Chapter 1: Introduction

Health in Lebanese Media: Upon comparing the state of the Lebanese mass media before, during and after the war, one is inclined to show satisfaction in the positive results, especially when the discussion involves the public health aspect. Nevertheless, compared to the abilities and the resources of the Lebanese mass media, one is also distressed at the very low and primitive contribution which the Lebanese mass media have made to this important public issue.

Many questions are raised concerning the role of the media in promoting public health, and the ability of the Lebanese audience to assimilate the messages referring to public health. The hypothesis held in mind was that the Lebanese mass media did not meet the social responsibility towards the public in what concerns public health. Besides, I wanted to inquire about the opinion of the youth, particularly the educated youth whose  continuous interaction with the media and the health issue are of considerable importance, since the demands of the youth are what the media are supposed to satisfy in the coming future, especially in the public health issue.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

The participation and contributions of the mass media in Lebanon in the promotion of public health  are not what they are supposed to be. The role of the media in Lebanon covering this problem, is believed to be primitive, and therefore, needs extensive efforts in order to improve it and  make it function as it should. In a country where several wars have been fought, of which was the last sixteen-year Civil War, it is very ironic that the media show little or no concern to the health issues.

The role of media in the health aspect in Lebanon can be divided into several periods.

The first is the Pre-war media stage, that is, the period which preceded the 1975 war. The role of health media in this stage was only preventive, that is, it only referred to the health issues as it did while referring to the major developments that took place in the country. The health issue was never taken as an independent issue to be discussed on its own. What the media concerned themselves with then was tracing the international health developments in Lebanon, and their relatedness to the Lebanese society. For example, up to the year 1975, several international health organizations such as the Red Cross and the World Health Organizations created small budgets to promote the general health developments and aspects through the only mass media available at that time, namely the Official Lebanese TV. This also included the official health efforts and campaigns such as vaccination and health awareness of seasonal diseases and health problems.

The second phase was the war phase which extended from 1975 to 1990; a long phase in which the role of the official media retarded in favor of the political media which worked for political parties, institutions and militia. The health media played a very important role in this phase due to several causes (Nauman, 1996).

First of all, the continuous wars and battles, mainly fought in densely inhabited areas, created severe health problems as epidemic diseases started to spread out among the population due to the absence of most civil health aspects such as the seewage, public sanitation, healthy potable water supplies and many other problems which resulted from the disappearance of the state from the public screen (Nauman, 1996).

The health pressures and dangers that resulted from the civil war, made it a basic necessity for the survival of the population to have a strong health awareness, especially in times of emergency, which usually appeared and happened on a daily basis. Therefore, indirectly, the war provoked the initiation of a public health policy that was to be propagated through the media.

The third factor in this stage was the growing power of the political parties and entities, and since each had to serve the area in which it existed, to survive and to enable its population to survive, these parties established a variety of health institutions starting with hospitals, clinics, and health organizations which aimed at preserving the health of the public, and building a public health policy through the various media of these political parties and entities (Nauman, 1996).

The last factor which influenced the health media in this period was the presence of the international health organizations such as S.O.S. and the International Red Cross. These organizations had an international deep insight, and therefore they employed the media to reach the people and to create a public health concept, mainly to enable the population to survive, and to prevent any further risks which could result from lack of awareness, or from ignorance (Nauman, 1996).

Generally speaking, the health media in this period was a continuation of the preventive media that existed in the pre-war period, except that its importance was growing at an excessive speed due to the health needs which the war forced Lebanon. The radio was by all means the number one mass media which helped  in spreading the health awareness among the public, and at the same time, helped prevent many critical health disasters which could have been inevitable (Nauman, 1996).

