings by policymakers and NGO representatives on international population issues.
Scott Radloff, director of USAID's Office of Population and Reproductive Health, kicked off the day-long event with a short presentation on the history of USAID's family planning program since its creation in 1965. The United States continues to be a leader in advancing and supporting voluntary family planning and health programs, he asserted, providing nearly half of worldwide bilateral assistance in the field. He argued that family planning programs are a crucial component of the solution to many of the world's most dire problems, including HIV/AIDS transmission, rapid population growth, and poor maternal and child health. Radloff also stressed that effective family planning programs can advance women's rights and opportunities for education, employment, and full participation in society. While USAID has enjoyed considerable success, he warned that maintaining effective family planning programs depends heavily on the level of political commitment demonstrated by host countries: "[We] can provide the resources but not the will."
Following a networking lunch, the Global Media Award winners summarized their winning entries and discussed some of the challenges they face in seeking to raise awareness of population and other global health issues.
- Lena Sin, a staff reporter for Vancouver daily The Province, received the award for Best Individual Reporting Effort for her articles on Tanzania and Malawi, which highlighted how poor reproductive health—including lack of contraception and obstetric fistula—has a profound impact on women's lives in Africa. Her travels overseas were funded by a fellowship, but she had to fight to get her stories printed once she returned. Sin said she hoped the interest expressed by her readers, as well as the Global Media Award, will encourage senior editors of regional and local dailies to devote more space to international issues.
- Bill Snyder, the editor of Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Lens magazine, accepted the award for Best Periodical. He discussed the importance of basic biomedical and clinical research to solving global health problems, and the need to raise awareness in the medical research community of international efforts to improve public health. The winning issue of Lens includes articles on doctors and scientists' efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases in Haiti, Kenya, and around the world. Lens is distributed to a wide audience, including members of Congress, federal health officials, and executives of health-related corporations and foundations.
- The winner of Best Population and Environmental Reporting, Yao Aduamah of Ghana, warned that the imbalance between a rapidly rising population and the mismanagement of his country's natural resources was dangerously unsustainable. One of his winning articles examined the government's plan to establish new administrative districts, which he said would lead to new towns and increased deforestation. Another looked at the pressures placed by a growing population on the tributaries feeding Lake Volta, where water levels are declining even as rainfall ends a severe drought. Aduamah said that he hoped his work would draw attention to the need for a long-term strategy to conserve scarce resources in Africa: "Journalists can do much to [help us] avoid an environmental crisis...[and] problems in development."
- Meaghan Parker accepted the award on behalf of ECSP Report for Best Population Journal. With contributing authors from Nepal to Norway, from the university to the military, the award-winning 11th edition of the journal explores how powerful underlying forces like population growth or environmental degradation may engender conflict—or how better understanding them could lay a foundation for peace. Parker noted that while bringing population and security linkages to policymakers' attention is worthwhile, the effort faced three significant challenges: new research on population and conflict is scarce; academics struggle to summarize their complex research in short, jargon-free forms; and identifying English-speaking experts in the Global South is a difficult task for U.S.-based editors.
- PSI Romania's Femei Adevarate (or "True Women") television series was named the Best Combined Media Effort on Behalf of Population. Beginning three years ago as a simple brochure, the project is now a complex media strategy, combining television, public relations campaigns, and interpersonal communications to help deliver key reproductive health messages to Romanian women. Dragos Gavrilescu maintained that the series has helped empower Romanian women to make informed decisions that allow them to lead healthier, more productive lives.
- PSI Thailand's commercial advertising campaign "Targeted Behavior Change Communication: Transgenders in Pattaya" received the nod for Best Commercial Advertising Campaign. PSI used careful ad placement, a modern visual style, feminine language and signifiers, and a non-threatening, marketing-based approach to bolster HIV/AIDS prevention efforts among the transgender community. PSI representative Pakprim Oranop na Ayuthaya said the campaign has helped promote healthier social norms throughout Thailand by informing target populations of the potential consequences of risky sexual practices and promoting positive behavioral change.
