Dr Thomas Owen Thomas Owen

Title of PhD Research:
Patents, Pills, the Press and the Poor: Discourse and Hegemony in News Coverage of the Global ‘Access to Medicines’ Dispute, 1997-2003

A/Prof Elspeth TilleyDr Sean Phelan (and Dr Slavka Antonova for first 18 months)

Description of Research Topic:
Thomas examined international media coverage of the dispute over pharmaceutical patent protection and access to HIV/AIDS medicines in developing countries….
In the mid-1990s a transnational civil society campaign emerged advocating greater essential medicines access for the global poor. The campaign antagonistically challenged the major pharmaceutical industry, claiming that Big Pharma’s aggressive medicine patent protection was the biggest impediment to equitable global medicines access. Thomas examined the dispute’s evolution over seven years of international press coverage, combining statistical data with interviews with journalists and qualititative discourse analysis of news content. He found that while the civil society campaign successfully engaged news media and promoted a patent-based humanitarian view of the crisis, the overall discourse ultimately aligned with Big Pharma’s recommendations: increasing aid funding and lowering drug prices, but retaining the intellectual property infrastructure intact.

PhD Research Keywords:
Discourse Theory, Hegemony, HIV/AIDS Medicines, Intellectual Property, Journalism, Activism, Global Governance

PhD Candidacy:

Previous Degrees:
BAHons, Victoria University of Wellington.

Personal Experience/Information:
Thomas Owen is a New Zealand-based social justice researcher specialising in news media and global crises communication. His current research project examines news coverage of the global HIV/AIDS medicines access crisis, in particular looking at how transnational civil society organisations helped to define and publicise the impact of patent protection on global medicines access. Thomas researched this issue for his PhD thesis, and is currently developing the research into a book for inclusion in the Peter Lang series, “Global Crises and the Media.”

Thomas has a background in media education, having lectured in media and communication departments at Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently coordinating a 200-level special topic for Victoria’s Media Studies programme titled “Global Crises and the News.” Thomas also researches and writes about indigenous education initiatives in Canadian Yukon First Nations, and has recently returned from a voluntary programme assisting peace and reconciliation projects in Western Kenya.
Thomas’ PhD research was sponsored by a scholarship from the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship. He is the current recipient of the Loxley Award for peace, environmental and social justice research.

Recent Publications:
Owen, Thomas (2013). ‘From “Pirates” to “Heroes”: News, Discourse Change, and the Contested Legitimacy of Generic HIV/AIDS Medicines’. The International Journal of Press/Politics. 18(3): 259-280

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