25 years of reporting HIV: What lessons can Pacific journalists learn?

December 12, 2007

Background to the Abstract

This paper reviews the findings of two studies that tracked press coverage of HIV/AIDS in several southern African countries and Papua New Guinea (PNG) from the mid-1980s. The main reason for their selection is that they are the most extensive studies to date on the topic in Southern Africa and the Pacific region and the countries share distinct cultural similarities. The findings, while wide-ranging, do present new challenges for Pacific journalists who report on HIV - a disease that has seen massive increases in some parts of the region since the mid-1980s. Common trends in the countries surveyed revealed that a disproportionate emphasis was placed upon reporting infection rates, international funding and regional workshops, with little in-depth analysis of the disease or educational content. On the positive side, the language and tone of HIV stories showed more sensitivity to people living with the disease. It was no surprise that there was little agreement on the precise role of the press in reporting HIV. This is a key issue that remains unsolved. There was, however, broad agreement that journalists should widen their coverage and report HIV as a story with medical, political, social, economic, cultural, religious and relationship aspects. Also, journalists should try to report the story in a way that lessens fear and stigma, two key factors that act as major barriers to promoting openness and debate.

About the Author

Dr Trevor Cullen is a professor in journalism in the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia. He has received several university and national teaching and research awards. His research areas include journalism education, health reporting and media coverage of infectious diseases, especially HIV. Dr Cullen is on the editorial board of Pacific Journalism Review.

View publication