Tagscitizen journalism, exclusive breastfeeding policy, groundup, resale of government baby formula
HIV is still news-if we make it so
13 September 2012
By exposing the illegal trade of government-funded formula milk, journalism initiative Groundup provides proof that HIV remains a newsworthy issue, all it takes is a tapped-in journalist.
Whilst many of us imagine journalists to be super sleuths, sniffing out stories and exposing scandals and corruption, the reality is quite different. In the current climate, stretched thin and pressed for time, journalists are more likely to turn to the obvious than the obscure for their news.
This is particularly acute in health writing, where many journalists look to press releases and innocuous health “events” for their news. Once key to exposing government’s outrageous views around HIV, today news coverage is largely restricted to regaling the release of statistics, announcements around new policies or clinical trials, or the opening of a clinic.
This kind of health news is a far cry from the coverage we really need. Because whilst HIV policy has done a 180, the epidemic has not. We continue to face formidable challenges in the rollout of treatment and the implementation of our range of prevention tools.
HIV may no longer be able to incite political mayhem, but on an individual level it is still just as capable of wreaking havoc. Whilst this makes HIV less apparently newsworthy, it is by no means less relevant. For the sake of everyone living with HIV or at risk of contracting it (effectively anyone at all), it is critically important that our news agenda continues to reflect this.
That said, demanding that journalists continue to thoroughly engage with HIV is a tall order. There were close to 50 journalists who reported regularly on HIV in 2003. Now the number of writers frequently producing HIV content can be counted on one hand.
Today HIV stories are most likely to be written by generalists - reporters with a good grasp on a wide range of issues, but with little specialised knowledge of HIV and probably a weak network of healthcare professionals at their disposal.
As much as they would like to, these journalists simply cannot be the sleuths they need to be to keep the HIV story alive. But this does not mean that HIV news needs to die a slow death. We may just have to become more efficient at feeding our own stories into the mainstream.
In a climate where news rooms do not have the resources to enable journalists to hunt for stories, communities must become more efficient communicators.
Community journalism initiative “Groundup” is one such example. Founded in April 2012, the initiative trains community journalists to report on issues in townships, in particular relating to health service delivery.
This week Groundup put the illegal resale of formula milk on the news agenda. According to the report, since government implemented an exclusive breastfeeding policy in August 2011, clinics have ceased to give out formula milk to mothers. Yet some demand for the milk persists. That demand is now being met by informal traders.
The story clearly has news value, but is unlikely to have caught the attention of journalists working in the mainstream press without a contact providing the lead.
We are quick to criticize the news media for failing to cover issues that to us seem clearly relevant. But we often forget that media is “made” and that we can easily contribute to that media-making process ourselves. This participation is particularly important where our vitality is concerned.
In an era of fast-proliferating social media and virtually cost-free web based publishing, the notion of citizen journalism is now more possible than ever before. In this climate it is vitally important for initiatives like Groundup to remind us that in addition to looking after our own health, we now have the capacity to look after our health news too.
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