MEDIAIDS Communication Workshops: HIV and AIDS Advocacy through the Media

The whole concept of MEDIAIDS Communication Workshops is to have an overview and insight for non-governmental organizations and for people living with HIV and AIDS, in relation with the media, which is an important and powerful channel, for disseminating, correct information, focusing on sensitive news and views like HIV and AIDS, so as to remove misconceptions and wrong information.

As a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador for Positive Living, representing India, I had training in Malaysia on how to deal and handle the media, which is a double-edged razor. The media can be both destructive and constructive and it therefore all depends how to communicate with the media. For the last six years or so, I have been able to pick up threads of procedures for such a communication, on news stories concerning sensitive social issues.

The media therefore is a vital requirement in this regard, to reach out to the people through print news stories, articles and opinions and also through radio talk shows and of course through visuals of the television. However it has to be admitted that the media is always on the look out for hard and sensational stories. The media would be quick to pick up exciting stories of a huge number of people affected with HIV and AIDS, but any story on how to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, would usually not find space in the media. The media therefore need to be sensitized. For instance like the ‘Haath Se Haath Milaa’ programme, which has made a tremendous breakthrough in media relationship and outreach to the people. This therefore is a collective approach that has to be pursued, in making the best use of the media.

It is these new innovations that can sell HIV and AIDS stories to the media. There should also be the understanding, that the media has its own limitations and constrains. This aspect has to be considered while pushing AIDS stories to the media. This can be bridged by getting close to the media, through such workshops, so as their views and opinions are solicited.  From such workshops and meetings with the media, the groundwork can be laid to train the media in reporting stories that can be appealing to the people and the vulnerable groups. There is always the human angle to HIV and AIDS stories, in which the media would only be too happy to use such news reports, and especially as feature stories in weekend pages. There is a scope therefore for a better media understanding and participation. These are but a few strategies that I perceive in having a two-way traffic with the media. For achieving a satisfactory result, the media should always be kept informed of new aspects of development and progress. Most importantly the media should be fed with enough background and knowledge of the subject, so as to avoid misinterpretation and misrepresentation.

I had learned a good deal from Fiona Lloyd, a trainer in the communications workshops, she being an experienced journalist having specialized in training in the international media in Asia and South Africa. ‘During the five-day training,’ I had the opportunity to reflect on my understanding and experience on the subject, especially how to built up strategies of media communication, concerning specially my organization Impulse NGO Network. Fiona had brought up with the catchy slogan: — ‘Eachone – Teachone and Reachone’ which is a sensible practical concept, like bricks in building up and strengthening the structural and infrastructural needs of any organization. It is a brick by brick concept that is to be easier to communicate with one journalist with positive effective results, than talking to ten journalists at the same time. In this way the trust and confidence can be shared and also of relieving tension and pressure. A warm and friendly atmosphere is therefore being created. Being polite, clear and frankness are other strategies in making the message go through.

Using the Ga – Ga – Ga – Ge technique Fiona demonstrated and taught through games – work to fully realize and understand our skills on communication and voice control exercise. She made us to understand the importance of speaking out, in a voice that could be friendly and reassuring.

Besides the print media, the local or radio media are also an important channel that can reach out to the masses, both urban and rural and the vulnerable sections of the people. Also the visual TV channel that cannot only disseminate information but also to create opinion right from the grassroots level. However there are some techniques that have to be observed, one of the most important being voice representation, that is the clarity of the message in simplest language along with the voice and tone control. Our trainer Neelima Mathur had given great inputs during the training, she being an experienced hand in the field of media, as a researcher and writer for SPOTFILMS 1973 awards, with screening short clips of documentaries pertaining to HIV and AIDS, which were very informative. These are very important strategies that have to be followed and further developed, to pin point areas of success and also failures and how to deal with failures, so as they do not occur in future. Neelima, had made me realize the importance of bridging the communication gap with the media and avoid future break downs of relationships.

Neelima, while emphasizing in the TV interview tactics, brought out the vital point, that this visual communication, should not reflect any negative experience of the person concern, but should image confidence. There should never be a step back that is there, should not be any hesitation or getting stuck in a fumble for words. There should be a constant flow of a step forward to deliver the message, in a controlled voice. Also there should not be a mix-up of three or four issues at a time, which can only create confusion. The message should be strong and clear at one go, not to restrain oneself, in holding back issues, which are the priorities of interest.

Print messages like writing letters appearing in the ‘letters to the editor’ columns should contain as much information as possible, but in a concise and clear manner. It was also important that scripts can be more colourful and carrying of the meaning, by synchronizing the themes with important dates, associated with annual events of cultural and social importance. In this way journalism has a scope for creativity, a platform to exhibit talent and creativity.

During the course of the workshop, the ‘Frog-Wedding’ exercise of informative personal dialogue with each participating journalist had evoked a lot of ideas, which can be very practical. For instance, the formula of Who, What, How, Why, Where, When, known as the four Ws plus H is plain journalistic basics. These are the questions that have to be answered with care, specific and to pin point. Much has been gained from this interaction with participating journalists team including Partho Chakravarty of Doordarshan Kendra Shillong, P.J.Barua, Executive Editor ‘Assam Tribune’, Rajiv Choudhury, Correspondent Sahara Samay TV, P. P. Singh – Eastern Projection and Mr. Sen of the North East News Service, Shillong.

During the interaction with journalists, certain tips were put forward.  P. P. Singh for instance, quick information can be obtained in soft copies. P. J. Barua and Rajiv, pointed that misconception of the issues should be removed, in order to project a correct image, so as to bring about a change in peoples attitude and behaviour. Rajiv particularly pointed out that TV news bytes are critical, which should be concise and to the point, so as to avoid the deleting and chopping off the bytes, while editing.  P.J.Barua opined that it was not necessary that only journalists should write on the subject or issue, but any member of an NGO can write in the guest columns, like articles, features and letters to the editor.

Dr C. Kakoty NESPYM focused on MSCREF, whatever the message, the source of information should be technically sound and designed for receiving a feedback or a reaction. There should be clarity, like describing AIDS, whether it is a disease or not, and defining clearly what is HIV and what is AIDS. The messages should contain sources of background, or references, like for example that AIDS was first detected in India in 1985 in a person who went to the United States for cardiac surgery.

The workshop has opened new vistas for me to collaborate and coordinate with the media platform on future ventures, which should be more productive and accomplishing. I should therefore take time to repose and compose myself to formulate a media reach out plan of action, in a positive and practical manner, through Impulse NGO Network team.