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The Media Network and Supporting Media Advocacy for Healthy Public Policy


I Introduction
II Conceptual Framework
III The Media Network for a Smoke-Free Ontario
IV Over the Years
V The Media Network for Healthy Eating, Active Living – An Expansion
VI Media Network Staff and Services
VII Conclusion
VIII References

-- Submitted by Matt Drennan-Scace, Media Network, and Steven Savvaidis, PTCC

I Introduction

Media advocacy is a proven tool for social change because mass media has the power to set policy agendas and determine social priorities. The strategic use of mass media can play an important role in the creation of healthier communities through the advancement of healthy public policies.  

The Media Network is a project of the Program Training and Consultation Centre (PTCC) which helps build the capacity of local public health unit staff to strategically use media advocacy to advance important public health issues, specifically in the areas of tobacco control, healthy eating, and active living.

Services and resources offered by the Media Network help stakeholders plan strategic campaigns, engage with local media to raise the profile of key issues, and advocate for healthy public policy change.

II Conceptual Framework

The Media Network was established in 2000 under the Ontario Tobacco Strategy (OTS) and launched its services in 2001.  The program was modeled on the media advocacy arm of the American Stop Smoking Intervention Study (ASSIST), which was initiated in 1991 to implement proven tobacco control interventions across 17 states. The ASSIST project was novel in that it adopted a social ecological framework, emphasizing the importance of making changes in the social and physical environment to promote health as opposed to solely targeting the individual for change. Coalition building, media advocacy and policy change were critical interventions in this strategy. [1]

A key component of ASSIST was direct media advocacy support for a network of tobacco control advocates across the participating states. This network was provided with media advocacy training, technical assistance, media resources (e.g., press release templates, etc), networking support, and media tracking services. These advocates in turn became engaged in raising the profile of tobacco control, issues in the local media, and countering pro-tobacco influences. The major focus for these efforts was on the use and generation of earned media. [2]

This model was adapted to the Ontario environment with the creation of the OTS Media Network, which provided instrumental support to public health departments and local smoke-free coalitions to support the passage of local smoke-free public place by-laws across the province. The Media Network helped to build the capacity of these public health staff and community leaders to use media advocacy to advance these policies through media training, strategic consultation and the development of toolkits on various issues related to the campaigns.

III The Media Network for a Smoke-Free Ontario

Since its inception, the Media Network’s objectives have been to:

  • Maintain an active and trained group of tobacco control stakeholders and support their proactive engagement of local journalists in media advocacy to generate positive earned media coverage on key issues and to advance community-level healthy public policies.
  • Increase the quality and quantity of positive earned media coverage in Ontario on key issues related to tobacco control.
  • Support changing public awareness about the need for further community-level public policy change on key issues related to tobacco control.

Media Network Support of Media Advocacy and Public Policy Development  

The Media Network supports a diverse set of tobacco control stakeholders, including primary stakeholders such as public health unit staff and community leaders focused on tobacco control, as well as various not-for-profit organizations, coalitions and other advocates committed to similar efforts.

Throughout its 10-year history, the Media Network has supported public awareness and policy advancement on a variety of tobacco control issues.  The timeline that follows is a high level overview of some of this support.

IV Over the Years

The Early Years

From its inception in 2001 through to 2005, the Media Network played an instrumental role in supporting smoke-free public policy development and implementation.  Under the Ontario Tobacco Strategy, the Media Network assisted local public health staff and community-based tobacco-free coalitions in media advocacy efforts surrounding local and regional by-law development and implementation.  At this time there was no standard in smoke-free by-laws.  Working in collaboration with the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco and the Ontario Tobacco-Free Network, the Media Network helped support a variety of local media campaigns to support by-law development.  As part of this initiative, the Media Network designed and wrote copy for local advertisements, provided media training to tobacco-free coalitions and public health unit employees, crafted press materials for use at the local level, and developed issues-based toolkits to support advocacy efforts.  Small grants were also provided to support local media campaigns. Media coverage was tracked and analyzed by geographic region, and teleconferences were held on a regular basis to discuss key issues and share local media advocacy strategies. During these years, there was a significant increase in overall coverage of tobacco control issues related to smoke-free bylaws, with noticeable increases in articles driven by Media Network stakeholders, as well as articles that favoured the tobacco control argument. Over this period many Ontario municipalities passed or amended smoke-free bylaws, including large municipalities such as the City of Toronto.  This proliferation of smoke-free bylaws helped pave the way for the Smoke-Free Ontario Act of May 31, 2006.

