Reporting HIV in the Pacific: Is it time to widen the coverage?

May 15, 2006

Background to the Abstract

‘AIDS is boring to report, so let’s try to make it more interesting’. The quote is from Anna Solomon, a highly respected former PNG journalist whose reporting career in the Pacific spanned more than thirty years. She recognised the seriousness of the unfolding HIV epidemic in her country and urged her fellow journalists to use imagination, initiative and sensitivity to cover the disease. This is not an isolated viewpoint because interviews with editors and journalists from PNG and Fiji in 2000, 2003 and 2005 raise a similar concern – how do you present fresh angles and material about a disease that has been around for 25 years? This paper attempts to tackle this question by analysing research on press coverage of the AIDS epidemic in PNG and to highlight what proved effective in terms of reporting styles and content. PNG was singled out because it has the highest number of HIV infections. In fact, the country has more cases than the total of all HIV infections in the other 21 Pacific countries and territories. The research reveals that there has been a disproportionate emphasis on reporting infection rates, international funding and regional workshops with little in-depth analysis of the disease or educational content. And while the language and tone of HIV stories show more sensitivity to people living with the AIDS, there is an urgent need to widen coverage and report AIDS as a story with medical, political, social, economic, cultural, religious and relationship aspects. Also, to report in a way that lessens fear and stigma, two key factors that act as major barriers to promoting openness and debate about the disease.

About the Author

Dr Trevor Cullen (PhD) is Professor of Journalism at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. Trevor is recognised as a national and international leader in the field of HIV/health Journalism and Journalism education. He has received several University and national teaching and research awards. These include two Australian Government awards – A National Teaching and Learning Fellowship (NTF) and the Australian Award for University Teaching. (AAUT).

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