Sunday, November 10, 2013

What do Media Censorship and Manipulation, Gates, the BBC and Circumcision Have in Common?

Internews describes itself as an "international non-profit organization whose mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people the news and information they need, the ability to connect and the means to make their voices heard". But one of their much trumpeted programs claims to train journalists about the 'science' behind mass male circumcision programs in Kenya and creating demand for the procedure. There's quite a difference between training journalists on the 'science' of circumcision and creating demand, and the latter generally has little to do with empowerment.
So where is the impartiality in creating demand for mass male circumcision? If people have reservations about circumcision perhaps they have good reasons to. But if the procedure is as wonderful as proponents claim it is, why should such aggressive demand creation be necessary? It is claimed that Internews training "does not prescribe to journalists what to cover" but that their main concern is accuracy. Yet their country director Ida Jooste, perhaps inadvertently, flatly contradicts this claim.
She says that a "critical article was published in Uganda about VMMC quoting a poor-quality study which attacked the credibility" of the often cited Randomised Controlled Trials that took place in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. Without citing that 'poor-quality' study, she goes on: "Rather than wait for the Kenyan media to pick up and run the story, Internews proactively convened a round-table with journalists and VMMC experts from the National AIDS and STI Control Program, and other organizations to analyze the story and examine its scientific arguments. As a result, not a single media outlet in Kenya chose to pick up or run the sensational story."
I don't think I'd use the word 'impartial' there. Ensuring that only positive coverage is aired and that negative coverage is quashed is media censorship and control, pure and simple. This is all paid for by the US taxpayer, though it seems the UK may now have something to do with it too.
Internews also 'worked with' (should that be 'worked on'?) civil society and health agencies working in the field of mass male circumcision. When they ran a conference focusing on women's 'involvement' in mass male circumcision, "to their delight" this resulted in 25 news and feature stories. This is pure manipulation, but those involved seem to express no shame, apology or even justification for it. Joost is even cited as saying "We believe that the impact of positive media coverage, or at the very least, the absence of negative coverage, complements and reinforces traditional public campaigns aimed at creating demand and behaviour change".
The above illustrates a concerted effort by a donor (Gates), an international media outlet (the BBC, via its corporate social responsibility wing) and a well-funded US non-profit, to control the Kenyan media. These parties then openly report their successful manipulation and censorship of the media, which has resulted in completely biased coverage of a public health program that is opposed by many of those who have taken the time to inform themselves about it.
What kind of foreign donor funded public health program, only carried out on certain African populations, is so important that it is necessary to manipulate the press so that they only report positive stories and that they don't report negative stories about it? If Kenyan people had any objections to this kind of neo-imperialism, would their press even report it? If the US wanted to impose a mass male circumcision program in the UK, would the BBC also collude with Gates, PEPFAR, CDC, UNAIDS and other parties to make sure objections were not heard? This must be what is meant by 'informed consent'.



Hugh7 said...

A story in The Standard, Zimbabwe, about circumcised men rejecting condoms and consequently becoming infected with HIV, says

"According to the 2010/2011 Zimbabwe Health Demographic Survey (ZDHS), 14% of circumcised men in the country between the ages of 15 and 49 years contracted HIV as compared to those uncircumcised."

( )

Was this deliberately garbled? What is missing is “ compared to 12% of those uncircumcised.” A 2005 survey found 16.6% and 14.2%.. In other words, circumcision has conferred no protection whatsoever on the men surveyed.

Is this part of the same intra-media campaign to say nothing against circumcision?

Simon said...

Thanks Hugh, I saw the story on Twitter so I tweeted the missing information but haven't had any response. @Internews may well have had something to do with censoring, but maybe it was just a stupid editor, who knew he should mention that HIV prevalence is higher among circumcised men but didn't know how to hide it, a poor piece of redaction! He wouldn't have lasted in the Polit Bureau or the Nazis, but he'd be fine at the BBC.

Unknown said...

With 87% of the men in Kenya already circumcised, they are beating a dead horse. The funny story that never gets told is that when the 3 RCTs were conducted, the HIV rate in 85% circumcised Kenya was actually higher than in neighboring uncircumcised Uganda (where only 25% were circumcised). Cutters don't worry about facts, they just want to cut everyone.

Simon said...
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Simon said...

Thanks Jeff, I think the circumcision promoters thought they could use Kenya and Uganda as poster children and then carry out mass circumcision in countries where there is no difference in prevalence between circumcised and uncircumcised men or where prevalence is higher among circumcised men, such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania. In Kenya, and possibly parts of Uganda, there is a long running opposition to uncircumcised men holding high office, which helps circumcision promoters a good deal. It was that opposition that persuaded Raila Odinga to either be circumcised or declare that he had already been circumcised. Many other traditional and political Luo leaders are said to have followed his lead. However, it didn't work, the election this year again went against him.

Unknown said...

I am interested in 2 points you have made. (1) How do you conclude from comparing HIV rates in Kenya and HIV rates in Uganda that circumcision is not effective? A correctly constituted RCT would draw data from the same group of people, differing only by being circumcised or not. Uganda is a very different country to Kenya. (2) You seem to gove positive and negative stories about VMMC equal status. This reminds me of the same argument being applied by the AIDS denialists, esp Thabo Mbeki. Once the science is settled using properly constituted trials then there is no equal rights to be given to nonsense media V that grounded in good science.

Simon said...

The article is about concerted attempts by an NGO to ensure that the media is always biased towards circumcision. However, HIV prevalence was roughly the same in both countries at the time, circumcision rates were completely different. I'm sure you're right, a 'correctly' constituted RCT would do...etc, but there is plenty of academic criticism of the three well publicized RCTs in question. To repeat, this article is not about giving equal status to positive and negative stories about circumcision, but about bias towards circumcision and attempts to repress anything about remaining uncircumcised. I don't see the relevance of Thabo Mbeki and I think maybe you just want him to be relevant to make your argument sound more convincing. He was persuaded that HIV does not cause AIDS and would not accept claims that he was wrong. But the claims about circumcision are not based on 'properly constituted trials' and even much of the criticism of Mbeki is ad hominem, not based on anything but pre-agreed biases. He was wrong. But he was hijacked by people with an axe to grind and then mocked by people with an entirely different axe to grind. If they had all stuck to science it is likely Mbeki would not have raised any objections in the first place.