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Lancet. 2000 May 6;355(9215):1633-6.

The case of Norplant as an example of media coverage over the life of a new health technology.

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Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, UK.



The contraceptive implant Norplant (levonorgestrel) had a fairly short life in the UK. This made it a convenient subject for a case study of how media coverage alters over time. We set out to produce a critical description of national newspaper coverage of Norplant over the course of its use in the UK.


We searched newspaper databases and press-clippings files for articles about Norplant printed between 1992 and 1996. For those that met our inclusion criteria, we extracted bibliographical data, made a standardised judgment about the "slant" of the article towards Norplant, and used qualitative techniques to analyse the content of the articles.


101 national newspaper articles were included in the study. Norplant attracted media coverage over the course of its career, but the slant of articles shifted dramatically over time from a favourable to a negative presentation. This reflected the use of different story types over the course of time. Early reports presented Norplant very positively as either a clear improvement on existing contraceptive methods or a valuable addition to the range. Any disadvantages were down-played. The positive image of Norplant was reinforced immediately after its official launch by reports that it was in great demand but women might be denied access to it. Less than a year later, however, newspaper reports about Norplant were dominated by the stories of individual women who had had bad experiences with the product.


Three main reporting themes were seen. At first, Norplant was presented as a positive new development, and one that might be denied to people. In later coverage it became a flawed and damaging product. These themes recur in media reporting of health technologies, and the fact that they occur at different stages in a product's career means that a balanced assessment of the technology is not usually feasible from media reporting at any one time. An appreciation of the forms and implications of these reporting frameworks could help health-care providers and users to appraise media reports more critically.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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