Mass media is one the major sources of public information about scientific issues, especially for transplantation medicine which remains a topic distant from general public everyday experience. In particular, post mortem organ donation is highly charged with emotions and ethical issues regarding death, body and sense of self. In such a context, we might expect media coverage of organ donation and transplantation to be characterized by debate and by a pluralization of actors. Such a contextualized model of communication would result in challenging scientific and health official discourses. Based on this analytical background, this proposal addresses media representation of organ transplantation through a content analysis of newspapers. Data come from a corpus of 376 articles dealing with issues of organ donation and human transplantation, which are taken from the Swiss French-speaking general press, including three daily papers and two weekly magazines, covering a period of ten years (1998-2007). Examining the main contents of the articles, the framing of organ shortage, as well as the actors most represented in the corpus, analysis reveals that the media coverage is highly dependent on news and particular events, and that media messages convey for the most part transplant community’s representations and discourses on organ donation. As a result, print media content is characterized by a marked pro-donation orientation, where controversial aspects and plurality of perspectives are little present. Thus, press coverage of organ donation cannot be regarded as an instance of a contextualized model of communication. At a more general level, our findings raise more broadly the issue as to how organ transplantation is constituted as a public problem. In this regard, especially in the context of organ shortage, the question also arises as to which model of public communication is likely to heighten public awareness of organ donation. Instead of spreading consensual and normative messages about organ donation, it is worth considering whether public information should not promote open debate and personal reflection in order to help citizens to form their own opinion on such a sensitive topic.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Media coverage of organ transplantation
Towards a contextualized model of communication?

Raphael Hammer   School of Health Sciences, Institute of Health Research

Mass media is one the major sources of public information about scientific issues, especially for transplantation medicine which remains a topic distant from general public everyday experience. In particular, post mortem organ donation is highly charged with emotions and ethical issues regarding death, body and sense of self. In such a context, we might expect media coverage of organ donation and transplantation to be characterized by debate and by a pluralization of actors. Such a contextualized model of communication would result in challenging scientific and health official discourses. Based on this analytical background, this proposal addresses media representation of organ transplantation through a content analysis of newspapers. Data come from a corpus of 376 articles dealing with issues of organ donation and human transplantation, which are taken from the Swiss French-speaking general press, including three daily papers and two weekly magazines, covering a period of ten years (1998-2007). Examining the main contents of the articles, the framing of organ shortage, as well as the actors most represented in the corpus, analysis reveals that the media coverage is highly dependent on news and particular events, and that media messages convey for the most part transplant community’s representations and discourses on organ donation. As a result, print media content is characterized by a marked pro-donation orientation, where controversial aspects and plurality of perspectives are little present. Thus, press coverage of organ donation cannot be regarded as an instance of a contextualized model of communication. At a more general level, our findings raise more broadly the issue as to how organ transplantation is constituted as a public problem. In this regard, especially in the context of organ shortage, the question also arises as to which model of public communication is likely to heighten public awareness of organ donation. Instead of spreading consensual and normative messages about organ donation, it is worth considering whether public information should not promote open debate and personal reflection in order to help citizens to form their own opinion on such a sensitive topic.

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