'When you are working to combat a disastrous and growing emergency, you should use every tool at your disposal. HIV/AIDS is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced. It has spread further faster and with more catastrophic long 'term effects than any other disease. Its impact has become a devastating obstacle to development. Broadcast medias have tremendous reach and influence, particularly with young people, who represent the future and who are the key to any successful fight against HIV/AIDS. We must seek to engage these powerful organizations as full partners in the fight to halt HIV/AIDS through awareness, prevention and education..' ' Kofi Annan, United nations Secretary-General
How vanquished the mankind feels in front of virus that geminates Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)? As AIDS is no longer a public health issue but has become a seriously socio-economic and developmental concern, there is an immediate need to act with an utmost sense of urgency and seriousness. When a disease is a multifaceted malady which impacts and affects a society, remedies have to be multi pronged. More so, when the disease defies treatment, cure has to precede and be synchronous with efforts to identify treatment. Such can be the process to combat and control the menace of HIV/AIDS. Thus, media is one of the instrumentalities which facilitates and gives a directional thrust to the efforts to cure the disease if not to treat it. If medicine can treat HIV/AIDS, media is capable to prevent it with an ultimate goal to cure it through its capabilities to impart education through entertainment.
An Article entitled 'An innovative approach to reducing HIV/AIDS prevalence through targeted mass media communications in Mumbai, India' focuses on the need for dissemination of related information and realities pertaining to the epidemic so that the ignorance is replaced by awareness and then creating multiplier effects of awareness engulfing the wider cross sections of the society. The Article states that India is poised on the precipice of devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic. Twenty years after the first case of AIDS was reported in India, it is now home to second largest number of HIV infected people in the world with around 5.1 million people as in 2003 being infected by the deadly disease . Despite ardent efforts to proliferate awareness of HIV/AIDS being made by governmental and non-governmental agencies, the misconceptions relating to HIV/AIDS continue to outpace the efforts to educate people regarding the disease. Thus, with the passage of time role of media has become increasingly significant.
Task before visual and non-visual vehicles of media besides creating awareness and providing knowledge base about HIV/AIDS is also to remove the misconceptions about the transmission of the virus and the social ostracism of affected persons. Lack of information leads to denial and rejection of PLWHA at personal and societal levels as the mankind, at large have not yet realized that even they are carrying the the risk of contracting HIV and thus AIDS is not an issue for 'others'. Each and every member of the society is oblivious that every body is vulnerable but the misconception is that only those individuals who are immoral and societal deviant are HIVAIDS affected. On one hand the stigma and discrimination attached to the disease may keep away from seeking information or help is they are infected and on the other hand, for some the belief that they cannot be infected, promotes denial and keep them away from the realties of the disease being allured by the false sense of security. All such issues are capable of being resolved when ignorance gives place to knowledge. Another misconception is that HIV/AIDS incidence is escalating in high-risk groups such as commercial sex workers (CSWs), truckers and those indulging in immoral trade but strangely enough all of us fall under the high risk groups as long as the restraints and precautions are accorded low priority matter of choices. It is evidenced from the fact that from one reported HIV case in 1986, the number of HIV positive people in India has already crossed the five million mark.
While addressing the Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh stressed on strengthening the national AIDS control efforts as commitment of the National Common Minimum Programme. He emphasized the need for supplementing all such efforts with an active and avid participation from all sections of the society culminating in a mass movement for creating awareness of AIDS.
He further stated that while focusing attention on research for finding a vaccine for this pandemic, no stone unturned should be left in preventing its occurrence by using media in an intelligent and creative manner. In the absence of a vaccine, the social vaccine of education and awareness is the only preventive tool we have. It is appropriately said that prevention begins with information. Media, which conveys information and moulds public opinion, must remain at the heart of our campaign to help people make informed choices.
Countries such as Thailand that have recorded declining trends of HIV/AIDS infection have demonstrated that this pandemic beats a retreat in the face of determined and sustained massive efforts in generating awareness among people, and empowering people with information to combat it effectively. Visibility in the media, and informed and sympathetic visibility at that, is an effective step towards creating greater awareness. Leaders of media, in cooperation with other segments of our polity and society, can play a significant role in educating public opinion.
In June 2001, at UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, a landmark gathering, the Heads of the State and Representatives of Governments, affirmed that :
'Beyond the key role played by communities, strong partnerships among governments, the United Nations System,'people living with AIDS and vulnerable groups'.the media, parliamentarians, foundations, community organizations and traditional leaders are important".
The media has the potential to create widespread awareness on HIV/AIDS, to promote the positive attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS, and influencing people to change high risk behavior that make them vulnerable to the infection. It has a pivotal role to play in a fight against AIDS. It is a well known saying that 'education is the vaccine against AIDS'
According to a survey conducted in India, 70% of Indians identified television as a primary source of information about HIV/AIDS. At the United Nations Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001, it was agreed by the governments of the State that
'By 2005, ensure that 90%, and by 2010 , 95% of youth aged 15-24 have information, education, services and life skills that enable them to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection'
Role of Media
An effective media can raise the awareness level and can also bring about sustainable behavior change thereby reducing vulnerability to the virus. Media is capable of performing the following roles in preventing HIV/AIDS:
- A Channel for communication and Discussion: One of the roles of Media is to open the channels for communication and foster discussions about HIV and interpersonal relations. Addressing HIV/AIDS in the entertainment programs can have an enormous impact on the society at risk.
- A vehicle for Creating a supportive and enabling environment : Mass media can be instrumental in breaking the silence that envelopes the disease and in creating an encouraging behavior for combating with existing social norms and making positive changes in the society. For example, the Indian village, Lutsaan, turned its back on the dowry system after listening communally to Radio soap opera Tinka Tinka Sukh (Little steps for better life) aired on All India radio.
- Facilitator for removing Stigma and discrimination attached with the disease: HIV/AIDS afflicted individuals besides the anatomical discomforts undergoes the mental suffering of stigma and discrimination at the hands of the society. A number of media campaigns have focused on the need to overcome prejudice and encourage solidarity with people infected/affected by virus. WHO has various extraordinary stories of HIV people who are not only fighting the virus but are also playing an integral role in prevention of AIDS .
- A tool for creating a knowledge base for HIV/AIDS related services: The collaborative efforts of all modes of media in association with NGOs State organizations, service providers have brought to the lime light the availability and source of beneficial services like counseling, testing and condom provisions, treatment and social care. The broadcasters and print media have a specific role to play as their efforts have tremendous recall value. For instance, The Kaiser Family foundation in partnership with media companies have promoted dedicated toll free hotlines and has launched we-sites for educating the people about the HIV/AIDS.
- Education through entertainment: For creating an efficacious awareness about HIV/AIDS, the messages need to be informative, educative as well as entertaining as these are mutually exclusive. For instance, in 2002, Doordarshan, NACO and BBC world Service Trust joined hands in order to launch the country's mass media awareness programme about HIV/AIDS. The campaign was launched with an idea of spreading education in a more entertaining way with a popular interactive detective seriesJasoos(Detective) Vijay, and a reality youth show 'Haath se Haath Milaa', which had won the prestigious Indian Television Awards, 2003. In November 2005, BBC World service Trust in association with Doordarshan and NACO were running India's largest HIV/AIDS awareness mass media campaign. In an interview Richard Gere, AIDS activist, Actor admitted that most public service announcements are unsuccessful as they are not entertaining.
- The education of HIV/AIDS has to be spread as if we are selling the product. Thus, a holistic approach for dealing with the emotional, psychological and physical realities is to be adopted. The Heroes Project is a public education initiative launched by Richard Gere and Parmeshwar Godrej to work with Indian media companies and leaders to develop coordinated public education campaigns on HIV/AIDS. It is supported with a grant from the Avahan Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which provide technical and substantive expertise to the project. Heros project which hosts HIV/AIDS awareness show with SUN TV creates a mega platform, bringing together the South Indian Entertainment fraternity in an effort to draw public attention to the issues of HIV/AIDS. Even Star Celebrities are playing an important role. An Actress, Prachi Rathore, has been awarded with Special Max Stardust award, 2005 for her contribution towards creating awareness about HIV/AIDS in Rajasthan. Movies like 'My Brother Nikil' and 'Phir Milenge' are an attempt in educating people with entertainment.
- Mainstreaming: Broadcasters are mainstreaming the HIV issue across a number of programs, ensuring that the message permeates a diverse range of output, not just outlets and public service messages dedicated specifically to the issue. The fact that virus affects all sections of the society is reinforced in such a way that many people who might not pay attention to a traditional AIDS campaign or who do not choose to watch AIDS programming, are exposed to HIV/AIDS messages. A coordinated, multifaceted campaign has greater impact than a single programme. Documentaries, New Items, concerts, public service announcements, competitions, hotlines, books and websites can be linked together to reinforce awareness, information and messages about HIV related attitude and behavior.
- Putting HIV/AIDS on the News agenda and encouraging leaders to participate: In recent years several leading broadcasters from around the world have found innovative ways to report on the epidemic. The more the leaders see about HIV in news the greater the resources they invest in anti-AIDS strategies, which in turn leads to increased media coverage of the issue and helps to sustain public awareness which again has an impact on leaders' priorities.
- Sharing resources ad pooling material: Several campaigns were successful as they fully utilized the opportunity of pooling the available resources with others by sharing expertise and material. As a part of the campaign the trust produced weekly, youth focused reality Television show Haath se Haath Milaa wherein the yuva stars traveled across the country to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS.
- Capacity Building: Successful partnerships need not be with other media outlets. Alliances of NGO, Government departments and foundations can bring significant benefit for both the parties. For instance , as a result of the KNOW HIV/AIDS partnership, the Kaiser Family Foundation have offered the broadcasters expertise in terms of pinpointing key messages, giving up to date information and building HIV Knowledge with creative media teams.
- Media as an institution of oversight, restraint and collaborative efforts: Media can render yeoman service in providing accurate and correct news coverage of HIV/AID facilitate eliciting and generating public response to state sponsored efforts. Such efforts have the potentials to awaken social and political leaders to review their strategies and take mid course corrections in regard to policy concerning AIDS/HIV.
In such a process, the media has the potential to influence public opinion and attitudes about HIV/AIDS, including attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS. An analysis of media coverage and public opinion over several decades concluded that there is a strong relationship between them. When the media focuses on a particular issue, there is a higher degree of public awareness and support to tackle that issue. Attitudes affect how people respond to HIV/AIDS and how people with HIV/AIDS are treated or cared for by their peers, employers, families, communities, the health care system and the justice dispensing system.
Media too have the capability to bring about transformation in the thinking pattern of the society in respect of PLWAHA and thus sowing the seeds of attitudinal changes. The media can be a great facilitator for preventing process while imparting the need for a healthy behavior towards the section of the society and those individuals most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and those individuals affected by it.
The Tasks Ahead
The importance of and the need for the participation of Media in fighting AIDS has been time and again felt by the Governmental and Non-governmental organizations. On the inauguration of a Seminar organized by Sachetana, an NGO, convener of the programme and a well known journalist Rahul Deo commented that the media could play a motivational role to free the society of myths and misconceptions attached to HIV-AIDS.
'Every society is vulnerable to infection. While organizing similar seminars in Jaipur, Bhopal, Dehradun and Raipur, we realized that even the policy makers and legislators were not fully acquainted with HIV-AIDS. It was under this backdrop that Sanchetana decided to hold seminars for media persons all over the country,' he explained.
Rahul Deo, further obligated the media to be careful while reporting on HIV/AIDS as the affected person holds a strong social stigma. Navin Joshi, another senior journalist, also demanded urgent attention in dissolving the social stigma related to it.
In a two day Seminar organized by Sachetana and supported by Udayan Sharma Foundation, NACO and Samyak, Senior journalist Sunita Aron said the old and stagnant statistics cannot be published time and again and suggested the state authorities to revise their records and come out with more details about the quality and nature of life of those who were highly vulnerable and also provide success stories of those carrying on with life despite being HIV positive. Thus, keeping in mind its crucial role in combating HIV/AIDS, Media needs to be extra cautious while reporting and there is an urgent need for the media to change the way it reports on HIV/AIDS.
To address the HIV/AIDS crisis facing the nation, the first-ever India Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS was convened by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the Heroes Project in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Avahan Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on 6 January 2005 in New Delhi. Twenty five top executives from the leading media companies across India met the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss what they can do to address the growing epidemic in India. The Media leaders and the government unanimously proposed a plan to use their resources to propagate information about prevention of HIV and to help combat AIDS related stigma and discrimination... The Prime Minister of India, in his speech at 'Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS', on January 6, 2005 held at New Delhi had spoken that
'I am happy to associate myself with the Indian Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS. I believe this meeting is a sequel to the Global Media Initiative hosted by the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan in January 2004 in New York. It is an important milestone in our fight against the AIDS pandemic. The world has come to recognise this as a global threat to humanity. However, like so many other such threats that mankind has battled, I am confident that we shall overcome this one too but it will require massive efforts on the part of Government, media and all actors in civil society."
In this campaign the media plays an important and determining role in educating the public, creating awareness among them and transmitting crucial information so that people become aware, remain alert and take measures to prevent its occurrence. We all know that information is power, and that awareness therefore empowers. We are meeting here today to help ensure that AIDS awareness becomes an integral part of mainstream media and that it is able to reach out to the people through its tremendous creative and communicating power.
