New guidelines for media reporting on HIV in India

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New guidelines for media reporting on HIV in India

19 November 2008

Women in Mumbai, India. Credit: UNAIDS/S. Montanari

Journalists have a responsibility to report on HIV issues with accuracy and sensitivity to avoid stigmatizing people living with HIV and to clarify common misunderstandings about the disease, its prevention and transmission.

Following a court case in India where unbalanced reporting led to discrimination against an HIV positive child, the Press Council of India updated its media guidelines on the coverage of HIV-related news. Surveys show that media training and sensitization leads to relatively more balanced and accurate media reportage on HIV particularly in high-prevalence states.

The guidelines were published on 16 November, India’s National Press Day, at a function presided over President of India Pratibha Patil.

“The Press Council of India guidelines are a major step forward in the HIV response and they will set a benchmark for media reporting on the issue,” said Mohuya Chowdhary, Senior Editor, NDTV.

“At a time when the Indian media is expanding at a furious pace, these guidelines are very necessary to ensure qualitative and responsible coverage of HIV-related issues,” he continued.

How the media cover HIV issues or stories related to AIDS

Knowledge and understanding about the virus, as well as developments in HIV treatment, have undergone a sea change since 1993 when the Press Council guidelines for journalists which were first drawn up. The nature of media has also changed with the rise of electronic media in addition to print.

To assist in the review and update of guidelines to media the Press Council of India approached UNAIDS and civil society working in HIV. Workshops were held in September and October 2008 where experts discussed, debated and formulated revisions to the guidelines. They also agreed that this resource should be translated into as many languages as possible for the benefit of the journalists across India. Speaking at the launch, Justice GN Ray, Chairman of the Press Council of India, thanked UNAIDS for facilitating the process of formulating the new guidelines.

As HIV impacts across society they recommend that instead of concentrating on health reporters alone, people at all levels of a news organization should be trained and sensitized on HIV, especially on appropriate terminology.

Overview of messages covered in “Guidelines on HIV and Media” - The Press Council of India (October 2008)

  1. Be objective, factual and sensitive
  2. Ensure accurate language and terminology
  3. Debunk myths related to prevention of HIV and miracle cures
  4. Guidelines for visual media
  5. Guidelines for news desk including sub-editors and newsroom staff
  6. Uphold confidentiality and obtain informed consent
  7. Avoid discrimination
  8. Ensure gender sensitive reporting
  9. Ensure sensitivity on child-related stories
  10. Ensure balanced and responsible coverage
  11. Ensure regular training on HIV for media
  12. Adopt existing stylebook or guidelines on HIV reportage

Be objective, factual and sensitive

The guidelines emphasize that journalists must ensure their story is objective, factual and sensitive, even more so when they are reporting on HIV. This includes highlighting positive stories where appropriate, without underplaying the fact that HIV is a serious issue. Telling the whole story means giving it a human face, and allowing the voices of people living with HIV to be heard.

Accuracy of reporting is critical since important personal and policy decisions may be influenced by media reports and so distortion of facts in any manner is unacceptable. In the context of HIV this means that journalists need to be very careful about the scientific and medical details as well as statistics.

Adopt existing terminology

The guidelines also recommend that journalists and news organizations adopt and widely disseminate existing standardized terminology on reporting on HIV, such as UNAIDS Terminology Guidelines to encourage responsible coverage of the issue.