The Role of Media in Influencing Health in Multicultural Australia

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The current Australian media is acknowledged as a powerful tool for driving public opinion and policy in diverse cultural settings. Health experiences in any care environment are majorly social. In this respect, it is necessary and sufficient to construe these experiences from the perspective of societal circumstances under which they occur. The purpose of this paper is to deliberate on the role played by the media in the contemporary political and social discourses in Australia. It also explores the power of the current Australian media and its influence on health. It then presents an analysis of two media items on the beneficial and adverse effects of media on culturally safe care. Media items present a reliable analysis of the social-political role of media in advancing the nexus between culture and safe care. Therefore, a detailed understanding of the power of media in shaping political and social debates can bolster the implementation and usage of culturally safe care in Australia.

The current Australian media plays a pivotal role in feeding the public with information about social and political issues and events as they unfold. Traditionally, the press started as a medium of communication between the government and the public on various issues. As an institution, the media plays a vital role in not only spreading information but also scrutinizing public policies by investigating and reporting facts (Naim et al., 2014). These institutional roles have changed dramatically due to the evolution from mainstream media to social media. The emergence of social media has expanded the social role of the press with the faster spread of information and events within social networks. Although the traditional mainstream media outlets such as print media, radio, and television maintain scheduled reporting, social media platforms provide timeless information that expedites access to facts (Waller, 2010). Therefore, the advent of social media is not a substitute for the traditional media but in addition to it that speeds up the circulation and access to facts and information about social and political issues in Australia.

Australia boasts of a diverse media landscape with the community, public service, and commercial media structures that serve different purposes. The public service outlets broadcast information regarding the country’s social and cultural heritage, thereby promoting national identity and unity. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) executes this mandate by presenting tales that mirror the social realms within the multicultural Australian context (Nguyen & McCallum, 2016). The community media houses are also responsible for enhancing this national identity but within the locus of respective communities through voluntary efforts. The commercial segment of Australian media delineates government from media practice, thereby acting as a public watchdog against government policies and public affairs (Nguyen & McCallum, 2016). These media actors form a formidable force that propels conversations about socio-political affairs confronting the country at any given time. Therefore, the current Australian media stands out as an institution with tremendous power in the country.

The media drives power from its ability to craft and present social and political issues in a manner that attracts public interest and boosts profitability. According to Messing and Bernáth (2017), the media enjoys the symbolic power that can be either weak or strong depending on the freedom that the press enjoys in the society. Media houses exercise weak symbolic power when they edit the information before disseminating it to the public. On the contrary, they exercise strong emblematic power when they structure and present views assertively and without fear of any contradiction. This concrete presentation of messages about social-political matters attracts widespread acceptance of the views, thereby curbing any possible questioning of the facts (Tremlett, Messing, & Kóczé, 2017). It follows that the media can make use of its emblematical power to win public support about an issue through establishing a strong emotional bond with the audience on the subject.

The primary sources of media power are manipulation and persuasion.  Tremlett, Messing, and Kóczé (2017) distinguishes between manipulation and persuasion as they relate to the power of media. Manipulation involves the ability to determine what reaches the public, while persuasion entails creating appeals to an issue of public interest. The media inculcates stimulated veracities in people’s lives, thereby forcing them to rely on media information to contextualise socio-political experiences. A perfect example of manipulative power is the editorial decisions, the selection of information included or excluded in a publication. As Messing and Bernáth (2017) correctly reported, the media personnel have the intellectual capacity to frame a particular perspective sensationally, thereby persuading the target audience.

The mainstream media has a standard way of reporting yet the media frames are reinforced in social media outlets. Latimore, Nolan, Simons, and Khan (2017) posit that this predetermined approach to crafting and presenting stories makes media reporting so predictable that challenging the common view becomes impossible. Leask, Hooker, and King (2010) further reaffirm that the media uses a tailored news reporting that thwarts any effort to advance alternative perspectives about a matter. This tendency creates a unilateral view of social issues that may lock out viable policy options merely because they appear to be less popular within the media. Latimore et al. (2017) argue that media represents opposing views such as the right against wrong. Therefore, media frames create rifts so that the public can become more interested in the views.

Power and influence of the media are interrelated concepts with a thin line. Whereas power is the ability to influence opinions and perspectives, influence of the press is the execution of this power. Media templates about health are influenced by diverse cultural views, yet it is affected by popular culture.  The media exercise an immense influence on the way people think about their health, thereby controlling their consumption of health care services (Leask, Hooker, & King, 2010). The public perceives events to be real and policies to be appropriate based on how the media invites them to view the issues. Therefore, the media uses its persuasive power to influence public views and constructions of affairs within the cultural context.

Rice at al. (2016) weighs in on the influence of media on culturally safe care through the cultivation theory. The theory maintains that the media is responsible for people’s perception of daily norms and reality (Rice et al., 2016). Brusse et al. (2014) suggest that the television, newspapers, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube are significant sources of information nowadays and form an integral part of social life. This trend is an indication that the public is likely to view health care as displayed on these platforms. Browne et al. (2018) report that the media employs an individualistic construction of health in multicultural societies. For instance, media framing of the health and lifestyle of Aboriginal Australians influences health care significantly. According to Brusse at al. (2014), skewed representation of Indigenous Australians through issues such as smoking, nutrition, drinking, mental health, and child abuse influences public view about their health.

Evidence currently available appears to suggest that the social and cultural organisation of Aboriginal communities in Australia determine their health (Sweet et al., 2014).  The media continuously presents an individualised view on health, thereby influencing a generalised public opinion of these communities. Fortunato and Martin (2016) discusses how the press uses the Agenda-Setting Theory to alter the public opinion of these communities. The theory holds that the media covers issues in a way that shows the audience what to think about them. Therefore, the current Australian media saturates daily life with news about the health of Aboriginal people using smartphone technology, thereby exercising a phenomenal influence on public opinion about the provision of safe care to them.

