Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sniff it, Lick it, Publish it

If someone at the Vienna Aids Conference put out a press release saying tests have shown that regular use of bouncy castles cures HIV, would the world's media repeat it, just as they have done with every other improbable press release that has come out over the past few days? Have these journalists ever heard of criticism, originality, judgment, analysis or even writing? They did the same during the World Cup, regurgitating every scrap of rubbish they could find. Was everything washed down with free beer (Fifa approved, of course)? If so, no doubt they are washing things down with good wine in Vienna.

Even Reuters' AlertNet follows the flock with their triumphalist 'MTV drama brings cool to HIV prevention'. Apparently this drama, 'Shuga', was aired some time last year, but where? Perhaps it was aired in Nairobi or in private schools but I don't know anyone who has seen it or even heard of it. "In Kenya, the drama was watched by an astonishing 60 percent of young people – those are amazing figures for any programme," Bill Roedy, CEO of MTV, told IRIN/PlusNews. They're not just amazing, they are not credible. Where's the evidence, Roedy?

Over 80% of Kenyans live in rural areas and about 70% of those who live in urban areas live in slums. Official figures claim that only about 30% of Kenyans do not have access to electricity and that only about 25% don't have regular access to the media (print, radio and TV). But how many people have TVs or regular access to TVs? Most people in the areas I've been working in don't. But in the euphoria at Vienna, with the desperation to churn out feel-good stories, the press will repeat anything they are fed. Haven't they ever heard of evidence?

As for the 'evaluation' of what people learned and think and what that might show, what does that mean? Most people visit the bathroom after watching a few TV shows, does that mean they are good laxatives? Of course young people will be able to repeat what they have heard, especially when treated to a TV show about sex (though I'm still wondering how many have really seen it). Children here, and adults, have been blasted with rubbish about HIV and sex for so long now they know exactly what to say when asked. The problem is, even people who work with HIV have no idea that HIV can be and is transmitted non-sexually, nor any idea how to protect themselves from non-sexual HIV transmission.

This is an extremely dangerous situation. I've sat with people and discussed conditions in hospitals, their experiences with doctors, nurses, dentists and others who might pose a risk of blood-borne infection of some kind. But when the conversation turns to HIV risk reduction, they always talk about sexually transmitted HIV. Of course, Shuga is about sexually transmitted HIV, from what I can glean. What else is there, if you're part of the mainstream media, which MTV most certainly is.

Contradictions are not considered important in the HIV industry but one of the feel-good stories that's been churned around before and during the conference has been about young people 'leading' the drop in the spread of HIV. Yet now, the AlertNet article says "Worldwide, 40 percent of new HIV infections occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Behaviour change campaigns have shown some success...". Behaviour change campaigns have resulted in people being able to answer questions about things they have been taught but they have not resulted in significant levels of behaviour change. And they have had no impact whatsoever on HIV transmission rates.

The 'evaluation' was carried out by the Johns Hopkins Centre for Communication Programs. Johns Hopkins, like the HIV industry, is vehemently opposed to the idea that HIV is commonly transmitted non-sexually in African countries. But just because the HIV industry is completely biased against anything that could threaten their massive levels of funding, that doesn't mean the media should behave as the lapdog of industry, academia and anyone else handing out free booze (or whatever they get out of it).

There's no polite way to say this and politeness would be misplaced anyway: the Vienna Aids Conference is an (expensive) exercise in arse sniffing, a specialty of the press. One can only wonder what they all do to while away the time during those long presentations and seminars. When I tell people in rural areas about things like the HIV industry and conferences, they ask reasonable questions, such as 'what is HIV prevalence like in Vienna?', 'why are they there?', 'how expensive are these conferences?' and 'if the industry gets so much money, why does none of it end up here?' Any chance of a woof, a yelp or even a whimper from the pampered, or they too well bred?


1 comment:

Simon said...

Here's an article in the UK Guardian demonstrating the phenomenon of simply repeating everything the press releases want them to repeat:

The only exception, probably an oversight, is the sentence "Nobody knows whether a single viewer did anything differently."