The years between 1992 and 1994 are referred to as the peace years for the media. The efforts for peace which were made in Lebanon and abroad, had their reflections, directly and indirectly on the media in general, and the health media in particular. The major aspect that appeared in this stage was the re-organization of the state and the enforcement of its influence and power. The law was back, and the media were to be subjected to the law, just as all the other institutions in the country. The law in this period did not stand as an obstacle in the face of the health media, although legally, the Lebanese law prevents doctors from promoting their medical experience through the media. Many TV and radio stations showed an increased interest in the health aspects which were directly related to the public. Many interviews were displayed on TV and heard on the radio, and most doctors started making general recommendations to the public about the diseases and health problems by answering them directly through the TV or the radio. For the first time in Lebanon, campaigns against AIDS and sexual diseases started, in addition to a variety of other campaigns which helped promote public health through the various mass media. The health issue in this stage had itself established as an indispensable aspect of the mass media in Lebanon (Khoury, p.42).

The period which started in 1994 and still continues today, is one that has been flavored with high sexuality and violence. Many negative aspects of the media have been introduced into the Lebanese society. However, the health aspect seems the only survivor as it has seen an integral growth recently. Medical issues are discussed more seriously and openly through the media to the extent that this has become a newly established tradition in the Lebanese society. This has in turn led to the spread of new habits such as abstinance from smoking among the youth. Besides, a medical terminology has started to appear among the various sectors of the populace as a result of the wide promotion of health issues on the media. Sports and health care have also become major landmarks in the Lebanese media (Khoury, p.45).

Moreover, the Lebanese society has never before witnesses such a concern in the mother and child’s health the way this issue is discussed on the media. The campaigns for breastfeeding, integrated nutrition and other values are all promoted on the media on a continuous basis. At the same time, the public interest in these issues is rising as a result of the role of the media in attracting the minds of the audience. The public concern in the rising rates of heart diseases, cancer, and other health problems are all top priorities to the media and the public at the same time (Khoury, p.46).

In a recent study, it was found out that 40% of the Lebanese who read daily newspapers, read Al-Nahar, and 85% of these read the last page, particularly the health columns which include the latest discoveries in the fields of health. This only reflects the increasing interest among the Lebanese to follow up the health issue (Nauman, 1996).

But on the other hand, the Lebanese media have their mistakes, especially concerning the health issue. Lebanon, with more than $160 million spent on advertising, comes third after Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which means that this expenditure is immense if we compare the populations of the three countries. The Lebanese individual’s share for advertising is therefore $53.4 annually. The share of health-related products was 7.52% in 1993, 8.24% in 1994 and 9.16% in 1995. Unfortunately, these health related products were alcoholic drinks and tobacco alone (Barakat, p.68).

In addition to this, many medical products were advertised on the media without any attempts by these media to prove whether these advertisements were conveying the truth or just tricking the audience into purchasing the medical products. For example, many ointments and creams that increase the sexual ability in men are being advertised freely in the newspapers, and several medical combinations have been shown on TV. Products which have to do with diet, sex, hair growth and other health problems are freely advertised on TV, on the radio, in the newspapers and magazines, and finally on the show windows of pharmacies and in the entrances of hospitals. All these advertisements are promoted without making sure that the product is really what it is, and without respecting the Lebanese law which prohibits advertising such health-related products (Barakat, p.71).

The latent danger of such irresponsible practices is not in violating the law, but rather, in the consequences that they lead to. For example, these advertisements lead to the propagation of rumours about drugs and medical formulas which make miracles. This has led to the spread of popular practice of medicine by charlatans who cheat the people with a support from the media. These factors together form a serious hindrance to the health awareness programs in society. The messages that appear on the media, especially on TV are usually more easily believed by the public; this lays a heavier burden on the shoulders of the media, but which unfortunately, have not done much to keep up to this responsibility (Barakat, p.73).

Chapter 3: Methodology

A hundred copies of a questionnaire were distributed to students at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU). The aim of the questionnaire was to gather information on the attitudes of the student population towards the health issue on the media, whether they had any reservations or not, and what their views towards this issue for the future were.

The questionnaire was made up of ten questions. All the copies were confidential and did not require the name of the respondent.

The first question required the sex of the respondent.

The second question required the age-bracket of the respondent. Such a question was necessary to relate the degree of awareness to the age of the respondent.

The third question required the number of hours which the respondent spent with the major mass medium, the TV. This would enable us to see the degree to which the respondent was involved with the Media TV, and consequently, whether his or her answers were reliable or not.

