Passion and knowledge are vital tools in HIV/AIDS reporting
-workshop for journalists hears
Stabroek News
July 30, 2003

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A journalist who wants to report effectively on the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) pandemic, must be well informed and passionate about the battle to combat the disease. This was the message of a media workshop co-ordinated by the Government Information Agency and UNICEF on HIV/AIDS.

Journalists from around the country attended the workshop at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel and took part in group sessions during which they developed guidelines to increase the availability and quality of information on HIV/AIDS in the media, developed a plan of action (media outline) on what had to be done, how it could be done as well as exploring child/youth friendly messages.

The feedback from the journalists was that they should use the right language when reporting HIV/AIDS issues and that editors needed to play an important role in the dissemination of information on the subject. Further, there should be improved relationships between journalists, the relevant institutions and agencies and people living with the virus. There should also be a personal commitment on the part of the journalists, and it was suggested that similar workshops should be held for editors and other stakeholders.

In attempting to create child friendly-messages, the media should use peer pressure as a positive means and also use children to convey messages.

Another important suggestion was to use people living with the virus to tell their stories so as to add a human aspect to the issue. The use of public service announcements was also suggested along with the explanation of certain definitions.

Prior to the working session, Vivian Lopes, an HIV/AIDS Project Officer for UNICEF, said it was estimated that around 40 million people were currently living with HIV/AIDS. She added that this had to be an estimated number since there was a lot of under-reporting and the Caribbean and Latin America had the highest rate of under-reporting. According to Lopes, there were three aspects of communication that needed to be taken into consideration: social mobilisation, advocacy and behaviour change/development. She said it was important to note that the virus was almost invisible since persons could have it for years without knowing it.

She explained that when a person had sex with multiple partners it did not mean that they were necessarily promiscuous since they might be committed to their partners but the relationships only lasted for a few months.

Also having multiple partners was not always planned. Importantly another aspect that helped to spread the virus was sex for money and as a result of these aspects some 12 million young people are estimated to be living with the virus and half a million of those young people are living in the Caribbean.

According to Lopes the media can influence the language of HIV/AIDS and can also inform the public and change public attitudes and opinions. However, in doing this there were some phrases that the media should avoid.

Instead of using the AIDS scourge or plague they should say the HIV epidemic and instead of saying that a person was taking an AIDS test they should say HIV test.

Also Lopes pointed out that a person did not catch AIDS but they became infected with the virus; an infected person was not an AIDS victim but rather a person living with AIDS (PLWA).

And it is not safe sex but rather safer sex and not a person being promiscuous but one having multiple partners.

Lopes said that journalists should not state that a person was a drug abuser but a drug user and he was not a homosexual but a man having sex with men. And you do not die of AIDS but die from an AIDS-related illness.

Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy said that Guyana found itself in a crisis in terms of the virus with the highest infection rate in the region behind Haiti.

The minister said that there was a need for a united fight against the virus and the media could influence this fight. And UNICEF’s Special Representative in Guyana, Fritz Lherisson, said that in order to win the battle against the disease all sections needed to be involved.

He pointed out that the media was in a position to provide greater public awareness on the issue by involving young people and disseminating the right information. He added that some were hoping that there would soon be a vaccine to cure the disease, but it was the ‘information vaccine’ that was available in the near future.

He added that journalists should always be careful when reporting on children with the disease.

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