HIV/AIDS in News - Journalists as Catalysts

30 Dec 2005


A six-month survey on media coverage of HIV/AIDS revealed a significant gap in media reports and expectations of HIV positive people from these reports. The manual, which is a resource handbook for journalists, aims to bridge this gap between the media, HIV positive people, NGOs and State Control AIDS Societies.

Would the number of HIV positive people in India have increased from just one in 1986 to 5.1 million in 2005 if the media had played a more pro-active role in the early years of the infection? The media, like others monitoring the epidemic, underestimated its gravity and seriousness.

Would HIV positive people have been thrown into isolation wards as happened with Dominic D’Souza in Goa in 1989 and ten years later with Dhiren Sarkar of West Bengal if the media had presented a more realistic picture of the infection? When Dhiren’s wife and family discovered he was HIV positive they walked out on him. Some villagers even bolted the door to his house and tried to set him on fire. The police rescued him and moved him to a hospital in Katwa where he was left in an abandoned room. He was then transfered to Burdwan district hospital. Sarkar died a couple of days later in a dark little corner of the hospital unwanted, deprived of his basic rights as a human being. Afraid of stigma and discrimination, even today a large number of infected people commit suicide.

In most parts of the country there is still an ominous silence around HIV/AIDS. At the intellectual level there is still a debate on why so much money and importance is given to this comparatively new infection as against tuberculosis, malaria and a spate of other ailments.

In May 2005 under a UNDP-funded project, the Population Foundation of India appointed veteran journalist Usha Rai to examine the role of the media in relation to stigma and discrimination faced by HIV affected people. She was supported by journalists Rimjhim Jain and Swapna Majumdar. Research was conducted on media coverage of HIV/AIDS in newspapers in Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and in seven national television news channels.

The six-month survey shows that there is a big gap in what the media has been writing on HIV/AIDS and the expectations of HIV positive people on what they perceive should be the media’s role in reporting on the issue. Though there is considerable coverage of HIV/AIDS most of it is often superficial – reporting of events or statements by celebrities.

This manual is an attempt to bridge the communication gap between the media, positive people, NGOs working on the issue and the State AIDS Control Societies.

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