Introduction: The media is an important source of health-related information for patients, general public, policymakers and health professionals and has a large influence on their knowledge and opinions. No studies so far have explored the content, nature and quality of health journalism in Bangladesh.
Objectives: To i) explore the nature and quality of media coverage of health stories in Bangladeshi newspapers, ii) understand the perceptions of reporters about medical- and health journalism, including the perceived barriers and facilitators, and iii) identify factors influencing health reporting.
Methods: In a mixed-method pilot study, during a five-month period, all medical and healthcare related news articles published in three leading Bangladeshi daily newspapers (N=461), were content analyzed, and journalists were asked in a questionnaire about their knowledge and medical skills.
Results: Only 44% of the articles reported in a positive tone on health services aspects, while 27.1% were related to malpractice or treatment errors. Many articles contained questionable medical information (49.9%), mostly regarding unregistered clinicians (67.5%), often referred to as ‘doctor’. Treatment errors by unregistered clinicians were reported seven times more often than those by registered physicians (p<0.001). A survey was completed by 23 selected medical- or health journalists (77% response); most of them (78.3%) had no previous training in health journalism and in only 26.1% this was offered by their media house. Journalists self-reported their own insufficient understanding of medical terminology (73.9%), ethics (95.7%) and relevant laws (91.3%).
Conclusion: This study is an eye opener about shortage of medical knowledge among health journalists in a developing country. This shortage may often result in misinformation regarding medical (mal)practice, health laws and ethics. There is ample room for improvement of the quality of health news reporting and health journalism skills in Bangladesh