PBS NewsHour report yields unexpected results

By Erica Sánchez-Vázquez

A PBS NewsHour report on population growth and food scarcity in the Philippines prompted an increase in donations to the PATH Foundation Philippines Inc., an organization with a pilot program promoting family planning in rural areas of the Southeast Asian country.

The report explored the foundation’s community-based approach of making contraceptives accessible to villagers who want to limit the size of their families.

The story, which aired in January 2012, was produced as part of the public media collaborative project Food for 9 Billion, and has also been used by educators to set up discussions of the links between population and the environment.

Sam Eaton's report on population growth in the Philippines prompted viewers to donate to an organization featured in the story.

Sam Eaton’s report on population growth in the Philippines prompted viewers to donate to an organization featured in the story. (Photo: Yuma Hamayoshi)

During a Jan. 28 panel discussion on environmental reporting hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., Sam Eaton of Homelands Productions described the impact of his reporting for Food for 9 Billion.

A major highlight was the generosity toward the PATH Foundation it inspired in PBS viewers. The nongovernmental organization received contributions totaling close to $1,000 after the NewsHour story aired, according to Joan Castro, foundation v.p. and one of the experts whom Eaton interviewed in the story. The donors indicated that they had learned about PATH’s work in the Philippines from the NewsHour, she told Current.

The foundation bought additional community-distribution kits, packages of contraceptives that were featured in Eaton’s report. The kits are distributed to local convenience stores and sold to villagers at affordable prices.

Eaton was surprised by the discussion generated by his story. He expected negative reactions to his exploration of the role of the Catholic Church — and its opposition to modern contraceptive methods — in the country’s population boom. But educators have incorporated the story as a resource for training in population, health and environment programs.

“It’s surprising in a medium that is so fleeting, to have a story that lasts so long,” Eaton said. “I’ve never had that experience with anything that I’ve done before.”

He attributes the report’s success to timing and a shift toward “a more integrated approach” to exploring how human society affects the environment. He anticipates adopting the same approach to his future reporting on food and agriculture in India, Singapore and Latin America.

Food for 9 Billion is a yearlong collaborative project of APM’s Marketplace, Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting and PBS NewsHour.

This story was first published in Current, Feb. 11, 2013.

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