11.05.2015 "When spectra first came out, it was all about sex and crime – HIV and heroin in other words."

Five questions for Christoph Hoigné. This summer the "spectra" newsletter will be celebrating its 20th birthday. The man who right from the word go has been responsible for editing and producing the magazine on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is Christoph Hoigné, 48, a journalist and photographer from Berne. What are his thoughts on the past and the future of "spectra"?

Pictures "When spectra first came out, it was all about sex and crime – HIV and heroin in other words."


What is your perception of developments in public health policy over the past 20 years?  

In 1993, when I developed the concept for "spectra" under Peter Frehner at "Fachinformation Medizin", there were two health policy nightmares: AIDS and heroin. Both were causing sleepless nights, and it really was a question of sex and crime. The cliché dictated that people who had rampant sex got AIDS, and heroin was the queen of illegal substances. Like many others, I had friends who died from them in the 1990s. Today both topics are – quite rightly – way down the scale in terms of the worry they cause.  

I took some photos at the first centre authorised to prescribe heroin to severely addicted people shortly before it opened in Zurich. Harmless black-and-white pictures with team members pretending to be drug addicts. But the topic itself was such dynamite that FOPH Director Thomas Zeltner and Health Minister Ruth Dreifuss preselected the pictures that were suitable for publication. The photos were so hot that one day a reporter from Stern magazine, who had come specially from Hamburg, suddenly turned up in my office and casually took a thousand franc note from the breast pocket of his holiday shirt ... just in case I fancied giving him exclusive rights to the pictures. (The money stayed in his shirt, the photos in my desk.)  

Happily, the role of the state public health service is evolving from fire-fighter to far-sighted planner. Non-communicable diseases, mental health and promotion of physical activity affect the lives of considerably more people than heroin or HIV, but these subjects are more mundane and don't get people excited in the same way.      

It's a great and promising moment when efforts to establish new, healthier lifestyles and norms bear fruit. Thanks to STOP AIDS, safer sex has been a matter of course for an entire generation. Prevention and a number of flanking measures have enabled not smoking to gradually become the new norm, so everyone can breathe more easily! I'm also encouraged by the many signs that attention is coming to focus on the links between poverty, migration, education and health. Health is something that concerns us all, not just the health service.  

How has the way the FOPH works changed, how does it approach health problems?  

I have to say that I am only familiar with health promotion and prevention, and not with the other functions of the Office, which have been significantly extended in recent years. Prevention is often the neglected stepchild, and even the FOPH often finds itself tilting at windmills. The recipe for success is a good blend of information, encouragement, admonishment and a legal framework. If the politicians try to turn a deaf ear to public health problems, the pain caused by pulling the purse strings is enough to make them listen. What does a prevention campaign cost in comparison to life-long treatment for somebody who is HIV-positive? What are the costs of alcohol consumption or lack of physical activity to the economy when people can't work or fall ill?   I have repeatedly been impressed by the people, both inside and outside the Office, who make prevention issues their own. By the way they have not allowed themselves to be browbeaten or discouraged – even when their political opponents and the mass media decry them as "health taliban", "killjoys" and "spoilsports".  

A trend that is becoming evident at the FOPH, and is bound to be successful in overcoming the increasingly complex challenges of the coming years, is the move to break down departmental barriers and encourage transverse and interdisciplinary thinking.  

What phases has "spectra" evolved through in its 20 years of publication? 

The task of designing a newsletter from scratch and publishing it as responsible editor was a tremendous opportunity for me as a journalist right at the start of my career. I never dreamed that I would be entrusted with the job for such a long time.   Quite a few things have changed in formal terms in the 20 years. We've created a new layout three times, the FOPH logo and design that were brand new in 1995 came and went, federal grey paper was replaced by white, and we recently started using colour for all our pictures. We introduced new journalistic elements such as the "five questions" interview. The magazine was originally published four times a year, then six times, and now four again. And in February 2015 it made the quantum leap into the world of state-of-the-art media: "spectra" was joined by the new "spectra online" version.  

In terms of content, though, the key principles have remained unchanged. With the blessing of the former Director, we were granted a certain degree of journalistic licence which we have to this day. This means, for example, that the views expressed in the "Forum" section, in interviews and in debates do not necessarily concur with the official stance. This is an important ingredient in the recipe for "spectra's" success and a reason why the magazine is not too dry and is able to attract a great deal of attention and goodwill. It was a courageous, correct decision that is still supported today by current Director Pascal Strupler. Constancy and continuity are the watchwords of the team that produces "spectra". Editor in chief Adrian Kammer, editor Rita Steinauer, graphic designer Hansi Lebrecht and the translators –Marie-Françoise Jung-Moiroud and BMP in Basel – have all been on board for many years.    

Is there a particular article or interview partner that has stuck in your mind?  

Without having to think too hard, I recall an item on the "Red Nose" organisation one New Year's Eve around the turn of the millennium, reports on various prisons, in the open drug scene, about gymnastics programmes for children from migrant families and a report from an enormous film studio in London where a new STOP AIDS spot was being shot. Curiosity is one of my major driving forces – as it is for most journalists. That's why encounters with people have left the most vivid memories behind. I remember a visit to former Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin in Martigny, who let us taste his ripe apricots and told us the secret of keeping gravel paths free of weeds. A conversation with legendary comedian Emil Steinberger and his wife Niccel in their dressing room. That interview brought my journalistic work together with my job as manager of the small theatre La Cappella, linking my two professional worlds, as it were.  

What would you like to see for "spectra" in the future?  

In the future, "spectra" should be able and allowed to continue to do what media driven by ever-changing current events or whatever is currently gripping the public imagination don't do: follow topics over extended periods with diligent reporting and explanations of the background. It would be wonderful if we managed to generate some impetus, to get experts, the people in charge and others interested in the many faces of health promotion and prevention. We also want to address new audiences and gradually open up still further to other topics that the FOPH and its partners are dealing with. On an everyday level, I'd like a dedicated editorial committee and minds at all levels of the Office that are receptive to the possibilities and opportunities inherent in cross-media communication that became available to us when "spectra online" went live.           

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