This is a modified speech given at the inaugural Nine Women of Influence Awards on 6 March 2020. It honours the women across the Nine media organisation.
I am grateful to the Australian Financial Review for their leadership in creating AFR 100 Women of Influence Awards and was so pleased to see that Nine is honouring the women in its organisation. You are important and I’m go into tell you why briefly by telling you about what I do.
I study influence – I look at health behaviour, mostly regarding infectious disease prevention and vaccination. My nursing and midwifery background is a great foundation for this work.
Indeed, this year is the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. It’s a year when we will feel like we need nurses more than ever – they’re at the heart of managing public health emergencies, like COVID-19.
But we also need you – a strong and diverse media organisation. With colleagues, I have researched and taught infectious disease emergency risk communication. We have looked at news coverage, interviewed journalists and sometimes observed their routines and have learnt this:
- Quality reporting can save lives.
- It will tell people rapidly about the emerging risks and how to prevent them;
- It will package up complex health information in a way that’s meaningful for audiences;
- It will make judgements about credibility;
- It will be timely and cooperative but it will not be the PR arm of the health department. It will continue to ask critical questions;
- And journalists can make this quality reporting happen in a matter of hours.
In covering the stories, it’s the details which can make a difference: a choice about headlines; the news angles that balance informing but not excessively alarming people; which vision to locate alongside the words in a story; which population groups choose for an image. Perhaps even more importantly are the decisions about what not to publish or broadcast, because of a lack of certainty or the potential for harm from those messages.
In our research, we learnt about the vital role of health reporters. They developed important technical knowledge; drew on quality sources; and were advocates for fact checking and well informed accurate stories. They knew the bigger picture and where to dig deeper.
With COVID-19, we are on the precipice of something. It may be like a severe flu season. It may be better or it may be worse. We face a lot of uncertainty, as we will in the coming months.
We in public health are relying on you – your careful attention to quality production and content; to reducing the harm of stigmatisation; to angles that make an impact on people and advocate for improvement. I urge you to retain and cultivate your health reporters and the other health-focused staff in your organisation. They continue to help you produce the kind of quality news content that avert suffering and potentially save lives.
So let’s now turn to these awards. You and your nominators will all be in anticipation. The judges would’ve had a very challenging time making their choices. It’s so hard to compare between achievers. You are all achievers. And so I wish you all well tonight. I congratulate all the nominees and the upcoming winners.