African and Asian media outlets could play a bigger role in mitigating the HIV/AIDS epidemic but are not giving the topic enough coverage.
So concludes a report published by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) last week (26 July).
It urges the media to improve the quality and diversity of its reporting, and to emphasise the views and experiences of people living with HIV.
The federation surveyed media reports in Cambodia, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa and Zambia over two weeks in December 2005, but found few reports on HIV/AIDS.
It describes coverage as "infrequent" in India and "miniscule" in South Africa, the two countries with the most people living with HIV.
In general, the print media fared better than broadcasters. In Zambia, where radio is the main source of information for most people, reporting on HIV/AIDS filled just three per cent of broadcast time.
On World AIDS Day, stories about HIV/AIDS accounted for less than three per cent of the total news coverage in Cambodia.
Journalists surveyed by the IFJ say that the topic suffers from "story fatigue", suggesting that HIV/AIDS is viewed as old and uninteresting. In Asia, the study says HIV reporting is limited because of the connection with taboo issues such as homosexuality.
It urges media outlets to develop guidelines and policies for coverage, and to train journalists and editors on appropriate HIV/AIDS reporting.
From surveys of journalists, the federation concluded that reporters in Zambia had received the most training on how to report on HIV/AIDS, and consequently felt better informed.
Ronald Kayanja, director of the Panos Global Aids Program, which works with the media in developing countries to promote accurate HIV/AIDS reporting, finds this hard to believe.
"You just need to read the newspapers to see the quality of journalism in South Africa and Nigeria is much better," he says. "In Zambia the coverage of HIV/AIDS has not been proportional to the problem, and we are seeing very little analysis and discussion about it in the media."
"We advocate journalism that questions what the government is doing to fight HIV/AIDS," he told SciDev.Net.
Link to the full report [468KB]