Patents, pills, the press and the poor : discourse and hegemony in news coverage of the global 'access to medicines' dispute, 1997-2003 : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Communication and Journalism at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealan

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In the mid‐1990s a transnational civil society campaign emerged to advocate greater essential medicines access for the majority world. The campaign mobilised on a variety of fronts, but in particular around the argument that intellectual property protection was the central impediment to equitable medicines access. The campaign argued that strong patent protection created artificially high medicine prices, and that, in the case of global HIV/AIDS, such prices prohibited medicines access for the vast majority of those in need of it. The major pharmaceutical companies disagreed, arguing instead that absolute patent protection was essential for new medicine development. When a coalition of pharmaceutical companies sued the South African government over generic medicines access in 1998, the dispute became crystalised into a dramatic mediatised conflict. This thesis examines press coverage of the medicines access dispute in key United States, British and South African news outlets over the years 1997 to 2003. Adopting Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory as a macro‐theoretical guide, the thesis conceptualises the media space as a field of contestation between opposed political projects seeking to hegemonically articulate their particular discourse. Prior commentary on the medicines access dispute has suggested media coverage was a key driver in publicising the civil society campaign’s message. This thesis contributes previously missing empirical data to such claims, addressing the questions: did the news media discourse on HIV/AIDS medicines transform to better reflect the civil society campaign’s arguments over those of the major pharmaceutical companies? If so, what were the principal factors influencing this transformation? Through corpus‐assisted discourse analysis of a sample of a 1,113 newspaper articles, and consideration of personal testimonies from key journalists and activists, the thesis argues the media discourse did indeed transform in favour of the civil society campaign. However, while the campaign was successful in promoting a patentbased definition of the crisis, the solution most widely adopted was one that increased aid funding and decreased medicines prices, but which left the intellectual property infrastructure largely intact. In this way, the thesis documents both the successful articulation of a counter‐hegemonic discourse within the news media, as well as the process by which this challenge was reabsorbed into pre‐existing power structures.
Drug accessibility, AIDS drugs, South Africa, Intellectual property, Pharmaceutical industry, News media, Discourse theory, Political communication, Counter-hegemony