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Patents, Pills, and the Press

The Rise and Fall of the Global HIV/AIDS Medicines Crisis in the News


Thomas Owen

HIV/AIDS is a global health crisis of unprecedented proportions. Afflicting millions worldwide, its social, political, economic, and ethical dimensions have rendered explicit the vast inequalities of our «negatively globalized planet». Since the late 1990s, a major feature of the crisis has been the dispute over intellectual property protection and medicines access.
In this book, Thomas Owen examines the mediatization of this dispute. Weaving together contemporary media theory and interdisciplinary research with computer-assisted news analysis and interviews with journalists and civil society campaigners, the book illuminates the intersecting constitutive relationships between global crises, global governance, and global media. In a context of changing media technologies, logics, and practices, this book observes where the mediatized conflict surrounding global medicines access has at times consolidated elite political economic power, and at other times provided civil society campaigners their greatest opportunities for global social change.
With an interdisciplinary approach, this book is suitable for courses on global media communication and global journalism, as well as advanced undergraduate and postgraduate courses in public health communication, political communication, social movement studies, and international relations.
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This book began in Spring 2006 in the hills outside of Barcelona. It was there that I met a friend, recently returned from his work with an NGO in Geneva, who first introduced me to the global crisis of patent protection, trade agreements, and HIV/AIDS medicines access. The story my friend told me was incredible. A coalition of transnational civil society health groups, he said, had taken on the major multinational pharmaceutical companies over their patent protections. The international mainstream media favourably represented the civil society groups’ cause and pharmaceutical companies suffered a major public relations disaster. Ultimately, he said, the mediatised dispute led to an alteration of global medicine patent rules, and millions of HIV-positive people began receiving affordable life-saving treatment.

The story was incredible. In particular, everything I had learned about media, activism and political economy up to that point told me that it was highly improbable and against the usual trends of mainstream media. Was it, then, indeed true? If so, how did this occur and what can we learn from it? And if it is not true then why is the story being repeated by people such as my friend, recited as an emblematic tale of how activist campaigns can indeed exert power in the news media to the detriment of their corporate rivals? ← ix | x →

The meeting in Barcelona was the spark of inspiration to research this issue. In the 8 years since, I have produced a PhD thesis,...

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