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HIV/AIDS: Media excellence gets rewarded

Thabo Motlamelle

Media excellence in the coverage of HIV/ AIDS will at long last be rewarded in Lesotho. The annual award, named Red Ribbon, is a joint venture of the American Embassy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Media Institute of Lesotho (Miles). The award was launched in a ceremony held at Maseru on June 21 and attended heavily by the local media.

The stated aims and objectives of the organisers of the award are to encourage quality coverage of HIV/AIDS in the media, to reward excellence in media coverage, strengthen media responses to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and control, and to focus national attention on the epidemic.

The organisers say reporting on the pandemic remains a serious challenge for the media in the country and that the coming into being of the award would be a significant intervention that will inspire journalists to play a positive role in the fight against the disease.

The award would hopefully achieve the forging of partnerships between media professionals and other key groups involved in the fight such as policy makers, health professionals, youth, and the community in general, they say.

The dialogue to be achieved between the media and other stakeholders as the journalists strive for excellence would improve and encourage the publication of frequent, accurate and well-researched articles on the pandemic and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the country, organisers say.

This relationship between the media and other stakeholders would hopefully produce in-depth reports that highlight the extent of the problem and not just stigmatising it to the health sector, as has been the case in the past, they add.

The key issue to be highlighted in media reports according to Malume Mohale of the UN Information Centre (UNIC) in Maseru is to burst the bubble of the stigma surrounding the pandemic. She feels that while the media could unintentionally promote stigma, it could also serve as a powerful tool to reduce it.

"Stigma and discrimination are the major obstacles to effective HIV/AIDS prevention and care," she says. "Fear or discrimination may prevent people from seeking treatment for AIDS or acknowledging their HIV status publicly. People with, or suspected of having, HIV may be turned away from health services, denied housing and employment, shunned by their friends and colleagues, turned down for insurance coverage or refused entry into foreign countries.

"In some cases, they may be evicted from home by their families, divorced by their spouses, and suffer physical violence or even murder. The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS may extend into the next generation, placing an emotional and economic burden on children who may also be trying to cope with the death of their patents from AIDS."

UNDP Resident Representative Scholastica Kymario emphasises that the media could encourage positive change in attitudes towards the pandemic. Kymario feels African countries do not encourage specialisation in media coverage because of limited resources so the awards were meant to encourage and inspire journalists to aspire for professionalism.

Khutliso Sekoati, National Director of Miles, says it is the duty of the media to enhance and protect the lives of people. He says it is important that journalists know of the pandemic and learn about interventions to fight it so they could impart the information and knowledge to citizens. He laments that media coverage of the pandemic has been minimal and urges his colleagues to burst the bubble of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

"The media should bring hope that life is precious and should be nourished," he says. "They must influence attitudes and bring about change of perspectives surrounding the pandemic because the harrowing statistics of economically active young people dying are real and must be brought to the doorsteps of people so they can deal with this disease effectively."

America's Ambassador to Lesotho, Robert Loftis commends the effort, saying it would benefit all Basotho who would be beneficiaries through increased learning brought about by increased writing on the pandemic by the media.

The awards will be given in two categories: best corporate coverage; and best individual coverage. The corporate awards are to be given in the categories of: best newspaper coverage; best magazine coverage; best television coverage; best radio coverage; and best newspaper editorial.

In the individual coverage, the awards will be given to individuals from a newspaper, magazine, television, radio, and an outstanding individual. The organisers agree, however, that they have to include best photograph and best online publication or article.

The first awards will be handed over during the commemoration of World AIDS Day on December 1, 2002. The theme for the two-year campaign starting with 2002 and ending next year is "Fighting Stigma and Discrimination."

AMECEA calls for an end to regional problems
By Ahmed Merere
The Roman Catholic Bishops from Eastern and Southern African countries ended their two-week meeting in Dar-es-Salaam recently, strongly condemning oppressive cultural practices and customs that violate the dignity and rights of sections of people in the region. The 70-plus Catholic bishops, who held their 14th Plenary Assembly of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), evaluated the 40 years of the body's existence under the theme of "Deeper Evangelisation in the Third Millennium - A Challenge for AMECEA."

