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Media doctor India toolkit version1 launched to evaluate quality of health stories in the Indian media

A toolkit to evaluate the quality of health stories published in the Indian newspapers and in the electronic media has been launched to help journalists and health correspondents evaluate media stories on new tests, treatments and procedures, on health advice, health policy and public health stories.

The toolkit known as Media Doctor is modeled after a similar pioneering checklist developed in Australia that ran from 2003 to 2013. However, the toolkit has been modified in the Indian context after several consultations with journalists and media academics and now comprises four checklists – one each to look at stories on new tests and treatments, health advice, health policy and public health.

The toolkit was launched at the University of Shantiniketan over the weekend. Dr. Biplab Loho Choudhury was part of the media doctor pilot in India also hosted the launch.

Mr. Kannan Krishnaswamy, our Communications Manager, teamed up with the University of Newcastle, Australia to Indianise the tool and will be helping in facilitating workshops for journalists, media students and faculty members of journalism institutions to familiarize them with these tools and to encourage them to use the same. 

This is the first version of the toolkit that is being made available to journalists and media students. Based on feedback from stakeholders, the version will be fine-tuned and a second improved version will be launched later this year.

Dr. Vivekanand Jha, our Executive Director commended the tool launch. He says:

"Although we we do not need structured tools to evaluate any media story about health in general. but they do prevent us from overlooking important aspects of a story. They also highlight opinions which can be constructively challenged and discussed and provide a method of comparing the quality of stories from various outlets, besides also providing a means of following trends over time,” 

Dr. David Smith of the University of Newcastle, Australia,  played a significant role in the development of the toolkit both in Australia and in India. He says:

“Readers make significant health care decisions based on what they read in newspapers or see in electronic channels. Policy makers are influenced by public opinion, and public opinion is in great part determined by the media.  And at a more philosophical level, if the public has a ‘right to know ‘, it has a right to good quality information,” 

“The quality of health stories in the media often leave much to be desired. Lots of studies have shown that quality can be reduced to two fundamental values of accuracy and completeness. Quality can thus be rated using tools that reemphasize these values of completeness and accuracy. That is what Media Doctor Australia (MDA) and Media doctor India (MDI) are all about.,” .  

All the rating items in the MDI tools relate to the value of completeness or accuracy. In a practical way, a story of high quality as MDI and MDA define quality, will be one that scores well with the application of the appropriate rating tool.