The news media is frequently criticised for failing to support the goals of government health campaigns. But is this necessarily the purpose of the media? We suggest that, while the media has an important role in disseminating health messages, it is a mistake to assume that the media should serve the interests of government as it has its own professional ethics, norms, values, structures and roles that extend well beyond the interests of the health sector, and certainly beyond those of the government. While considerable attention has been given to the ways in which uncritical publication of industry perspectives by news media can negatively impact on public understandings of health and health behaviours, we would argue that it is equally important that journalists not become the ‘lapdogs’ of government interests. Further, we suggest that the interests of public health may be served more by supporting the ongoing existence of an independent media than by seeking to over-determine its purpose or scope.
Journalism, mass media, government, conflict of interest, ethics, media regulation