The fourth question required to know the second major mass medium to the respondent, again to see whether the results were confirmed by the behavior of the respondents.

The fifth question was about the percentage that the respondent believed the media should allocate of its time to the health issues. The answers would give us an idea of the weight which the youth gave to the health issue on the media.

The sixth question required the respondents to give their attitudes towards the present performance of the media in the health issue.

The seventh question was intended to find out the means which the respondents saw necessary to promote the health issue on the media.

The eighth question aimed at knowing the negative aspects of the health issue on the media.

The ninth question was a continuation of the seventh question as it intended to discover the procedures which the respondents found necessary to promote the positive role of the media in the health aspect.

The final question intended at knowing the attitude of the respondents towards the future of the health issue on the media.

All the questions were closed-end questions and the respondents were required to circle one single answer only. The aim of the research was explained to the respondents before they started answering any of the questions.

The results of the questionnaires are displayed in the following tables.

  1. Sex
MalesFemales
26%74%
  1. Age Bracket
17-1920-2223-2526+
22%53%14%11%
  1. Average hours of watching TV daily
to 1 hrto 2 hrsto 3 hrs> 3 hrs
28%34%17%21%
  1. The second mass media to the respondent
NewspaperRadioMagazine
33%41%26%
  1. Percentage that mass media should offer to health issue
up to 10%up to 20%up to 30% > 30%
73%14%9%4%
  1. Extent to which media actually show concern in health issues
DissatisfactorySatisfactoryGreat ExtentNo idea
67%19%6%8%
  1. Best way in which health issue is being positively promoted in the media
Health ProgramsSeminarsNew Coverage
19%68%13%
  1. Negative aspects of the health issue on the media
Irresponsible advertisingPromotion of unhealthy productsignoring health issues
13%79%8%
  1. How the health-related role of the media can be promoted
restrictions on adsmedia lawquota for health ads
41%22%37%
  1. Attitude towards the future of the health issue in the media
OptimisticPessimisticNot sureIndifferent
56%15%12%13%

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5: Results of Practical Research

The majority of the respondents were females (74%). This unabled us to draw a comparison or contrast between the attitudes of males and females towards the health issue on the media.

The majority of the respondents were in the age bracket between 20 and 22 years old, that is, mostly juniors and seniors. Besides, 25% of the respondents were above the age of 22. All in all, the majority of the respondents were mature enough, from an age point of view, to assess the problem and to answer the questions with good judgement.

Only 28% of the respondents reported that they watched TV for only one hour or less daily, 34% watched it up to two hours, and 38% watched it for more than two hours daily. This shows that the majority of the respondents were active in watching TV on regular basis, and therefore, were able to detect the health programs which were either promoted or actually displayed on TV.

The radio was the second most important media to 41% of the respondents, whereas the newspapers were less popular with 33%. Magazines came last with 26%.  At first, I assumed that newspapers would be more popular than the radio. However, it is also worth mentioning that the majority of the Lebanese university students usually listen to FM stations which do not promote any health programs. Therefore, concerning the health issue,  the answers to this question were not reliable.

73% of the respondents believed that the media should allocate 10% of their time to health issues. This, of course, includes seminars and ads. In fact, the expenditures on ads related to the health issues in Lebanon are about 8.5%, whereas the time allocated is not available. The problem is that most of the 8.5% go to ads which promote unhealthy products such as tobacco and alcohol, or other drugs which should not be promoted in the media according to the Lebanese law. 14% reported that the media should give up to 20% of their time or space to the health issues. 9% required up to 30% whereas a radical 4% required even more.

The respondents’ reaction to the current media concern in the health issues is negative. 67% believed that the performance of the media in the health issue is dissatisfactory. Only 19% said it was satisfactory, and 6% believed it was doing very well. Unfortuantely, 8% had no idea on the subject, but these were all respondents who watched TV for less than an average of one hour a day.

