05.12.2011 - Education Sector

UNESCO examines HIV programming on Kenyan TV

UNESCO and Lillehammer University College have recently examined how people living with HIV and AIDS are represented in the Kenyan media. A project in Nairobi investigated how people respond to videos made by UNESCO’s Young TV Producers on HIV and AIDS through audience studies. researchers also examined whether there is a continued need for HIV and AIDS programming, or whether audiences suffer from ‘fatigue’ of such topics in the media.

Human interest mini-documentaries were screened that had been produced two years earlier by ten young East African TV producers. The aim at the time was to combat stigma and misconceptions, by depicting people living with HIV through a positive approach.  Focus groups reflected diverse social backgrounds, and political and religious views, and also included people living with HIV and sexual minorities.

The HIV-positive focus group participants were more critical of media coverage of HIV-related issues than the other groups, and said that media continue to portray people living with HIV and AIDS in a way that can often be perceived as stigmatising. These participants called for the media to depict people with HIV and AIDS as people who ‘are active’,  ‘can do everything’, ‘have a long life’, and are ‘living positively in life’.

Further, it was expressed that media should not spread messages that people get the virus ‘because something bad happened’. A woman in this group explains:

I think they don’t represent the people with HIV and AIDS well. The way they do it, it’s stigmatising. Like getting HIV when you were unfaithful [for example]l. You are not only getting HIV by being unfaithful! It’s stigmatises people, because some of them got it innocently. Whenever such an advertisement comes on TV the small children learn where you get HIV from: being unfaithful. So if you want to open up to your children to tell that you are HIV positive, what comes in their minds? ‘My mum was unfaithful’…that’s stigmatising! 

A male participant explained further how media messages do not provide enough information and can be misinterpreted, causing people to take undue risks:

Personally I feel like the media has failed. –[In] the sexual minority - the gay and lesbian [community] - we have never been shown that you can get HIV through having sex with another man. People even think ‘for me to get HIV it’s about a man and a woman, so when I’m doing it with a man I’m safe’.           

The focus group of HIV-positive participants also concluded that HIV is not a common topic on TV, with only ‘glimpses here and there’ that are most visible during campaigns, such as World AIDS Day.  They expressed concerns of fatigue about HIV programming on TV:

I think people are bored of listening to HIV issues, they think they know everything. They don’t want to watch, they don’t want to listen and sometimes someone feels like, ‘After all, I’m not HIV positive. So, what?’

Another focus group of adults over 30 also concluded that HIV was not often seen on TV. They speculated further if it is not the TV producers and media houses them selves that had been hit by the ‘fatigue’. 

Even if some of the UNESCO videos contained footage that were by some group members perceived as taboo issues (for example by describing female genital cutting or by interviewing persons representing sexual minorities) the majority thought such content should be aired.

The same was true for information on HIV and AIDS. All focus group participants found it necessary to continue broadcasting HIV and AIDS-related content. The next question is within which genre and to which audience the information should be presented.

Related information:

UNESCO's Work in Communication and Information on HIV and AIDS

Young TV Producers on HIV and AIDS

Ethical Reporting of Health Issues in Africa


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