The chairman of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), Bishop Severine Niyumugizi, said the gathering was a success and that discussions were extremely deeper and fruitful. Said he: "TEC highly showers appreciation to Dar -es -Salaam residents for the good reception bestowed to all Bishops, hospitality, assistance and cooperation that enabled the success of the AMECEA meeting."

Composed of Episcopal conferences from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the plenary dwelt on two major issues: bishops training pertaining to AMECEA challenges ahead; and other businesses. On challenges ahead, the bishops received intensive training from highly educated experts on a number of issues including the HIV/AIDS scourge, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and poverty eradication. "Afterwards we were split into 10 groups to tackle issues and come up with proposed strategic solutions for the present and the future," said Niyumugizi.

At the end of their session the bishops issued a four-page communiqué that, in part, read: "We call upon our governments, entire civil society and all our pastoral agents to join us in advocating total elimination of female genital mutilation, the commercialisation of "bride-wealth", domestic violence and discrimination against women, the practices of widow inheritance, and exclusion of women from property ownership."

The bishops went on to say they're fully aware of the dangerous divisions and hatred, often leading to deaths, which come as a result of the belief in witchcraft and called upon all Christians and people of good will to abandon such practices. "As far as it is within our authority, we shall not condone nor compromise, in situations of sexual abuse of women and children in the Church and all our institutions. It is incumbent upon all of us, as God's people, to respect the inviolable dignity of each and every human person," they pledged.

On the topical issue of globalisation, the bishops statement said, the phenomenon has its positive values like the worldwide human rights movement, the empowerment of the formerly marginalised groups of society, world commitment to peace and peaceful resolution of conflicts, popularly known as the globalisation of solidarity. Expressing their fear, the bishops' statement read: "We note, however, with sadness and anguish the negative aspects of globalisation, particularly when viewed from the perspective of its victims. This is when globalisation is abused by naked global capitalism, to glorify profit at the expense of the poor, to perpetuate unfair terms of trade, to undermine people's morality. We call upon all professionals in our region to assist the people of God to examine globalisation critically, so as to utilise its positive aspects, while fully rejecting its negative elements."

The body has also expressed worries on the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the region, stressing its commitment to stand in solidarity with the affected and infected people. "We pledge to take the lead and urge all pastoral agents to undertake stronger awareness creation and education on this major problem. We also request them to take a holistic care for the people and families affected by the disease," they said.

"We also call upon our governments to do all in their power and capacities to transparently and effectively respond to this challenge of HIV/AIDS. Resources for drugs should be made available to those who need them... We call upon all the people to radically change their sexual behaviour, adhere to marital faithfulness and sexual abstinence outside marriage, as the fully assured means to fight against HIV/AIDS. We assure those living with HIV/AIDS that God and the Church are with them in their suffering.", the statement added.

AMECEA did not forget the people's suffering in war-torn Sudan. It identifies itself with the immense suffering of the people there. The statement noted the Church is very saddened by the relentless conflict in Southern Sudan since 1955 and the tragedy it has caused to millions of people. "We condemn in the strongest terms, the continued practice of slavery, the restriction of the freedom of religion imposed on non-Muslims, and the unequal treatment of non-Muslims in the Sudan. These injustices should be brought to an end."

The statement further read: "We call upon the Government of the Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the civil society of that country, to take necessary steps to end the armed conflict through mediated peaceful means. We call upon the political leaders in our region, and indeed all African leaders, to effectively intervene through mediation with the Government of the Sudan, to see lasting peace being effectively established. While we commend the resolutions contained in the Machakos Protocol (of 20 July 2002) we nevertheless urge the parties concerned to take it seriously as a significant step towards lasting peace in the Sudan. The leaders of IGAD have an important role to play both in the Sudan and Somalia in this regard."

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