Recently, visuals of two HIV-infected children were shown by the print and electronic media. The visuals indicated that even though treatment was available, children infected with HIV were doomed. However, what was more hurting was the inaccurate report that one of them had succumbed. Although TV channels clarified the next day that the child had not died, the harm had been done. Consequently, a positive network petitioned the Juvenile Court saying that such media reports relayed negative messages. Reports like these also impact negatively on other family members who already face stigma and discrimination. Therefore, the positive network sought guidelines for the media that would protect the rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV). The court then approached the Press Council of India (PCI) to respond by formulating appropriate guidelines on the issue.
While certain guidelines on HIV and AIDS reporting were made by the Press Council of India in 1993, much has changed since then. There has been a tremendous change not only in the intensity of the infection and its spread but also in the thinking on how it should be reported. Like diabetes and other chronic ailments, HIV is an infection that can be managed especially with the range of drugs now available. So, the fact that PLHIV are leading positive and meaningful lives needs to be conveyed.
On the same note, HIV is not a ‘scourge’ nor is the language commonly used to describe groups with high-risk behaviour as prostitutes considered appropriate. These terms have been discarded. The role of the media as spelt out by the PCI needs to be changed to incorporate the rapid developments in areas like science, technology and terminology. While it can be difficult to change overnight writing styles and vocabulary that portray a doomsday scenario with regards to HIV, the PCI guidelines can provide a framework enabling effective media reporting and factual portrayal of PLHIV.
Framing the Story• When reporting around women from marginalised groups (e.g., sex workers, drug users)
frame the story in a manner that it builds the self-esteem of the woman so that it
empowers her to stand for her rights.
• As far as possible, avoid any immediate linkage of HIV/AIDS with any negative
association such as crime/ perversion as it only reinforces the prejudice that HIV affects
the immoral and sexually perverted.
• Confidentiality of women must be protected in all situations. An expression of consent
cannot be taken at face value. Mediapersons, presumably aware of the consequences,
should rather err on the side of caution and sensitively judge for themselves the social
consequences – for both the interviewee and the community – of such disclosure.
• An interviewer must not probe route of infection as this creates another level of
discrimination among people living with HIV/AIDS. The important thing is not how
one got it but how one is living with it.
Appropriate Terminology• Words with negative associations, unnecessary drama, sympathy, must not be used to
• Use of the word ‘victim’ for a person living with HIV/AIDS is not acceptable as it evokes
sympathy and paints a picture of helplessness. ‘Positive person’ or ‘Person living with
HIV/AIDS’ is acceptable.
• ‘Full-blown AIDS’ is factually incorrect.
• As far as possible media stories must project people living with HIV/AIDS as people
leading ‘normal’ lives as part of mainstream society. This will also help break the myth
that only certain groups are vulnerable.
• The reporter must ensure sensitivity in headlines, blurbs, captions, and visuals.
Visual Representation of People Living with HIV/
AIDS (Photographs and Electronic Media)
• Dignity of subject cannot be compromised at any cost.
• Stories must not paint a picture of hopelessness and helplessness of positive people –
no matter how horrific the situation, the story must present a balanced viewpoint.
• Consent of the individual is even more important in the visual medium.
Suggested Guidelines to Activists for Building
Partnerships with Media• Give the journalist concise, relevant information packaged in a user-friendly way keeping
in mind media’s constraints on time.
• Well-packaged information helps correct information to go out.
• Always give media emergency contact details in case the journalist needs to counter check
a fact after regular office hours.
• Follow-up on misinformation in the media through letter to the editor. Respond to
articles in the press.
• NGO spokespersons must be careful to not reinforce public association of HIV/AIDS
with extra-marital sex, multiple sexual partners and death.
Solution Exchange:AIDS Community discussion