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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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Chapter 6. Inside a Successful Civil Society Media Campaign: Perspectives from Communicators and Journalists


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Perspectives from Communicators and Journalists

We had great fun, it was the most exciting campaign ever […] It’s basically sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

—Samantha Bolton, Médecins Sans FrontièresGlobal Director of Press and Campaigns, 1998–2002

Over the previous four chapters, this book has told two stories about the HIV/AIDS medicines access and patent protection dispute in the news media. One story, covered in Chapter 5, describes how the 2001 dislocation of the strong patent protection discourse was ultimately absorbed and neutralised by a continuation of Big Pharma’s anti-generics agenda. The other, perhaps more unexpected, story describes how the hegemonic discourse was so dramatically ruptured in the first place—in particular surrounding the efforts in 1999–2001 of the transnational civil society “Access to Medicines” campaign. While the book has thus far illustrated the CSO campaign’s impact on mainstream news media discourse, it has not considered in much detail how and why the campaign’s media relations approach was so successful, when so many other similar campaigns are not. It is to the media relations behind the 2001 rupture that this chapter now briefly turns, telling the story of a successful CSO media relations campaign through personal perspectives from CSO communicators and journalists covering the dispute. ← 133 | 134 →

The chapter begins by considering the launch of MSF’s access campaign, and examining the strategic choices behind constructing the...

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