Fondazione Zoé

Influenza A (H1N1), a media event of the last two decades…

Bird flu, SARS, “mad cow”, the “Di Bella therapy.” For years now we have been dealing with biological viruses and intangible viruses, created by fear, ideas, emotions and words. They are viruses that propagate much faster than the virus itself, affect more people of every race and culture. They are better remembered through the acronyms (SARS) as if they were titles of TV shows (Lost, 24, X-files) rather than pathogens of diseases. We do not know the symptoms, but in the reader’s “agenda”, these infections appear to be related to distant lands where they can spread very quickly: today’s intangible viruses are already among us, even before they are contagious: this is the risk of communication.

Each case has dominated the media as a leading actor, with a constant presence, a steady stream of news, news copy, warnings, explanations, prohibitions, and customs clearance, distinctions and clarifications, fideistic interpretations, social, economic, and political literature- domestic and foreign policy. The terminological confusion, the anxious pace of the information is often linked to two important elements such as time and space, which seem to change every citizen’s perception of risk  to make them more sensitive to such phrases as “within a week the virus will be in Italy”, “it is a race against the clock. ” The countdown has been triggered because the media pandemic may begin and then the space is restricted, pending invasion of the killer virus.
What these cases have in common is a type of journalism, uncritical and yelled, alarmist and sensationalist, and tentative attempts to stem the flow of information, restoring the essential truth, has produced new economic and emphases. On the other hand, it is not confirmed nor refuted by the scientific community. It is determined that the virus can only spread, while it remains all too inactive until they could restore the equilibrium reaction.
The most expressive case remains the Di Bella therapy, perhaps because the first, maybe because it was just an Italian case – from the Italian provinces – which forced the Italian health authorities to take all potential action, probably political in the absence of minimum technical requirements. Decisions raised concern and astonishment in the international scientific forum in regard to the measures taken with respect to a working hypothesis based on no rationale, and disorganized cases.
Faced with these cases there have been some “scientific” initiatives to stem the possible consequences of uncertain information, and an anxiety-provoking media.
If we recall the Charter of Perugia in 1995, the agreed Protocol on Ethics of the following year, the Manifesto of Information in 1998. And the most recent initiatives: the Charter of Turin (2001), the document about drugs in the journal: instructions for use in 2004, the Charter of the drug SISF 2006 and the recent draft of the Ethics of Bio-Medical Information , presented at the Media and Health conference held in Milan recently.
All these initiatives emphasize the absolutely correct and acceptable ethical and deontological aspects of communication, to name a few: the rigor of the information, the need to avoid unwarranted alarmism, sensationalism and miraculous tone, reliability and timeliness of ‘information, the public interest, respect for the rights of the citizen-patient, correct and complete information.
We are faced with ambitious and tentative attempts – sometimes targeted at media professionals and researchers, other times as instruments for the public to read the news – to bring the disclosure of the specific values of health, to supplement the general rules of the regulation of Italian journalists, as provided by the National Order of Journalists.
An agreement that allows the overcoming of the deep chasm between two strong powers, research and journalism, to reach an “agreement” signed in the interests of the weak figure, the “patient”.
At present, these initiatives seem to have the drawback of being statements of ethical and professional standards (the thing or consciousness), but not to address the practical aspects of communication (or as science). It does not provide, in fact, the practical recommendations on the minimum elements that must be present for an article reflect the shared ethical values and is aligned with the theoretical assertions. It is therefore useful for the patient and not misleading. Indications to this effect are found in international documents for journalists such as” Guidelines on science and health communication” (SIRC, UK, 2001),”” Doctor + Media (Canada, 2006) and other documents addressed researchers or the public such as” checklist” for science and health professionals SIRC, UK 2001,” The Interview: rules of the road” USA 2003, the document reader for the National Network of Libraries in Medicines, USA , 2006.
Of great interest is the latest initiative of the Journalists of Lombardy and the Group’s 2003 report that the importance of sharing some of the basic points of proper communication (accountability, transparency, integrity, competence, language). It seems right to suggest that process more than the Ethics, a working document, which allows you to translate in the daily work of writing, and shared ethical aspects of practice, with the collaboration of those who, through academic teaching, have addressed these aspects of communication on health. In order to build up between the communicators ‘knowledge’ required for a full understanding of medical and scientific information, a prerequisite to effective mediation



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