DoH spends £40k rating health hacks

By Dominic Ponsford and Emma Farge

The Department of Health has spent £40,000 compiling a dossier on
national newspaper journalists as part of a £200,000 six-monthly survey
into public attitudes.

The DoH has also ranked publications and individuals for their impact and compared the nationals with the regional press.

Using
a calculation based on number of stories, prominence and circulation,
the research concluded that the Daily Mail is the newspaper covering
health that has the biggest national impact, closely followed by The
Sun. The Daily Mirror was in third place with about half as much impact
on health issues as The Sun.

The study covered the month of
December 2004 and found that the Mail’s 59 health-related articles were
split roughly equally between neutral and negative.

The study
also ranked journalists according to their impact, with Nic Cecil’s
four NHS-related stories in The Sun ranking him at number one, fol-
lowed by the Daily Mail’s Robin Yapp, Lorraine Fisher from the Daily
Mirror and Jenny Hope, also from the Mail.

Overall, the study
found that out of 661 stories in the national press about the NHS in
December, 14 per cent were positive, 46 per cent negative and 40 per
cent were neutral.

It also looked at local papers on a
region-by-region basis and found that coverage of the NHS was “much
more positive than negative in every region”.

One of the
journalists analysed, John Carvel of The Guardian, said: “I find it
surprising that a department that is so well staffed needs consultants
to tell them about this sort of thing. The use of the word ‘slant’ is
unfortunate. In some cases it has as much to do with the subject needs
as the journalist’s intention.

I hope this leads to nothing. It wouldn’t influence what I say one jot.”

Daily
Telegraph medical editor Celia Hall said: “It’s a curious exercise and
seems to be something of a statement of the obvious. I score fairly
highly on the neutral and I’m quite pleased about that because the
Telegraph does take the view that its reporting should be neutral.”I do
know that in the past there has been pressure on the Department of
Health press office to promote good news stories – but I don’t consider
it my job to write only good news stories.”

A DoH spokeswoman
said: “Media evaluation is a small part of the information we gather on
public perceptions and patient experience of the NHS.

This is all about listening to the public to create better quality and more responsive services.

“This
information has enabled public priorities including faster access to
treatment, to inform policy development and business planning more
closely.

“The NHS is the largest organisation in the country so
it’s important to know what the public and media think of NHS services.
Inaccurate reporting about health issues can be harmful to public
health, so we need to know about it straightaway.”

To see the
full research, go to: www.dh.gov.uk/PublicationsAndStatist
ics/FreedomOfInformation/ClassesOfIn formation/CommunicationsResearch/
fs/en

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