The story of our time - IFJ research on media and HIV/AIDS

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on media and journalist organisations to institute wide ranging, regular and sustained training programs for journalists and editors on reporting HIV/AIDS, based on the findings of the IFJ’s comprehensive research report into HIV/AIDS media reporting in Asia and Africa, which was launched today.

The research, which focused on six countries across Africa and Asia, indicates that HIV/AIDS reportage in affected regions is improving but that there is still significant work to be done.

“This research shows that journalists know that HIV/AIDS is one of the key stories of our time. But it is not getting the coverage this story deserves,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

“Yet, by increasing the quality and quantity of news reports on HIV/AIDS - particularly in the broadcast and regional media – we can significantly slow the transmission of HIV.

“Simply put, more accurate and balanced information about prevention and transmission of HIV in the news media will save lives.”

The report was released at an IFJ Africa-Asia cross regional meeting on reporting HIV/AIDS, taking place on July 25-26, 2006 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The meeting -- A Story A Day: The Media and Reporting HIV/AIDS -- is being hosted by IFJ affiliate in Cambodia, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ).

The 50 participants from ten countries throughout Asia and Africa, heard that the IFJ researchers generally found HIV/AIDS stories were neutral, balanced and fair, although there were still some language ‘slip-ups’ such as ‘infected patient’ or ‘victim’ rather than ‘person living with HIV’ or ‘people living with AIDS’.

The research, including media monitoring which examined 356 articles that mentioned HIV/AIDS over the two-week monitoring periods in Africa and Asia, uncovered sensational reportage and terminology such as ‘deadly disease’, ‘HIV holocaust’, ‘scourge’ and ‘deepest wound in society’.

Images were more likely to be seen as sensational. The complicated issue of confidentiality when identifying people living with HIV/AIDS was noted as a problem for media.

A significant proportion of journalists and NGOs surveyed said that HIV/AIDS reporting in their country could be sensational and derogatory although coverage of HIV/AIDS orphans tended to be sympathetic and coverage of medical breakthroughs tended to be neutral.

Despite low levels of literacy among the populations most at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, the research found greater coverage of HIV/AIDS stories in print media rather than in broadcast media.

Of the 356 stories sampled over the two-week monitoring periods, 281 (79%) were from the print media and 75 (21%) from the broadcast media.

The meeting heard that few journalists have had training in reporting on HIV/AIDS in a sensitive manner, yet many report they have a ‘very high’ level of knowledge about the disease. Despite that, the vast majority would welcome more information and both journalists and NGOs are keen to participate in a regional knowledge network to share HIV/AIDS resources on a regular basis.

The report also revealed a schism between the monitored frequency of stories on HIV/AIDS appearing in newspapers, radio and television and journalists’ perceptions of how often their media organisations ran such stories. For example, although only 90 stories were recorded in the ten monitored media outlets over two weeks in India, 58.7% of journalists in India said they filed one to five HIV/AIDS stories weekly. About 20% said they had difficulty getting these stories published.

Journalists across Asia relied on health officials as sources before they relied on NGOs and said that government sources were likely to be biased or limited.

Arising from the research, the IFJ recommendations include that media outlets increase the quality, quantity and diversity of news reports on HIV/AIDS broadcast and published and institute wide-ranging, regular and sustained training program for journalists and editors on HIV/AIDS issues, ranging from prevention to transmission and treatment.

Researchers monitored media in Cambodia, India, the Philippines, Zambia, South Africa and Nigeria over two-week monitoring periods surrounding World AIDS Day 2005 and conducted journalist and HIV/AIDS NGO surveys in early 2006. To download the full report, go to:

For further information contact Christopher Warren, IFJ President, on +61 2 9333 0999

Emma Walters of IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 419 204 454

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries

The IFJ HIV/AIDS project is generously supported by LO-TCO