16.12.2011 - UNESCO

Are people with HIV seen and heard on TV?

Screen shot of one of the videos on HIV and AIDS - © UNESCO

In July 2011 audience studies were carried out in one of the suburbs of Nairobi in cooperation with Lillehammer University College. The aim was to investigate how people living with HIV and AIDS were represented in the media and how the audience responded to videos made within UNESCO’s Young TV Producers on HIV and AIDS project. In addition, did the audience think there was a need for HIV and AIDS on TV, or were they ‘fatigued’ of such programming?

The human interest mini-documentaries that were screened to the audience had been produced two years earlier by ten young East African TV producers. At that time, the task had been to depict people with HIV and AIDS with a positive approach. Now 25 people gathered to represent the audience, coming from various social backgrounds and with different political and religious views. The four focus groups also included people living with HIV and people representing sexual minorities.

Such a research had not been conducted before on the Young TV Producers’ videos. This was also the first time an audience living with HIV was heard. Naturally, this focus group was more critical to media coverage on HIV than the other groups. Having first-hand experience living with the virus, they claimed that media still portrait people living with HIV and AIDS in a way that often can be perceived as stigmatising.

Instead, the group would have liked the media to depict people with HIV and AIDS as ‘people who are active’, as ‘people who can do everything’, as ‘people who have a long life’, and ‘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. 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 them that you are HIV positive, what comes in their minds? My mum was unfaithful… that’s stigmatising! 

A male explained further how media messages do not provide enough information and how messages can be misinterpreted:

Personally I feel like the media has failed. The field that I come from - the sexual minority, the gay and the lesbian - 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’, you know…

This group also concluded that HIV is not a common topic on TV, with only ‘glimpses here and there’, and that HIV and AIDS issues are most visible during special campaign days such as World AIDS Day. They also believed in a fatigue against HIV programming on TV:

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 feel like ‘after all, I’m not HIV positive, so what!’

Another focus group (adults over 30 years) concluded also that HIV was not often seen on TV. They speculated further: it is probably TV producers and media houses themselves that had been hit by the ‘fatigue’. 

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

The same was true for information on HIV and AIDS; this time all focus groups found it necessary to continue the broadcasting of HIV and AIDS content. The reminding question is perhaps within which genre such information should be presented and to which target audience it should then be served in order to re-awake the interest of the TV audience.

To watch the videos on HIV and AIDS please click here.

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