- PUSH Journal, a listserv coordinated by Communications Consortium Medical Center (CCMC), was named Best Electronic Communications Service. Standing for "Periodic Updates of Sexual and Reproductive Health Issues," PUSH provides reporters with free full-text news stories from more than 36,000 top media outlets around the world on population-related issues such as conflict resolution, education, environment, family and community development, and maternal and child health. CCMC Vice President Micheline Kennedy said she hopes PUSH Journal will continue to increase media coverage of reproductive issues worldwide.
- The Best TV Documentary was Rx for Survival, a six-hour prime time special on PBS, produced by the WGBH/NOVA Science Unit and Vulcan Productions and narrated by Brad Pitt. Part of the most comprehensive global health media education project ever mounted, the series follows the work of health pioneers, past and present, as they try to improve health conditions for the poor. Larry Klein, executive producer, was unable to attend but sent an excerpt featuring the story of Mechai Viravaidya, Thailand's "Mr. Condom."
Other winners include InterPress Service, particularly reporter Thalif Deen, for Most Conscientious News Service; Best Major Daily USA Today; and Best Film Documentary, Albert Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. The film's producer, Lawrence Bender, joined Klein and the other winners at the formal award ceremony and reception at the U.S. Capitol on December 6, 2007.
Roger-Mark De Souza of Population Reference Bureau (PRB) discussed the challenges facing journalists in the field, stating that many reporters fail to cover population topics because they are often considered "hot-button" issues—too controversial—or outside the scope of their readers' interest. Editors are not interested in devoting space or resources to these "dull but important" stories, and journalists often lack the understanding and data to make the links to broader environmental and health issues. To counter this trend, PRB offers training programs that give developing-country journalists a more comprehensive technical understanding of population-environmental linkages, as well as tips for interpreting data and access to experts in the field. De Souza believes these measures will encourage journalists to write more population stories and give them a chance to "sell" them to editors and the public: "The media cannot necessarily tell people what to think, but [it can] tell people what to think about," he said.
Erica Nybro summarized the efforts of her organization, Measure DHS, to help developing countries gather and use health and population data. Since 1984, DHS has provided technical assistance on more than 200 surveys on topics such as HIV/AIDS, infant and child mortality, family planning, and nutrition in 80 countries. Historically, the survey results were disseminated by publishing a final report, fact sheets, and policy briefs, as well as holding press briefings and conferences. However, Nybro explained that journalists seldom used the report in the field, prompting DHS to launch a new "media focus" campaign aimed at enabling reporters to better understand and interpret the surveys' data, which she contended could greatly "enhance the context" of human interest stories and are therefore a valuable resource for journalists. In an effort to encourage more consistent use of its surveys by the press, DHS has begun holding training seminars for journalists, as well as offering journalists a contact at DHS to answer any questions.
Countries with "young" and "very young" age structures are more prone to civil conflict and are less likely to have democratic governments than other countries, said Population Action International's Elizabeth Leahy, whose presentation examined the relationship between demography and security. Her argument was drawn from the results of a report PAI plans to publish in Spring 2007, The Shape of Things to Come. The report examines the relationship between population age structures and three critical aspects of development: civil conflict, democratic governance, and economic development. According to Leahy, the findings indicate that countries further along the demographic transition—the change from short lives and large families to long lives and shorter families—are more stable and are less likely to have non-democratic governments. To encourage progress along the demographic transition, the report recommends that countries with young age structures increase access to family planning, place more resources into health care, and prioritize women's education.
Despite continued skepticism from health professionals, considerable evidence suggests that communication is an effective tool for addressing population issues, argued J. Douglas Storey of Johns Hopkins. He cited several studies that found communication efforts had positive impacts on reproductive health and fertility. According to Storey, one recent study comparing the impact of 39 USAID-funded family planning programs found that, on average, the programs led to a seven percent increase in the use of modern family planning practices. Although the evidence points to a positive correlation between communication and health, he contended that the medium (e.g., television, radio, in-clinic counseling, etc.) used to deliver health information should be selected to fit the situation: "Let's look at all the tools we have and choose the one that we need for a particular purpose." Storey also argued that families, particularly mothers, produce health for their households and urged health practitioners to reach out to families: "[We need] to think about how we can help [families] achieve health with communication."
Drafted by Ken Crist.
Director of Population and Reproductive Health, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Lena Sin //Staff Reporter, The Province (Vancouver)
Bill Snyder //Editor, Lens Magazine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Yao Aduamah //Reporter
Meaghan Parker // Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program