Media & HIV/AIDS in India
By javed abbas
India has the largest number of HIV infected people in the world. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, in the presence of the second largest national highway network, the highest volume of out-migration, low coverage of vulnerable populations. According to Uttar Pradesh State AIDS control Society the guestimate of people living with HIV are 4.5 lakh in U.P. National AIDS Control Organisation already declared Uttar Pradesh as a high vulnerable state Millions are being spent annually on spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS on Its mode of infection and precautions. However the social stigma is attached with disease. The news media is a powerful agent of social and political change and in a country like India where 50% of the population is illiterate. While the media has started taking active note of the issue and the visibility of HIV and AIDS stories has increased, there is a general feeling that reporting is often insensitive and causes further stigma and discrimination against affected persons.
Working conditions of our media professionals
There is no capacity building efforts from the Media Academies or publications, frequent changes in work responsibilities, low salaries, certain times circulating persons act like reporters in rural areas, bad working conditions, no facilities, no office or infrastructures. This is the situation in media and regional media is still pathetic. Inspite of all odds, media is playing a major role. We should initiate funders to design a separate training program for media. Media community would be very good stake holder to create mass awareness on HIV and AIDS. We should sensitize media.
Understanding HIV and AIDS in News
While the media has started taking active note of the issue and the visibility of HIV and AIDS stories has risen up, but there is a general feeling that reporting on it was often insensitive and caused further stigma and discrimination against affected persons. In UP where the regional press covered the issue extensively but the reporting is poor. The state’s regional language press in Hindi, Urdu carried a very few stories on this issue. The language press also needs a lot more sensitization on this issue.
For example: NACO has started the Free ART rollout Programmes from last one year. The ART is made available free in district hospitals where the prevalence of HIV and AIDS is high. However this information is only confined to urban areas that too only for few people. As the HIV and AIDS epidemic is rapidly spreading to rural areas. People in rural areas are still unaware of the availability. There are many deprived PLWHA in the rural areas that are extremely in need of ART.
Media in co-ordination with NGOs and Positive People Network at District level network will play a significant role in to spread news, information, ideas, etc. to a lot of people, information like ART services, VCTC, Care and Support Centers, help line etc. This information would reach to the People who are in need of such services. Media in co-ordination with NGOs also need to propagate more positive stories related to HIV and AIDS Stigma and discrimination.
Recently In Deccan herald there was a news on the headline "HIV infected man kills his wife and daughter and committed sucide because of stigma and discrimination". This kind of news will add more fuel to the problem. As we know lot of money has been pumped to address this serious health and developmental issue of HIV and AIDS. I have also compiled some news from newspapers, are given below:
(1) India sitting on AIDS time bomb?
The Times of India
(2) Boy died of AIDS
(3) AIDS boy banned from school
(4) AIDS cases rising in the state
There is a considerable visibility of HIV and AIDS related issues in the newspaper from Uttar Pradesh, but the reporting is still needs to be focused on the nature of the epidemic. Have you seen the language of these newspapers? I don’t know what kinds of metaphors, patterns of expression are being used in the press? A lot of Misconceptions, incorrect use of terminology and incomplete information are there. They are Portraying AIDS like Bomb or Deadly thing. It shows insensitive reporting and causes further stigma and discrimination against affected persons. That’s why PLHAs and other vulnerable groups showed lack of trust in media regarding privacy and confidentiality. Although some news papers are already focusing extensively on emerging national issue and HIV and AIDS is seen as important not just from the point of view of health but as a social issue. Several television stories too associate the virus with death and ruin. Stories repeatedly hammer in that the “victims” are at deaths’ door, though the visuals may show them as healthy, active individuals. Reporting on HIV/AIDS issues needs to be extremely responsible. There would be a regular column in news paper giving expert advice on HIV/AIDS. In that reader can write in to them to clarify their doubt on the infection.
Dos and Don’ts
While there is considerable visibility of HIV and AIDS related issues in the news papers from Uttar Pradesh, the reporting needs to be focused on the nature of the epidemic in the state. Journalists can be oriented on the issue of appropriate non-discriminatory language and terminology related to HIV and AIDS. After all, HIV and AIDS stories are about people. This can be done in a number of ways, including the following:
Recognize HIV/AIDS as a development concern
Ensure that vulnerable groups are not stigmatized further
Put people affected by HIV/AIDS at the centre of the advocacy and constantly provide positive groups empathetic space in media
Provide space to HIV/AIDS public service messages
Supporting the broadcasting of HIV/AIDS special programming
Supporting the development of AIDS storylines in existing programming Broadcasters can talk to listeners and viewers about HIV in a language they understand appreciate and find entertaining. They can put pressure on the powerful to take the disease seriously and give people the information they need to protect themselves and those they love.
In short, the media have an essential role to play in reversing the number of HIV cases.
What role media can play?
Media can play essential, major and important role in society. But there is a communication gap between the Media, PLHA, NGOs working on the Issue and the State AIDS Control Society, That’s why the voices of PLHA, Caregivers, experts and NGOs has not been hearing properly by the Media and Government. While reporting about misconceptions among the people about HIV and AIDS the opinions of experts can give the correct picture. These provide good opportunities to the media to tell the public. Some of the key suggestions for media coverage are:
Use proper terminology for example: Don’t use the word Innocent victims because all victims are not innocent, PLHA Instead of AIDS Patients, Use word HIV+ instead of AIDS.
Spread correct Information about HIV and AIDS
The News of so-called “cures” for HIV and AIDS needs to be critically explore. Such items need to be verified and cross checked.
Show the bright part of a PLHA’s life, not only the darkness.
The press can add weight to its stories on HIV and AIDS by taking the comments of Social activist, Spiritual leaders, Filmstars and even politicians.
Information about VCTC, ARV Centre, Hotline etc
Maintain PLHA’s Confidentiality & Privacy in News
The media have an important role to play in the fight against AIDS. It is often said that education is the vaccine against HIV. Many media organisations are rising to the challenge by promoting awareness of HIV and AIDS and educating listeners and viewers about the facts of the epidemic and how to stop it. A survey carried out in India more than 70% of respondents said they had received their information about HIV and AIDS from television. Clearly, media organisations have an extremely large influence in educating and empowering individuals to avoid contracting HIV. Good coverage of HIV and AIDS is about quality coverage of science, numbers and politics.
© javed abbas