As to how the media can improve its performance in promoting the health issue, the majority of the respondents showed more interest in seminars; only 19% showed interest in health programs and 13% in news coverage. This can be due to the fact that seminars include arguments and debate, both aspects which are appreciated by the youth, rather than health programs and news coverage which only include less interaction with the audience. Seminars, of course, are displayed on TV whereas health news can be covered in various mass media, and so are health programs. An example on seminars would be a discussion on AIDS in Ziad Njeim’s program “Shater Yehki” on MTV, which involves audience interaction, debates, interviews and other interesting aspects of communication to the public in general and youth in particular.

The majority of the respondents (79%) think that promoting unhealthy products on TV is the major negative aspect of the health aspect in the media. Only 13% thought that it could be irresponsible advertising and 8% thought it was the neglect of the health problems and issues. In fact the 8% for neglect shows that the media in Lebanon does not neglect the health issue. Only 13% chose irresponsible advertising because those who chose the second answer could not choose this answer too, since the respondents were entitled to circle one answer only.

The implementation of the media law seems to be the least popular method to promote the health-related role of the media, with only 22%. The majority thought of either imposing restrictions on the advertised material (41%) or requiring a quota for health ads (37%).

Finally, the majority of the respondents showed a positive optimistic attitude towards the role of the media in promoting public health. Only 15% were pessimistic, 12% were not sure and 13% were indifferent. The fact that the majority seemed to be optimistic is due to the continuous and stable improvement that the media has witnessed in its health-related role for years

 

 

Chapter 5: Conclusion

The fact that the Lebanese media are considered among the hugest in the Arab world as to the size of investments in the advertising and promotion industry, we can say that the Lebanese media have not yet met the factual requirements of their social responsibility, and that they still have to provide the public with a more realistic role in which they support the public health and put an end to the obstacles towards attaining this goal.

While the Lebanese mass media are increasing their participation in supporting public health, they still have to put an end to the purely commercial advertising which demotes public health and propagates negative values and meanings concerning public health in the society.

According to the study in this project, the majority of the Lebanese youth believe that the mass media in Lebanon should be more involved in supporting public health and in fighting superstitions and wrongful ideas and acts which do not relate to public health in any way.

Finally, the media in Lebanon need to be guided by laws and regulations which will make sure that the public health issue is paid enough attention and given the care that it requires. It is true that the media have played a very important role during and after the war, particularly in the public health issue, but this is never the right time to stop. As a matter of fact, the mass media in Lebanon, and immediately, need guidance and direction in what concerns the health issue.

Bibliography

Khoury, Nassim. (November 1993). The Media File                         in Lebanon. Al-Difaa Al-Watani Al-Lubnany.

Barakat, Amine. (1995). The Role of Media in                                  Society. Cairo: Institute For Middle East                                         Publications.

Nauman, Ghassan. (1996). Media & Socity. Beirut:              Unpublished Works for The Lebanese                                                 University.

Appendix

  1. Sex: a. male b. female
  1. Age bracket
  2. 17-19 b. 20-22 c. 23-25                       d. 26+
  1. Average hours of watching TV daily
  2. Up to one hour b. Up to two hours
  3. Up to three hours d. More than three hours
  1. What is the second mass medium that you are in touch with?
  2. Newspaper b. Radio c. Magazine
  1. What percentage do you believe the media should give to health issues?
  2. up to 10% b. up to 20%
  3. up to 30% d. more than 30%
  1. To what extent is the media actually showing concern in the health issues?
  2. dissatisfactory b. satisfactory
  3. great extent d. no idea
  1. In what best way do you think the health issue is being positively promoted in the media?
  2. Health programs b. Seminars
  3. News coverage
  1. What are the negative aspects of the health issue on the media?
  2. irresponsible advertising
  3. promotion of unhealthy products (eg. alcohol)
  4. ignoring the health problems & issues
  1. How do you think the health-related role of the media can be promoted?
  2. imposing restrictions on advertised material
  3. implementing the media law
  4. requiring a quota for health ads
  1. What is your attitude towards the future of the health issue in the media?
  2. optimistic b. pessimistic
  3. not sure d. indifferent