TODAY -

Challenges faced by the media in reporting issues on HIV/AIDS

By K Sarojkumar Sharma *



Manipur is one of the six States of the nation having high prevalence of HIV and AIDS and scribes of this strife-torn State are also moving ahead in the battlefront against the epidemic's spread in their own professional way.

Sadly most of the journalists are facing a hard time to discharge their duties on certain factors which in turn culminated in giving incomplete news stories even as the State authorities as well as hordes of NGOs keep on insisting the media to carry out maximum news on the disease's issues.

If I am asked to point out these drawbacks, I, as far as my practical knowledge goes, would certainly say certain points which people in the media fraternity will also definitely agree.

Some of the pitfalls we witness in our own media establishments are—financial shortage, scanty man power and lack of studying the latest report on the epidemic prepared by global health bodies including the apex World Health Organisation (WHO).

On Financial aspect, most of the local news organisations hardly sanction fund to their respective reporters to carry out extensive and exclusive reporting on health issues particularly in the rural areas where the local people are not well aware of the characteristics of the disease. Above all, majority of the local scribes are not paid well for which they cannot spend the limited salary in moving to the far flung areas to do health reporting.

They (local reporters), however, gather normal health related news rarely on the sidelines of other unrelated programmes. In fact, some dedicated NGOs seldom sponsor media tour to cover health related issues especially on HIV/AIDS. These are only chances which we cannot get when needs come.

I don't know whether or not the State Government, which has already framed its AIDS policy, is sanctioning fund for the scribes to gather health news at far flung areas. And I don't think the fund is released and it would be a badly chosen idea to insist upon the State to sanction such amount when the (private) media houses are generating their own income whether big or small.

To erase these hitches, I think the authorities like the Manipur AIDS Control Society (Macs) should strike new ideas on how these enthusiastic reporters could be sent at rural areas and cover health issues particularly on HIV/AIDS on regular basis and give incentives or awards to them.

As everybody knows that the media plays a pivotal role in the massive crusade against the disease, the Government should take effective measures to use it (media) as one of the main components or tools of the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) mechanism.

When I joined a discussion on media's role in combating HIV/AIDS a few months back at Imphal, I suggested some prominent NGOs if they have their own discretions or policies to cut down the number of holding awareness campaign on the epidemic at the twin Capital districts of Imphal West and Imphal East as people living in these areas are well aware and monotonous on the subject matter.

The NGOs with their saved amount can sponsor some scribes in reporting health issues in the hills and the rural areas, I suggested.

I even shared my idea of rotating the State level World AIDS day observation at other districts year after year and not confining the day at 1st BN Manipur Rifles parade ground or Thau ground, Thangmeiband.

Let the people from Tipaimukh join the significant day at Churachandpur, let the villagers from Liyai trudge out to take part on the occasion at Senapati district headquarters so do the villagers of Samtal involve themselves at Moreh town.

Since the legislatures have joined the battle against the epidemic's spread, I think they would certainly help the reporters in tracing out the problematic areas at their respective constituencies. The media reports on this aspect would over and over again help the policy makers to chalk out new ideas to combat the disease.

Coming to man power, I think most of the media houses are facing shortage of staff enough to put a health reporter. They, however, have their own crime, political, sports, and entertainment or film reporters and not health newsman when Manipur is facing the greatest challenge in combating HIV/AIDS.

When no reporters are specialised on health issues, they face obscurities in digesting medical terminologies spelt out by experts in health seminars or workshops. This being the case, reports filed by them will not be up to the mark. Against all odds, some dedicated journalists have come out with a strong determination to conflict the scourge of the epidemic.

Since these young and dynamic reporters cover other issues, they dedicate most of their time on gathering reports on HIV/ AIDS. With their own ethics and judgments they even follow the revised guidelines on reporting the subject matter prescribed by the Press Council of India (PCI).

With their hard earned knowledge and quality reporting, some of them even bagged prestigious awards conferred by various national and international health organisations. They should be encouraged by one and all.

When I joined a team of national media that studied the efforts extended by the Government authorities and NGOs in combating the epidemic at some remote villages in Karnataka a couple of years back, I found many of them specialised on health issues and I envied their respective companies' organisational set ups. And I only hoped time will come for Manipur news houses to boast for their health reporters.

It is high time or rather late for the State, NGOs and the media to join hands together and chalk out the smartest ideas to combat HIV and AIDS more effectively.

(This text was delivered during a State level media workshop on HIV/AIDS organised by MACS on September 22, 2009 at Imphal).



* K Sarojkumar Sharma wrote this article for The Sangai Express . For any clarification or suggestion on this write up, please mail to: sarojkumar_k(at)yahoo(dot)com, sarojmanipur(at)indiatimes(dot)com This article was webcasted at e-pao.net on 27th September 2009.




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