The Citizen misplaces emphasis for the sake of effect

  • Melissa Meyer - 12 February 2013

Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi made headlines in The Citizen this week for cautioning that HIV was a serious threat to health expectancy. The minister, of course, is right. But the story really should have lead with the context in which he made this comment.

Motsoaledi was addressing 102 newly appointed CEOs who are being groomed to resuscitate health care in the country as part of a “overhauling and reengineering of the public health system”. 

An injection of new management into a struggling system at this scale has considerable potential for change. It would also demand substantial resources. Both are valid considerations for raising this in the mind of the public and for keeping an eye on the impact of this intervention.

Instead, the news report got stuck on Motsoaledi’s comment about HIV and life expectancy. Whilst it is no small concern that the impact of HIV is severely hampering people’s prospects of a long life, a plethora of news reports around World AIDS Day (only two months ago) spoke of how breakthroughs in treatment are helping to turn this around.

The health minister most likely referenced HIV’s devastating impact on mortality for dramatic effect as he addressed the new CEOs. “As part of our diagnostic programme, in future we want to see people live to the age of 70 and over,” he said.

And there, half way through the news report is where the real “so-what” of it all can be found. By putting human resources towards health, the government is taking an action towards the improvement of people’s quality of life. Whether this pans out or not, is vitally important to readers.

The significance of this intervention by far precedes a fleeting statement on mortality that should in any case, be read in the context of ever-improving treatment for HIV. 

We trust journalists to be our eyes and ears, to be where we cannot, and to seek out and bring back information that is most relevant to our lives.

The demand this makes on journalists--to negotiate mounds of data, observe calamities, interact with civil servants, attend events, keep a watchful eye on service delivery and sift through piles of press releases and speeches, is no small feat. But it is their job. And as paying news consumers, we have a right to expect them to do it well.  

Sadly, in discerning the germane from the less significant, confusion too easily creeps in; and as was the case of The Citizen’s report this week, what is most dramatic and is then often passed-off as the most relevant.

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