161322 Public officials, the media, and policymaking: A case study and analysis

Monday, November 5, 2007

Monica Serrano, MPH , Brooklyn, NY
Philip Alcabes, PhD , School of Health Sciences, Hunter College, New York, NY
We undertook a case study to examine the potential consequences of public officials' use of the media to communicate information about potential threats to the public's health. We examined the February 2005 alert issued by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene about a “rare strain of multi-drug resistant HIV that rapidly progresses to AIDS.” The warning, issued directly to the media, unleashed a firestorm of panic. We conducted a content analysis of the print media coverage in the weeks and months that followed the Department's pronouncement, and examined the television coverage that appeared on local and network television stations the day of the alert. We also examined the chronology of events leading up to the pronouncement, the science behind it, the target audience, the participation of public-health professionals from the private nonprofit sector, and the events that unfolded in the weeks following the pronouncement. Our findings suggest that the alert was designed to garner support for an impending proposal to change state HIV confidentiality law. Further, they highlight the need for public-health professionals to consider the trade-offs involved when health officials collaborate with the media.

Learning Objectives:
1. Analyze the construction and consequences of a public health alert. 2. Assess the implications of public health officials utilizing the media to communicate risks to the public.

Keywords: Policy/Policy Development, Risk Communication

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.