Indian media join hands with UNICEF in the battle against HIV-AIDS
4 August 2005 - Editors, publishers and senior journalists came together in a summit last Thursday in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh to agree on a strategy on media reporting that would increase awareness on HIV-AIDS and remove the stigma attached to the deadly infection.
“We have realized the potential danger HIV poses to our society and the best way we can curb it is through awareness,” said chief minister Mr Y. S. Rajshekhar Reddy who also presided over the media summit to motivate the journalists to write informative stories on HIV-AIDS.
UNICEF deputy director for programmes, Mr Eimar Barr, who participated in the summit said, “There are about five million HIV positives in India. We are at a stage at which, with concerted efforts, we can curb the spread of this infection.”
Drawing a comparison between Thailand that has controlled the spread of HIV-AIDS and South Africa where the infection left unchecked has proliferated at a frightening pace, Mr Barr said, “India can easily be like Thailand and stop the spread of HIV-AIDS.”
The summit held in the capital city of Hyderabad was part of a UNICEF initiative, in partnership with the state government, to help share the extent of problem with the senior-most media people in the state.
Mr Reddy said newspapers and televisions had a direct impact on the people and were important awareness tools. And so it was vital that news reports were not alarmist in nature and did not deepen the false prejudices surrounding HIV-AIDS and its victims, he said.
With a literacy rate of around 70% among men and 50% among women, Andhra Pradesh has a substantial newspaper reading population. Cable television, too, is accessible to about 70 per cent of the people, making both print and electronic media critical to the initiative.
During the summit, editors spoke of the need to monitor HIV-AIDS stories closely. Some of them suggested that a “Media forum” be formed that would act as a discussion forum as well as a guide to the journalists to write responsibly on HIV/AIDS.
Speaking of mindsets and attitudes towards HIV-AIDS in the media, Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists president Mr D Amar said, “Journalists often think they know all there is to know. Each reporter wants to be a sensitive writer but very often stories that are published are insensitive towards the families and victims.”
A journalist from a popular English news channel suggested the setting up of an award for sensitive reporting. “Recognition among fellow journalists can be a huge incentive and more and more journalists would want to write informative stories,” she suggested.
Responding to this idea Mr. Barr said, “Media Forum and Media Awards would be a good initiative. We feel it is important for journalists to interact among themselves and carry the awareness forward.”
The summit ended with a promise to take some decisive steps in the near future to become a potent tool in generating awareness.