Media challenged to help end HIV stigma, discrimination By Iana Seales
Stabroek News
December 11, 2006

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Being perhaps the most potent tool in the fight to end HIV stigma and discrimination, the Caribbean media have been challenged to be the instrument through which the regional agenda on the issue is interpreted and understood.

Joseph Atherley, Minister of State within the office of the Prime Minister in Barbados was speaking at the opening ceremony of PANCAP's (Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/ AIDS) third Champions for Change meeting in Barbados last week. He zeroed in on the critical role the media plays and the civic responsibility it has in the region.

"The participation of the media at a forum like this is absolutely necessary, in fact it is imperative because the media is involved in the business of shaping attitudes", Atherley said.

Champions for Change Three is focused on accelerating the media's role in reducing HIV and AIDS, and stigma and discrimination.

Atherley who delivered the keynote address at the opening emphasized the point that the media needs to understand very clearly that it plays a significant role in helping to shape attitudes. He added that the Caribbean media needs to address the role it plays whether intentionally or unintentionally in shaping attitudes which lead to risky behaviour.

The Barbadian Minister said the media must ask itself serious questions such as whether the entertainment culture it popularizes isn't significantly contributing to the problem. He questioned whether the media should just be a medium through which advertising is facilitated without any reference being made to the fact that advertising may be fuelling the problem.

Since the role of the media is not just defined solely as disseminating information, Atherley said the media must strike a balance between its profit motives and civic responsibility bearing in mind the threat the region faces. According to him, care must be taken with respect to the agenda they are promoting.

But more importantly, he stressed that the regional media should have a common protocol with respect to programming, adding that commonality is critical if the region is keen on accelerating the media's role in reducing stigma and discrimination.

"There should be a shared voice or one lobbying platform in the region if we are going to effect change", Atherley added.

Chair of PANCAP, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Denzil Douglas addressing the gathering noted that the media must go beyond research to understanding what an advocacy programme entails, and to write persuasively to effect behaviour change.

He said the media is pivotal in connecting people to information and knowledge and ensuring that the information that is disseminated is accurate and based on empirical investigation.

Douglas said the region needs a unit or a working group to monitor stigma and discrimination which will assist PANCAP in providing the necessary technical guidance and resources for galvanizing action at the regional and national levels.

"It is time to act. The media has the power to make a strong case for change and the power to make a difference. Hopefully you will leave this forum much more committed to making that difference, much more committed in the fight and more committed to join PANCAP in the struggle", Douglas said.

However he pointed out the need for the conference to provide concrete suggestions with respect to sustaining the champions for change process, adding that the forum has become an important feature in the region's plan of action.

Among the other issues raised at the opening was the need for the media to hold stakeholders accountable and to be accountable itself. Additionally, the need for the media to continue to galvanize stakeholders, particularly political leaders was stressed.

Dr. Allyson Leacock, Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Broadcasting Cor-poration told the gathering that only the media has the power to break the silence, the power to challenge stigma and discrimination in communities, the power to inform and to educate, the power to build political will and the capacity to follow through in connecting audiences to HIV and AIDS.

She said the media must give voice to the voiceless and have the difficult conversations among it to better reflect the truth and the story of people living with the disease.

Leacock noted that the communication power of the mass media must continue to be leveraged as PANCAP continues on its champions for change journey.