HIV-positive mom tells media editors how stigma is destroying lives
By Indra Nadchatram
KUALA LUMPUR, 20 November 2007 – “It is not HIV that kills us but stigma. Stigma destroys our spirit and soul, and leaves us feeling hopeless”, cried Puan Khalsom, a HIV-positive mother of three children. “And unfortunately, when I suffer, my children suffer together with me”.
An outreach worker with PT Foundation’s Positive Living program, Puan Khalsom recently shared her personal story at a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) World AIDS Day Seminar to help some twenty editors and senior reporters from Malaysia’s print media understand how negative media stories about HIV and AIDS are harming families, including children.
“As soon as an article is published, the reporter would probably forget about it. But we live with the consequences, especially if the article is discriminating in its language and tone. Or if the article is accompanied with photographs identifying children as HIV infected or affected”, explained Puan Khalsom, citing a news article in 2006 that had led to a group of parents asking for the removal of HIV-positive children from a school in the Klang Valley.
Derogatory language fuels stigma
According to UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional Advisor for AIDS, Ms. Wing-Sie Cheng, media reports with derogatory language was unfortunately fueling both official and unofficial discrimination.
“Passions and responses evoked by denial, fear and misunderstanding over HIV and AIDS can be extreme, allowing many in society to distance themselves from the realities of the epidemic, and be lulled into a false sense of security,” she said. “Unfortunately these attitudes also strengthen the stigma and discrimination that keep many from seeking information or help if they are infected”.
Ms. Cheng was quick to add that the media has a pivotal role in shaping society’s attitudes through insightful and responsible journalism that was free of stigma traps such as language which is derogatory or synonymous with death and ruin.
“Media around the world, including Malaysia are rising to the challenge by promoting HIV and AIDS awareness and educating readers about the facts,” she said. “Doing so with maximum efficiency, however, requires a clear understanding of the challenges faced by activists and people living with HIV as well as by the media.”
Identifying the right language
Representing key news dailies and magazines, primarily from the Bahasa Malaysia and English language media, participants worked tirelessly to identify appropriate terminology to be used in reporting about HIV and AIDS.
Discussions at the day-long Seminar, organised to contribute to the Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign, centred on translating the United Nation’s Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) terminology into the country’s national and vernacular languages, with an underlying objective to debunk existing myths and ensure that HIV and AIDS reporting would not give rise to stigma and discrimination.
Contributions during the lively debate reflected the media’s appreciation of the situation, with many editors citing their commitment to influence their agencies to be more sensitive to the feelings of people living with HIV.
“We appreciate this effort by UNICEF to work with us to identify terminology that local media can use to make a positive difference in Malaysia’s response to HIV and AIDS”, said BERNAMA News Agency Assistant News Editor, Puan Hafizah binti Kamaruddin.
“We are prepared to find solutions together to ensure that we contribute to a supportive and non-discriminating environment. Afterall, we all only want what is best for the people in our country”, she added...............................................................................................
The UNICEF Editors Seminar - "Finding the Right Language for HIV and AIDS Reporting" was coordinated and supported by Prestige Communications.
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