Post Smoke-Free Ontario Act

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act ensured that all Ontarians were protected from second-hand smoke in public places and was a key piece of provincial legislation for tobacco control. After its implementation, the Media Network continued to support local and regional stakeholders in advancing various tobacco control issues through the use of strategic media advocacy, including but not limited to smoke-free multi-unit dwellings, casino smoking shelters, smoke-free vehicles, smoke-free movies and Ontario’s retail display ban on tobacco products.  

Present Day

Today, the Media Network is a project of the Program Training and Consultation Centre, the lead tobacco control resource centre for the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy, and continues to provide media advocacy support to local stakeholders on a variety of policy issues.  The Media Network continues to provide these supports to the smoke-free movies and smoke-free multi-unit dwellings initiatives, and has also contributed media relations support to the provincial Play, Live, Be Tobacco-Free Ontario Project. This project is a collaboration of public health units, non-profit organizations, and representatives from the sport and recreation community.  The goal is to promote the adoption of outdoor smoking by-laws and tobacco-free policies by the sport and recreation community.

V The Media Network for Healthy Eating, Active Living – An Expansion

The Media Network, through a Healthy Communities Fund grant from the Ministry for Health Promotion and Sport, expanded its services to support a new group of stakeholders in Ontario on April 1, 2010. The expansion created a second stream of the project, the Media Network for Healthy Eating, Active Living.  This new project leverages the success of the Media Network project which has supported tobacco control in Ontario for more than a decade, and brings similar services and resources to areas that include nutrition, healthy weights and physical activity.  

Partners on this project include the Ontario Public Health Association’s (OPHA), Heart Health Resource Centre (HHRC) and Nutrition Resource Centre (NRC), the Ontario Physical Health and Education Association (OPHEA), Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC), the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), the Heart and Stroke Foundation – Ontario (HSFO) and the Ontario Heart Health Network (OHHN).
Over the past year, the Media Network has been tracking and disseminating relevant daily news coverage on healthy eating and active living issues to members, continuing to build a membership base, and providing customized consultations on request.  As well, a scan of community level policy options in the areas of healthy eating and active living was conducted and the results compiled to assist stakeholders in advancing their local policy priorities.

VI Media Network Staff and Services

The Media Network for a Smoke-Free Ontario and the Media Network for Healthy Eating, Active Living provide public health professionals across the province with a diverse set of media advocacy services to support the development and implementation of community-based healthy public policy, as well as to raise public awareness on key issues. These services include:

  • Daily media update reports (Media Network News or MNN)
  • Regular updates on current events
  • Policy and legislative developments
  • Training and consultation in media advocacy, media relations and social media through workshops and webinars
  • Detailed issues analysis
  • Support and consultation on campaigns related to tobacco control and healthy eating and active living
  • Development of media-related resources and supports (press releases, key messages. media lists etc.)
  • Access to the PTCC website and resources housed on the site

Media Network services are available at no cost to members and are available to support community level media advocacy efforts and healthy public policy change.  To join either stream of the Media Network, please visit

Staff of the Media Network

Matt Drennan-Scace, Team Lead
416-971-9800 x3478

Jason Chapman, Media and Communications Coordinator – Tobacco Control
416-971-9800 x3283

Tara Maher, Media and Communications Coordinator – Healthy Eating, Active Living
416-971-9800 x3871

VII Conclusion

Throughout its 10 years of service, the Media Network has provided media advocacy support to tobacco control stakeholders across Ontario, focusing on community-level policy development and implementation, and raising public awareness of key issues.  In 2010 this support was expanded into the areas of healthy eating and active living.  Over the past year the Media Network has continued to support the tobacco control community while establishing, growing and providing media advocacy support to this new network of stakeholders.  Throughout this process, the Media Network has applied its 10-year track record of success in tobacco control to establishing a strong media advocacy foundation within the healthy eating and active living arena.  Media Network services will continue to be offered to members of both networks throughout 2011 in support of creating healthier communities across Ontario.

VIII References

1. Moo RW, Havlicek D, Garcia J, Vollinger Jr, RE, McAdams Motsinger B. The Conceptual Framework. In National Cancer Institute, Assist: Shaping the Future of Tobacco Prevention and Control (Monograph 16). Retrieved from:

2. Remington, P., Houston, C. Ann and Cook, Lynn C.  Media Interventions to Promote Tobacco Control Policies. In National Cancer Institute, Assist: Shaping the Future of Tobacco Prevention and Control (Monograph 16). Retrieved from: