Telling the story of the century - how are journalists coping with reporting on HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Galloway, Michelle Rotchford (2001-03)

Thesis (MPhil) -- Stellenbosch University , 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : This work presents a bird's eye view of the current state of South African journalism on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Through case studies, examples and in-depth interviews with experts from science, clinical, health education, communications and journalism backgrounds, it outlines what South African newspaper journalists are currently doing in reporting on HIV/AIDS and emphasises the importance of their role in assisting in combatting this epidemic. It goes on to suggest some potential ideal roles which the newspaper press in South Africa cculd play in improving the level of knowledge available on this epidemic, encouraging preventive actions by individuals, and reinforcing other initiatives through the provision of accurate, well-explained information. The major findings include: an absence of 'genuine' science reporting on the epidemic in South Africa (this is particularly important because a large percentage of the population has had little exposure to scientific education at school level and therefore inadequate or bad science reporting has the potential to do harm); a serious need for journalists and editors to avoid sensationalism and triviality (particularly the use of sensational headlines); a need for a more planned, proactive approach to long-term coverage (not merely event and 'crisis' driven); the need for a comprehensive educational focus targeted at different types of readers; the need to cater for the information requirements of, as well as incorporate the 'voice' of people living with HIV/AIDS, their families and communities; and, a need for a mixture of human interest writing along with hard news and factual science reporting (as well as a balance between each type of article in publications) to cover the various aspects of the epidemic. Suggestions made to bridge the gap between current practice and a more ideal approach include: a serious need for some form of specialised, ongoing training (formal or informal) for journalists covering this field; an urgent requirement for sectoral commitment from the media sector to this unique topic through a comprehensive response which includes allowances for training and research, workplace policies for employees of media companies, and the commitment of time and space to science reporting; the greater involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS either as writers or as expert consultants to journalists (and other trained writers); greater involvement of scientists, researchers, clinicians and health workers (through sponsored science inserts or pages, and regular science columns); and, the need for social responsibility initiatives within the newspaper industry towards assisting people living with HIV/AIDS. From their side, AIDS organisations and experts working in the field need to 'feed' accurate information and give ongoing feedback to the media in a two-way constructive partnership instead of merely critiquing the efforts of journalists. The urgency and tragedy of this epidemic in the African context calls for a heightened degree of sensitivity and responsibility from all sectors. Newspapers, specifically, as a farreaching information source, can playa vital role in assisting in the fight against this epidemic but this will require commitment (of time and money), thorough understanding of all the complexities of the issue (including all the scientific and political debates surrounding it) and the impact it has on individuals and communities, a true recognition of the importance of easily accessible, understandable information, and understanding of the importance of the press in putting and keeping HIV/AIDS on the public agenda.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Hierdie werk bied 'n oorsig van die huidige stand van Suid-Afrikaanse verslaggewing oor die MIV /VIGS epidemie. Deur middel van gevallestudies, voorbeelde en diepgaande onderhoude met kundiges uit wetenskaplike, kliniese, gesondheidsopvoeding, kommunikasie en joernalistieke agtergronde, skets dit hoe Suid-Afrikaanse koerantverslaggewers tans MIV /VIGS beriggewing hanteer. Dit beklemtoon ook hoe belangrik hulle rol is in die bekamping van hierdie epidemie. Verder stel dit potensieel ideale rolle voor wat koerante in Suid-Afrika kan speel om die vlak van inligting wat oor hierdie epidemie beskikbaar is, te verbeter, om voorkomingsmaatreëls deur individue aan te moedig, en om ander inisiatiewe te versterk deur die voorsiening van akkurate en duidelik verstaanbare inligting. Die gevolgtrekkings sluit in: 'n gebrek aan gesaghebbende verslaggewing oor die epidemie in Suid-Afrika ('n groot deel van die bevolking het min of geen wetenskapsonderrig op skool gehad en swak verslaggewing kan dus potensieel skade doen); joernaliste en redakteurs behoort sensasie en trivialiteit te vermy (veral die gebruik van sensasionele opskrifte); 'n behoefte aan beter langtermyn beplanning van nuusdekking (in plaas van gebeurlikheids- en krisis-gedrewe dekking); die behoefte aan 'n omvattende opvoedingsfokus gemik op verskillende tipes lesers; die behoefte aan inligtingsverskaffing aan persone met MIV /VIGS, hulle gesinne en gemeenskappe, en ook om hulle mondstuk te wees; en, die behoefte aan 'n kombinasie van menslike stories met harde nuus en feitelike wetenskap verslaggewing (asook "n balans tussen beide tipes berigte in publikasies) om die verskillende fasette van die epidemie te dek. Voorstelle om die gaping tussen huidige praktyk en 'n meer ideale benadering te oorbrug sluit in: 'n ernstige behoefte aan gespesialiseerde, deurlopende opleiding (formeelof informeel) vir joernaliste; 'n dringende oproep om toewyding van die media sektor aan hierdie unieke onderwerp deur middel van 'n omvattende respons wat opleiding en navorsing moontlik maak, werkplek beleidstellings vir werknemers van media maatskappye daarstel, en tyd en spasie beskikbaar stel aan wetenskapsverslaggewing; die groter betrokkenheid van mense met MIV /VIGS as skrywers of kundige konsultante vir joernaliste (en ander opgeleide skrywers); die groter betrokkenheid van wetenskaplikes, navorsers, klinici en gesondheidswerkers (deur geborgde wetenskap bylaes of bladsye, en gereelde wetenskap rubrieke); en, die behoefte aan sosiale verantwoordelikheid inisiatiewe deur die koerantwese om mense met MIV /VIGS by te staan. Van hulle kant behoort VIGSorganisasies en kundiges in hierdie veld akkurate inligting en deurlopende terugvoer aan die media te verskaf in 'n twee-rigting opbouende vennootskap, in plaas daarvan om slegs kritiek te lewer op joernaliste se pogings. Die dringendheid en tragedie van hierdie epidemie in die Afrika-konteks vereis 'n verhoogde sensitiwiteit en verantwoordelikheid van alle sektore. In besonder kan koerante, as 'n verreikende bron van inligting, 'n deurslaggewende rol speel in die bekamping van hierdie epidemie, maar dit sal toewyding (van tyd en geld) verg, asook 'n deeglike begrip van al die kompleksiteite van die saak (insluitend al die gepaardgaande wetenskaplike en politieke debatvoering) en die impak wat dit op individue en gemeenskappe het, 'n erkenning van die belangrikheid van toeganklike, verstaanbare inligting, en 'n begrip van hoe belangrik dit vir die pers is om MIV /VIGS op die openbare agenda te plaas en te hou.

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