The geographical, cultural, and socio-economic characteristics of Gujarat render it highly vulnerable to HIV. Sentinel surveillance and other statistics emphasize the need for strengthening HIV response in the state. However, Denial, Stigma, and Discrimination (DSD) are major obstacles in implementing such programmes.
The AIDS Community of Solution Exchange has earlier streamlined advocacy on DSD through discussions in the Community. Eventually it formed the first national advocacy group on DSD called “AAROHI.” At the visioning workshop of the Community, Dr. Rajesh Gopal from Gujarat State AIDS Control Society (GSACS) proposed a similar action group specifically for Gujarat. Based on recommendations from the brainstorming session at this workshop, GSACS and Solution Exchange AIDS Community agreed upon to have a joint Action Group. An e-discussion followed on Solution Exchange to explore the modus operandi of the Action Group.
Like any other development issue, coverage on HIV is increasing steadily over the years. 80 of the 210 articles covered issues of PLHIV. While professional journalists were authors in 93% of such articles, NGOs like GSNP+ authored the rest. Our analysis found an overall negative tone in 3% of the articles. Such articles gave an impression of lost hope and portrayed HIV with death.
Blaming a Group for the spread of HIV
2.4% of the articles directly blamed particular groups for the spread of HIV. Further analyses of the data revealed that sex workers bore the brunt as 60% of the articles held them responsible for the spread of HIV. We also found that such articles used language contributing to DSD like ‘them’ and ‘immoral behaviour’.
The study found that 7% of articles had declared the identity of PLHIV without consent. Our interaction with members of positive networks revealed that journalists falsely claim that they have obtained consent for disclosing identity. This poses a major challenge in an effective media strategy. Media personnel need to treat every person interviewed with dignity. They also need to obtain proper informed consent before publishing articles with names or photographs of PLHIV.
4% of the articles in the study used derogatory terms. They include terms like ‘victim’, which often imply passiveness and helplessness, and ‘prostitute’, which has a negative connotation. Use of such terms will further stigmatise HIV.
The study found that 2% of the articles used language directly implying discrimination. Use of such language reinforces stereotypes. Statements like “Huge migrant population in Surat is suspected to be responsible for high vulnerability” and “Migrant workers are known to contract HIV from prostitutes and then pass it on to their wives when they return home” are few examples.
This causes stigmatisation and discrimination of certain key populations. Moreover, such reports have also led to the belief that those who do not belong to these vulnerable groups are safe from HIV. These are instances where the media has failed to observe the much-needed sensitivity while reporting on HIV.
Our study found misinformation in less than 3% of the total articles scanned. Some of the common factual errors were relating to statistics. Often such reports appeared to be quoting reliable agencies without verifying with the sources. Other types of misinformation related to designation of officials and inappropriate terminologies.
Inappropriate terminologies can give rise to wrong ideas in people’s minds. Reporters need to pay careful attention to what they report as a single wrong message can wreck the efforts of all concerned. Hence, they need to ascertain data before publishing.
Use of Complex terminology
Of all the articles, 2% had terminology difficult to understand. In such situations, even if the writer intends to convey the best information, she/he cannot achieve the desired effect. Medical jargon, complex scientific concepts, and unexplained acronyms stand this risk. Media professionals need to be aware of the educational background of its majority readers. Hence, writers need to keep the language used in reporting on HIV simple.
Use of Photographs
23% of articles contained photographs. Out of these 49 articles, 33% maintained confidentiality of the respondent. 53% published it with consent, while 14% of articles published them without consent. Further analysis of these 49 articles revealed that 45% of them had positive gestures like celebrities,sport personalities, and film artists shaking hands and hugging positive persons, or carrying positive children with pleasure.
Use of photographs in articles does have benefits. However, they raise many ethical issues. Hence, the use of photographs needs to be judicious and selective. Journalists need to ensure that they get informed consent to use such photographs. In many cases, they also need to be careful in revealing the identity of the photographed.
Journalists must be aware of the possible consequences for individuals who reveal themselves in such articles, as stigma attached to HIV is still huge in society. Sometimes a person may not fully understand the implications of such media appearances.
Contact Details for further information
The study found that only 10% of the articles carried details for finding further information on the subject. Rest of them did not have contact details of the author or sources to seek further information. We recommend journalists to provide such details so that people can find further information on the topic.
Of the articles studied, 26% of them contained reports of positive gestures. Some of the examples include:
• Adoption of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC).
• Community initiatives in HIV.
• Political leaders celebrating festivals with PLHIV.
• Sports Personnel shaking hands with PLHIV and OVC.
• Doctors spreading positive messages.
• PLHIV talking about positive living.
• Positive women tying Rakhi on local businesspersons.
We found that only five percent of the 210 articles scanned contained prevention messages in them. Generally, the depth of coverage was superficial. Hence, most of the articles limited themselves to ribbon cutting ceremonies, highlighting activities of NGOs or GSACS, and providing statistics of those infected in the state. Important elements like awareness, education, and advocacy on prevention were lacking in most of the articles. Studies have proved the role of media in behaviour change communication. It helps readers to take informed decisions to protect themselves. The Sate’s prevention and treatment efforts would not be effective if no one knows about them.
The reach and influence of media on society is very high. Hence, it can certainly play an important role in our response to HIV. This study establishes that the media’s contribution in generating and disseminating information has increased over the years in terms of quantity and quality. With their active participation through organisations like GSNP+, PLHIV have found ways to assimilate their concerns into media. The support of governmental bodies like GSACS and NGOs has helped it further.
Nevertheless, the findings of the content analysis in this study calls for proactively developing a media strategy in addressing the third epidemic. A single misleading report could tarnish PLHIV and the commendable work done by GSACS and other agencies. Hence, it becomes even more crucial that journalists exercise the power of their pens with care and compassion. They ought to uphold ethical principles in doing so.