Media and maternal mortality in M P

BY Anil Gulati| IN Media Practice | 04/11/2006
Increased coverage meant increased visibility for the issue and more public statements on maternal and infant deaths.

Anil Gulati

The media can be useful in raising the visibility of an issue, helpful in influencing the climate of public opinion; offer a chance to respond to official definitions, and influence media`s own attitudes towards an issue. That function of media is perceptible in the state of Madhya Pradesh in last one and half year in raising concern on the issue of maternal mortality. This trend in the print media has brought the issue of maternal deaths not only on forefront of media but onto the political framework in the central Indian state.

Generating and sustaining media interest in an issue like maternal mortality was not an easy one. It was efforts of media advocacy groups such as Vikas Samvad in engaging print media professionals, media dialogues by various civil society organizations such as Madhya Pradesh Jan Adhikar Manch, Madhya Pradesh Voluntary Health Association and various social activists which provided the much needed evidence to raise the issue. An effort which was duly complemented by many newspapers in the state.

Earlier for the media and for many of us the maternal mortality ratio was just a figure (498 per 100,000 live births).  According to official definition the maternal mortality ratio (MMR in short) is calculated as number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births, which is not newsy, for media. But the moment civil society groups and activists worked out a figure based on the government¿s Family Health Survey and put out a statement that 13,000 women die per year in the state during and after delivery (approximately  35 women per day) - that made the statement which clicked with media. This then led to a number of stories - first on the numbers of course with official and political quotes (which did not deny the fact). Then the numbers were clubbed with case studies, issues like gaps in delivery system, lack of health facilities and accountablility in the state started featuring.  It was not just the news, this provided the peg for features, op-eds and Navabharat ( a leading Hindi newspaper in MP) wrote an edit on the issue. 

This raised concern was quite evident by the  increase in number of public statements by political leaders, civil society groups and activists on the issue of maternal and infant deaths in public and media. It was unprecedented that an issue like this could make headlines or on to main page, which reflected an achievement on the part of media advocacy & civil society groups and activists working on the issue. This effort brought the agenda of maternal mortality and safe motherhood high on to the political normative framework in the state. 

During this process an interesting angle which came up for the first time in the state was whether a serious issue like this matters to our legislators or not ? The Hindustan Times and The Hindu initiated the debate based on evidence i.e. a report by a civil society group which had analyzed that no questions had been raised in state assembly on the issue of maternal and infant deaths in the state. This trigger led too many articles by newspapers like The Pioneer, Rajya Ki nai Dunia, Danik Jagran, Nai Dunia, Deshbandhu (state newspapers) and op-eds by Danik Bhaskar, till the time issue finally made it to the state assembly.

This inference of increased visibility and its impact was echoed by a recent study undertaken by Centre for Research and Education, (CREED) an organisation based in Hyderabad and Bhopal to determine coverage given to maternal mortality and related issues by the newspapers published from the state of Madhya Pradesh. The report had analyzed the media coverage for the year 2005 and points out that there has been significant increase in reporting in the print media in the year 2005 especially if one compares it with the year 2004. They had tracked 723 stories on the issue and had analyzed 234 stories to evaluate its content. If one looks at the space which has been generated on the issue  it was roughly equivalent to 61,161 square centimetres. If one compares the same to 2004, though no study was done just on the visibility factor there was  a significant increase.

Looking at the press coverage for earlier years, the issue of maternal mortality was only visible around safe-motherhood day i.e. April 11, or else whenever the maternal death was reported it was visible in small columns on inner pages of the newsprint. The situation has changed now, significant benefits have accrued due to sustained and concerted media efforts by media advocacy and civil society networks which drew adequate response from the  print media. This piece and even the reports by CREED mainly analyses media discourse in print and that too of the newspapers published from the state capital Bhopal and some from Gwalior and Indore.  This does not account for district level issues which are being raised in the state, which, means the ripple effect would have trickled down and if one accounts for the same, may be it would show a much larger picture. This is not an end of the process but a beginning which has helped to raise the visibility of the  issue of high maternal deaths in the state, and which needs to be carried forward.

(The views expressed in this piece are personal.)

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