Losing the media battle, waging the policy war: Big Pharma's response to the access to medicines crisis in the Global South

Ludek Stavinoha

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

In the early 2000s, the issue of access to HIV/AIDS medicines and intellectual property rights became for many an emblematic case of how the contemporary design of the global economic order contributes to the violation of the right to health of the global poor. A transnational network of AIDS activists exposed the role that ‘Big Pharma’ pricing policies and patents had played in the denial of life-saving treatment to millions across the Global South. Gathering
widespread media coverage around the world, during this brief period, the pharmaceutical industry was effectively drawn from the confines of elite communicative spaces and sites of power into the public sphere, where it was duly named and shamed.
This paper investigates how the pharmaceutical industry responded to the ensuing public relations fiasco, drawing on a frame analysis of news coverage of the crisis in the Financial Times, The Economist and the European Voice, and interviews with industry insiders, NGO lobbyists, AIDS activists, policy-makers and journalists. More specifically, it explores the communication strategies of the pharmaceutical industry, focusing in particular on the elite communicative sphere located in Brussels, a key site of power in global trade and health governance.
The findings indicate that the industry’s media strategy was essentially reactive and that it has focused much of its PR efforts on engaging key elite audiences rather than mass publics via communicative channels that bypass mass-mediated public spheres, such as direct lobbying and corporate social responsibility schemes. Furthermore, whereas ‘Big Pharma’ effectively lost the ‘media battle’, its capacity to shape the EU’s trade agenda has not significantly
diminished. These findings challenge the widely-held notion that politics is essentially played out in the media and indicate a need to go beyond the media-
centrism characteristic of much contemporary theorisation about the interplay between communication and power.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
EventMedia, Persuasion and Human Rights - PSA Media and Politics Group Annual Conference - Bangor, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Nov 201411 Nov 2014

Conference

ConferenceMedia, Persuasion and Human Rights - PSA Media and Politics Group Annual Conference
CountryUK United Kingdom
CityBangor
Period10/11/1411/11/14

Keywords

  • Communication
  • Public relations
  • pharmaceutical industry
  • corporate social responsibility
  • HIV
  • Media

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    Stavinoha, L. (2014). Losing the media battle, waging the policy war: Big Pharma's response to the access to medicines crisis in the Global South. Paper presented at Media, Persuasion and Human Rights - PSA Media and Politics Group Annual Conference, Bangor, UK United Kingdom.