Set the record straight on hate
19 October 2011
A SAPA syndicated article on the Zimbabwean government’s refusal to make condoms available to prisoners makes no effort whatsoever to debunk the HIV-related myths and misinformation spilling from the mouth of an overly quoted official.
The poorly constructed article is built almost entirely out of homophobic and ignorant quotes from one deputy commissioner Agrey Machingauta, which the article makes no attempt to correct.
According to the SAPA piece, Zimbabwean officials are refusing to make condoms accessible to prisoners despite their status as a group with a very high risk of HIV infection. Condom distribution to prisoners would be illegal, given the country’s stance on homosexuality.
The statements, and the article in which they are set, imply a number of harmful and ignorant things which could remain unquestioned by the public; a public which does not necessarily have the knowledge to judge the validity of the information.
The article (and the media at large) therefore has a responsibility to interrogate and sometimes even debunk information handed to them by their sources. But more simply, journalists should avoid relying entirely on one source to write a news article. Corroborating statements by including an alternative voice or point of view is an integral aspect of producing decent journalism and without it; the article may as well be public relations material.
In terms of the article in question, SAPA could have and should have questioned a number of points and attitudes presented in the piece.
Firstly, there is the dubious claim that homosexuality and HIV are virtually synonymous, and which makes it seem as though same sex sexual practices are the origin of HIV or are to blame for the HIV epidemic.
The reality is that HIV is most commonly transmitted through heterosexual sex. Messages tying homosexuality and HIV together can lead to further stigmatisation of homosexual people and can discourage sexual minorities from seeking sexual healthcare. It may also give heterosexual persons the false perception that they are not at risk of HIV.
Secondly the SAPA article does not even hint that the refusal to protect this at risk population represents a violation of basic human rights that essentially amounts to manslaughter.
The piece could have illustrated this point by exploring the consequences of the government’s decision not provide prisoners with condoms and also through examining laws around human rights outlined by international political bodies like the United Nations.
Lastly, the reality is that not all men who engage in same sex sexual practices would identify as ‘gay’. This is particularly the case among prison populations, where normally heterosexual men may choose to engage in sexual acts with other men, given their circumstances.
These men are now recognised by HIV prevention and treatment organisations as men who have sex with men (MSM). Most importantly MSM are acknowledged as a ‘hidden’ group whose sexual health has been jeopardized through the failure to address their unique HIV prevention and treatment needs.
In making no attempt to mitigate the incorrect and harmful messages conveyed by the Zim official and his government’s stance on homosexuality and MSM, SAPA has missed an opportunity to set the record straight on hate and avoid further harm.
To read the SAPA article as it appeared on The New Age's website click here.
To read the SAPA artcile which appeared on the Independent Online website click here.
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