Asian media unites against AIDS
28 May 2007
Top Asian broadcasters, producers, journalists and media executives have pledged to step up their response to AIDS and form the Asia Pacific Media AIDS initiative to ensure increased and improved media coverage of AIDS issues in the region.
Agreement to drive forward the media response to AIDS in Asia came at the one-day conference on ‘Global Media Strategies on AIDS’ held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday 28 May. Over 130 representatives from the region’s leading television, radio, print and electronic media gathered at the conference—a special event held in the lead-up to the 30th Asia Media Summit which takes place from 29-30 May.
“AIDS is a global crisis of major proportions that knows no boundaries,” said Advocate Dali Mpofu, CEO of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Chair of the Global Media AIDS Initiative (GMAI), in the keynote address.
“There is no question that the media is one of the most powerful tools for changing the epidemic and it is severely underutilized.”
“The media need to step up action, spreading information faster than the epidemic,” he said.
The day-long conference, organised by the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD), UNAIDS, The Asia Pacific Leadership Forum on AIDS and Development (APLF), UNESCO and ISIS Malaysia, discussed a number of key issues around the media response to AIDS including how media can introduce positive change in the attitude towards people living with HIV, the positive and negative roles media have played in the response so far and strategies for taking media response to the next level for accurate, effective communication on AIDS issues.
Keeping AIDS on the media agenda
Opening the first session of the day, UNAIDS’ Manager of the APLF, Bai Bagasao gave an overview of the current state of the epidemic, underlining the need to continue and improve AIDS coverage in the media. “I understand that we are all waiting for a breakthrough, a vaccine, a cure or something dramatic—but the reality is that on a daily basis we are still talking about thousands lost to AIDS and thousands newly infected with HIV. Why then is AIDS dropping off the media agenda?” she asked.
Urging the media to be vigilant and accurate in AIDS reporting, Ms Bagasao quoted the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, to reinforce the need for ethical conduct. “Declare the past, diagnose the present [and] as to diseases, make a habit of two things –to help, or at least, to do no harm,” she said. “These words of wisdom are so appropriate for how the media needs to respond to AIDS today,” she added.
Media practitioners were reminded of the lasting contribution they can make to the AIDS response. “You have the potential to influence attitudes, behaviour and even policy making,” said Ms Bagasao. “Ensuring the messages are conveyed to assist people to cope with and resist HIV requires wisdom, sensitivity and clarity of purpose,” she added.
Examining a number of examples of how media, knowingly or unknowingly have helped to fuel prejudice and discrimination around AIDS issues, participants were urged to pay special attention to language used in their media products and were encouraged to attend specialist trainings for media on AIDS issues that are offered by a number of United Nations and non-governmental organizations.
Journalist participants underlined the need to raise awareness among their colleagues to ensure clarity of reporting and how this can sometimes be forgotten within the fast paced media world. “I am a news reporter, I have to chase deadlines and sometimes I know I have ignored the sensitive issues,” said Mao Xuzhi, news reporter with China’s CCTV English section. “This is why training is so important – workshops show us how to use the right language and how the choice of certain language and images can add to the discrimination of people living with HIV, so should be avoided,” she said.
AIDS – an agent of change
Giving people living with HIV a voice to tell their own stories through reports and features was highlighted throughout the day as critical for increased and improved broadcast programming and print media coverage. Media coverage of people ‘living positively’, speakers said, is helping change perceptions of AIDS and breaking down discrimination.
“Let’s get away from the doom and gloom. That idea is 25 years old. AIDS has become an agent of change – it’s making a difference, often making positive waves and we have to move with the times,” said Firdoze Bulbia, Chairperson of the Children and Broadcasting Foundation for South Africa.
Moving media coverage of AIDS further forward, participants were also urged to find innovative ways to report on AIDS issues and integrate HIV into mainstream programming, rather than just having ‘token’ programmes on AIDS issues. “AIDS is with us – people aren’t separate, it’s us together,” said Bulbia. “Mainstream programmes, soap operas, dramas, sit-coms and other shows need to integrate HIV characters into their storylines, just as people living with HIV are integrated in our lives. We need to face up to this – AIDS is not going away, it’s here and we have to deal with this now,” she added.
In an expression of their commitment to step up action on AIDS within the media, participants from the Asian media concluded the meeting by endorsing a declaration of commitment to give more airtime, more resources and to increase cross-outlet collaboration on programme making and reporting. They agreed to form the Asia-pacific media AIDS Initiative—a regional arm of the GMAI – to collectively develop and action a collective collaborative plan and timeline to expand the media response to AIDS in the region.
“We have to step up our action, work through our cultural taboos. This is about saving lives and saving nations,” said Mr K P Madhu from the AIBD.
As part of the conference, an award for the ‘Best TV and radio programme on AIDS’ was held. Winners will be announced during the opening day of the Asia Media Summit, Tuesday 29 May.
For more information on the Asian Mediat Summit visit the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Corporation website
View entries to the competition for 'Best TV and radio programme on AIDS’