Many decades ago Mahatma Gandhi started publishing the Indian Opinion, a fortnightly newspaper, to educate people about the rules of health and hygiene so that they could follow them and keep themselves free from disease. It is interesting and instructive to recall Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts as written in the Indian Opinion when Plague occurred in Johannesburg in 1905. Posing the question, 'What is the duty of Press on such occasions?' Gandhiji wrote that media has the crucial responsibility to report incidents of Plague as fast as possible, inform people to prepare themselves to face the situation, focus attention on the factors behind the appearance of disease, critically comment on lapses which might have contributed to the emergence and spread of Plague and educate people on the issue of maintaining their surroundings clean so that the disease could be prevented.
I believe that in organizing this Media Summit on HIV/AIDS, you are all deriving inspiration from this Gandhian approach. I am glad that the Ministries of Information and Broadcasting and Health and Family Welfare have teamed up with Non-Governmental Organizations like the Richard Gere Foundation to organize this Media Leaders' Summit.
While concluding his speech, the PM said that First, Lead by example and lead from the front. Your behavior needs to change first, before you seek behavioral changes in others. Second, inform your friends and empower them, so that they can make safe choices and correct behavior. Third, promise to uphold the dignity of every Indian living with HIV in our country by love, affection, care and social support.
According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, as many as two-thirds of new HIV infections projected to occur globally by 2010 could be averted with more effective prevention and public education efforts. The practical and fastest way in which one can change anything is through media. India has the largest and powerful media group which pledged its participation in the nation wide HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. Media Leaders made commitments to use their collective communication expertise and resources to reach people, especially the youth, with information about how to prevent HIV and help combat AIDS related stigma and discrimination. The wide ranging initiatives are evocative of the concern being expressed the world over.
In January of 2003 at United Nation's headquarters, Secretary General Kofi Annan brought together media leaders from around the world to focus attention on the media's role in fighting HIV/AIDS. Launched at the meeting was the Global Media AIDS Initiative, a joint effort of the United Nations, UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation, to encourage media organizations to devote resources to getting out information about HIV/AIDS. In addition to activities in India, Global Media AIDS Initiative-supported efforts are also underway in Russia, Indonesia, China, the United States and elsewhere in the world.
As the main factor behind the multiplication of HIV/AIDS is that about fifty percent of PLWHA are not even aware about the disease. The power of Media is tremendous as media cannot only break the silence but can also educate the people and can lauch a war against the stigma, discrimination and taboo attached with the disease by encouraging the people to openly discuss about AIDS.
An effective media coverage personalizes the HIV issue, encourage people to interact and share their views which in turn prompts the government to prioritize the HIV/AIDS issue in the social and political agenda. The reporting of the hidden HIV cases from the remote places of the country, instances of poor medical treatment provide to PLWHA, instances of stigma and discrimination attached with the disease, shapes the beliefs of the people, influences the attitudes of the people and the response of the government. An effective media coverage enforces the element of accountability and a sense of responsibly that encourages the people to raise their voices.
Media combats the disease through public education and awareness as the disease is not only a battle against a virus but is also a battle against the stigma, discrimination, cultural taboo and the ideas.
Media is contributing in a global fight against HIV/AIDS as it plays an essential role in reversing the progression of HIV/AIDS. Though media has enormous potential to undertake the challenge of fighting with AIDS but to perform its responsibility with utmost efficiency requires the clear understanding of the challenge and the obstacles to spread the education about AIDS. Media can make a difference in fulfilling its responsibilities by giving the epidemic prominent news coverage, dedicating airtime/space to HIV/AIDS public service messages, including AIDS storyline in existing programs, supporting the broadcasting of the HIV/AIDS special programming and making public service messages and original programming available to other outlets on a right'free basis.
As AIDS is a global catastrophe, an issue with economic, social and security implications. The Media have an important role to play in raising awareness, combating 'compassion fatigue' and focusing attention on what is being done and what more must be done. It is no longer some one else's problem. It is the life and death challenge of our times and we are all affected even if we are not all infected. Media should understand its role and should refrain from reporting exaggerated and distorted facts as the same can criminalize the disease.
In fighting the menace of HIV/AIDS, Media is doing an impressive work but much more is required to be done. The task at hand requires vision, dedication and above all the creative programming that truly engages audiences with riveted attention. Broadcasters can talk to listeners and viewers about HIV and can elicit their views. They can build alliances and partnerships. They can put pressure on the powerful to take the disease seriously and give people the information that they need to protect themselves. Let us hope that media continues to play a key role in reversing the progression of HIV.