Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Behaviour Change for Journalists

The BBC can be funny sometimes, though not very funny. The title of one of their articles runs "Is Zuma's sex life a private matter?" and they promptly answer it in the negative by writing about it. Perhaps the author would have been wiser to ask about the president's attitude towards women and equality, since they have taken the liberty of asking about his sex life. But even an organisation as well (publicly) funded as the BBC often can't resist asking the same questions as almost every other journalist in the mainstream media.

The media needs to get past the connection between HIV and sex. True, HIV is mainly transmitted sexually. But rates of HIV transmission depend on many other things, such as the relative economic circumstances of the people involved, their relative levels of power in relationships (whether ephemeral or otherwise), their levels of education and access to information, their levels of health and nutrition and the like. Indeed, the nature and accuracy of the information to which people have access may also be significant; exalted claims about the role of the media in HIV publicity campaigns certainly suggest this.

Studies have shown that there is no strong correlation between rates of HIV in different countries and levels of what is considered to be unsafe sexual behaviour, for example, multiple concurrent partnerships. In other words, some places where rates of multiple concurrent partnerships are low, HIV rates are high and vice versa. High rates of HIV transmission in South Africa are, to the extent that they are well understood, explained by many things other than sexual behaviour.

If the BBC is really concerned about HIV transmission, it shouldn't be beyond the capacity of the corporation to research the subject a bit better than the average tabloid newspaper. They could even have discussed the fact that Zuma didn't use a condom during his extra-marital relationship and is well known for being against the use of condoms. Sadly, there is very little to HIV prevention in South Africa, or any other developing country, aside from condoms.

It may never become a popular view that HIV has numerous transmission routes and that many of the circumstances in which people live and work determine whether they will be infected with HIV and whether they will go on to infect others. HIV will probably always be viewed as such an extraordinary disease that it is transmitted in isolation from people's overall health and welfare, and that issues such as gender, power and politics are completely irrelevant. But it seems unlikely that the BBC will stick its neck out and adopt an unpopular view.



オテモヤン said...
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Claire said...

Yes! Seeing as though most people have sex, obsessing over sexual transmission is about as much use as obsessing over touching doorhandles in a flu epidemic.

Simon said...

Thanks Claire, that's a good way of looking at it. But I guess the BBC know how little people are interested in news unless it is sugared with a bit of entertainment.

Claire said...

Also, I like the idea of BCC for journalists, haaa! I think that would take much more than 20 years of intense UN funding and public goodwill, maybe more than one generation of effort required before the message really sinks in - know what's true before you write your article
- in reporting what's true, try also to make the world a better place while you're at it.

Simon said...

I guess they're a bit stuck, if they don't say what every other media outlet is saying, no one will take any notice of them. I guess a journalist needs to be a person who has great foresight but always chooses not to use it.