Recently I was involved in a conversation with a colleague who writes on health issues in South Africa. We discussed about the healty and vibrant debate that went on in the South African press during the tenure of the erstwile Minister of Health in South Africa. Dr. Mantombazana 'Manto' Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang will be remebered for her emphasis on treating South Africa's AIDS epidemic with vegetables such as garlic and beetroot, rather than with western antiretroviral medicines. We talked about the debates about acces to anti retrovirals and to Mbeki's stubborn stance on HIV/AIDS. I felt her pride in the role of the South African press in shaping the discourse.
She asked me...how the press reported health in Nigeria.
...mmmh....well...sadly Apart from Chukwumah Muanya who writes for the Guardian, I cannot point to any other journalist in the Nigerian press who has consistently reported health stories and put the often difficult issues into pespective.
So for all its worth, I looked for the stories that have appeared over the past few weeks. Sadly ...at least 95% of press stories in the Nigerian press report what our public officers say. No critical analysis, no context, no perspective....just what the Minister says!
Find below a small fraction of what the Minister of Health has said...courtesy of the Nigerian press:
1. Vanguard: Osotimehin Enjoins Nigerians to Donate Blood Voluntarily
2. The Sun: Health minister declares war on tobacco
3. World news: Osotimehin - Sustained Funding Will Hasten Elimination of Malaria
4. Thisday: Osotimehin - Nigeria's Battle Ready for Malaria
5. Vanguard: Oshotimehin advocates for community participation in health
6. Vanguard: Professor Babatunde Osotimehin has tasked the media to sustain the high level of awareness about the A(H1N1) Influenza among the citizenry of the country.
....if the the purpose of a free press in a democracy is to guarantee free and open debate and discussion...it is not happening in Nigeria....and it is NOT the Minister's fault!