Not many people can dispute the fact that the Malawi media have played a significant role in educating and informing the public about HIV and Aids. But that is the bright side of the story; the downside to it is that not many journalists live by example.
Some journalists believe their duty is only to inform and educate the masses about HIV and Aids, but in the process, they distance themselves from it, thinking it does not affect them in one way or another.
Journalists have long being accused of practicing the ‘do as I say and not as I do’ syndrome. Not many journalists have gone for VCT, let alone declare their HIV sero-status openly. In Touch Magazine investigations further reveal that, to date, no Malawian journalist has applied to pursue further education in HIV and Aids-related studies or participated in any of the various HIV and Aids trials taking place in the country.
These include the Johns Hopkins HIV vaccine trial, among other interventions.
Granted, it is everyone’s right to decide to participate as the processes remain largely voluntary; but journalists need to look at the HIV and Aids situation as part and parcel of their lives.
This has prompted institutions such as College of Medicine’s Johns Hopkins Research Project to urge journalists to go beyond publicising and informing the public on HIV-related issues and start participating in various research interventions being undertaken in the country.
Field Coordinator for the project, Fatima Zulu, says it was high time journalists lived by example by playing a leading role in HIV and Aids initiatives instead of merely concentrating on the reporting aspect of it.
She noted that journalists were at a much higher risk of contracting HIV just as everyone else. That is why even doctors took precautionary measures in the course of their duty- a glove here, some antiseptics there- she enthused.
According to Zulu, the adage ‘nobody is above the law’ also applied in medicine, more especially when it comes to the issue of HIV and AIDS; nobody is above HIV and Aids!
“Journalists are as human as their target audience. They can, for instance, go for Voluntary Counselling and Testing with their partners and, once discovered that one of them is HIV-positive and the other negative, participate in sero-discordant couples’ studies,” said Zulu.
Just one such study is being carried out by Johns Hopkins Project, findings of which are expected to shed more light into the relationship between couples who live under one roof and sleep in one bed but live with two different realities in life. Such an experience can cause night mares to many, something Zulu and fellow researchers are trying to avert by increasing the availability of information.
National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) executive committee member, Wisdom Chimgwede, concurs with Zulu.
He says as much as Namisa encourages journalists to ensure that HIV and Aids messages are spread across the country in the language that can be best understood by the masses, journalists also need to exercise moral discretion beyond mere reporting.
Chimgwede observes that journalists should refrain from detaching themselves from HIV and Aids issues by putting themselves in the position of experts by merely analysing the situation without taking an active role in interventions.
Namisa, however, has no figures on the number of journalists who are living positively with HIV and that renders it inactive in terms of support rendered to infected journalists.