Media tackles HIV and AIDS from the inside out

Date: January 1, 1970
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Kaya FM, a popular radio station in Johannesburg, runs a weekly programme called Positive Talk in which people infected and affected by the pandemic talk about the daily challenges and how they cope. Yet until the radio station became part of the Media Action Plan on HIV/AIDS and Gender ? a collaborative effort by media NGOs led by the Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) to develop newsroom policies – the pandemic had barely been talked about in-house.

It is commonly accepted that the media has an important role to play in educating society on the HIV and AIDS pandemic. However, the media is also an employer, and one whose employees are deeply affected if not infected by HIV and AIDS. A year in the making, MAP has set an ambitious target: to ensure that 80 percent of newsrooms have HIV and AIDS as well gender policies, covering both work place and editorial concerns, by 2008.
A policy audit of media houses in 12 Southern African countries conducted by Gender Links in 2005 revealed that a significant majority (90 percent) of the 366 media houses interviewed did not have HIV and AIDS or gender policies. The audit also showed that even in situations where policies exist, they have not been communicated effectively to all the employees (many employees did not know that their companies had policies on HIV and AIDS) and equally, it means they were/are not being implemented.
Situation analyses being conducted in some media houses in Mozambique, Mauritius, and Malawi as part of MAP indicate that media managers concede they are losing employees due to AIDS-related illnesses. However, policies and programmes to ensure a systematic approach to the issue are lacking and HIV and AIDS are dealt with in an ad-hoc manner.
A report by The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA, 2005) in Swaziland quotes media representatives saying that they have not been spared by HIV and AIDS and have lost many employees and that this has a negative effect not only on the companies but on the employees who go through traumatic periods after losing a colleague. But media institutions decry the fact that employees do not disclose their HIV status to management and therefore are unable to determine its effect on the industry.
Charles Chisala from the Times of Zambia and a MAP facilitator says that “while the media has been covering HIV and AIDS, very little has been done for employees in terms of accessing treatment and supporting those infected and affected”.
But he also notes that some media houses in the country are trying to put in place policies and programmes to tackle HIV and AIDS but in a context where there is lack of skills to do so. When asked why there are few people in the media living openly with HIV, he said: “people do not feel free to declare their positive HIV status because they do not know how this will be received since colleagues have not been sensitised about the disease and there are no programmes to support them if they do.”
Simon Kivamwo, the chair of the Association of Journalists against AIDS in Tanzania (AJAAT) says the media still emphasises the traditional notion of producing reporters and not key players within their own organisations. This echoes a sentiment made by an interviewee in the CADRE research who said that “… we are so busy broadcasting it [the impact of HIV/AIDS], we haven’t looked within.”
Loveness Jambaya of the Gender and Media Zimbabwe (GEMZi) Network in Zimbabwe says “there is lots of talk on AIDS in the media but no action on the ground”. David Lush, a Namibian media practitioner living openly with HIV is of the opinion that there seems to be a dilemma in the media regarding how it covers HIV and AIDS while dealing with it as a workplace issue.
A unique collaborative initiative that harnesses the energies of SAEF, GL, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), GEMSA, the Media Monitoring Project (MMP), Panos, SAFAIDS, UNAIDS and the Southern African Media Trainers Network (SAMTRAN), MAP is helping media houses to develop policies, build capacity and access relevant up to date information that will help to make the media a leader in the fight against the pandemic: at the work place and in society.
Dr Agnes Odhiambo is GL HIV and AIDS and Gender Manager. GL and MISA lead the policy arm of MAP. This article is part of a special series of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service produced ahead of the SADC Heads of State summit in Lesotho from 17-18 August by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance comprising ten NGOs that promote gender equality in the region.  

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