The media can make constructive contributions to public health that improve people’s quality of life. One of the positive effects of media is that it facilitates public health education and awareness creation, thereby promoting population health. Although the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is woven into the fabrics of their culture, the media can be very instrumental in promoting their health (Jones, Merrick, & Beasley, 2016). Social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp can be useful in creating awareness about chronic illnesses that surpass cultural domains of care. Stoneham, Goodman, and Daube (2014) suggest that the media can use its power to disseminate culturally reinforcing care models to promote the health of affected communities. The current Australian media can encourage interaction with the Aboriginal and Strait Islander people. As Laverty, McDermott, and Calma (2017) suggest, the media plays a positive role in social integration throughout encouraging journalists to interact with Aboriginal people about the culture, life, and health issues. Therefore, the media through social networks can promote population health by interacting with Australian Indigenous and Strait Islander people.

The media can be a tool for destruction in a well-ordered society. Laverty, McDermott, and Calma (2017) suggest that media news significantly influence worldview about culturally safe health as supported by the cultivation theory. Jones, Merrick, and Beasley (2016) specify that controversial worldview advanced through social media platforms such as Twitter adversely affect health communication and cultural health literacy. Browne et al. (2018) further identify cultural distance and divergent health perspectives the critical issues in delivering culturally safe care in the Australian society. Whenever the media uses marginalised approaches to framing Aboriginal views, it creates a worldview that only supports the dominant culture. Islam and Fitzgerald (2016) believe that this framing demonstrates neglect of corporate social responsibility by the commercial media organisations in the country. Therefore, media framing can advance social and political issues surrounding health at the expense of the cultural view of safe healthcare practices.

A detailed analysis of media items shows that the current Australian media influences culturally safe care in both negative and positive ways. In the article “Disadvantage, trauma causing high rates of Indigenous family violence”, Thorpe (2018) explores the role of intergenerational trauma on the prevalence of violence in Aboriginal communities in Australia. Nakari Thorpe is the Political Correspondent for NITV stationed in the Press Gallery at Parliament House in Canberra. It is apparent from the article that Nakari is primarily concerned about the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Therefore, she feels that the government should support the efforts of these people to report incidences of child abuse and trauma for institutionalised care.

A more in-depth analysis of the article reveals that the media item advances a stereotypical view of the Indigenous people. The political correspondent adopts a standardised way of reporting in the news piece that seeks to influence public opinion about the whole issue (Browne et al., 2018). The news report depicts Indigenous Australians as stressed, poorly housed, overcrowded, hopeless, and traumatised as evident in the statement “Disadvantage and intergenerational trauma plays a major role in the high rates of family violence in Indigenous communities. Carson (2017) categorises this sentiment as a media template that is popular way of presenting health issues affecting Aboriginal communities. This media item reflects the negative perceptions that the Aboriginal people continue to endure several years after the country attained independence.

The article also promotes institutional racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. As reported in the new item, the framed image of these communities is that of violence and suffering compared to the general population (Thorpe, 2018). Institutional racism is detailed in the report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which portrays Aboriginal men and women as the largest consumers of health care because of violence. Besides, the article appears to be targeting the affluent readers who are more likely to accept the presented view. The image at the top of the article features the head of a woman who is traumatised because of violence.

Nevertheless, the media can use its power to influence positive socio-cultural change. In the ABC news article, “Indigenous community takes alcohol policy into its own hands, using elders as bouncers at club” Avani Dias explores the role of community members in curbing alcohol addiction. It is apparent from the article that not even positive news items are immune to manipulation (Dias, 2017). The author tries to lure the public on the issue using disturbing images and captivating headlines. Fred Ryan is reported as one of the bouncers at a social club at the age of 76. This presentation attracts public interest because the bouncer himself is grappling with partial deafness and amputation (Digges, 2016). The last phrase of the title reads “using elders as bouncers at the club”, but it sounds like an attempt to make the issue of alcohol addiction interesting. These framings reduce the whole alcohol issue into an issue affecting a single community of the Aboriginals.

This article illustrates how the framing of health issues affecting communities in multicultural contexts can promote culturally safe care, notwithstanding the disturbing photos. Fred Ryan cites reduction of alcohol drinking problems in Beswick as his driving force (Dias, 2017). ABC is committed to ensuring that Australians receive breaking news, stories, and new events impartially. The writings of Dias shows an intrinsic effort to represent the community in question positively. For example, she reports that leaders in Beswick have hailed the efforts of the club in which Mr Ryan works for successfully reducing alcohol in the community. The inclusion of elders in the war against alcohol-related health problems indicates a commitment towards promoting culturally safe care. Stoneham (2014) suggests that alcohol is one of the leading causes of health problems in Aboriginal communities. Therefore, using the elders makes the intervention more appealing to young people because the elders are the custodians of their culture.

The media is indeed a powerful tool in the multicultural Australian society. It shapes social, political, and cultural health issues through manipulation and persuasion. Media items have the power to either promote or discourage culturally safe care. A detailed analysis of news items illustrates this observation by presenting Indigenous communities in good and bad ways. News items that are not presented fairly contain stereotypical templates, racism, and demeanours that adversely affect culturally safe care. In contrast, those that present unbiased and positive views about socio-cultural, economic, and political issues promote cooperation, health awareness, and understanding of culturally safe care. Therefore, in a country with high media consumption such as Australia, news editors should present balanced views as much as possible.


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October 13, 2023

News media

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Media Australia

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