By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The Namibia HIV/Aids and Gender Baseline Study has revealed that New Era has pipped other publications, emerging on top for giving priority to reporting on HIV/Aids-related topics. The regional report on HIV/Aids and Gender Baseline Study that was launched on Wednesday evening, reported that coverage of HIV is extremely low in Namibia with only four percent of the articles in all the nine media monitored focusing on the scourge that devastates communities. “The weekly newspaper New Era had the highest coverage on HIV stories at nine percent compared to one percent in the case of other weekly newspapers monitored,” revealed the media action plan and Chairperson of the Namibia Editors’ Forum, Eberhard Hofmann. Though the disease still remains the leading cause of death in Namibia with at least 15 000 dying from HIV/Aids annually, the report shows that the voices of people with HIV are almost invisible in the media. Most news items are sourced from the UN agencies, Government officials and other experts rather than the people infected with the incurable disease. In Namibia, most coverage is on prevention and little has been reported on treatment and the impact of the disease on the social and economic fronts. Even if the country’s media institutions have performed well in the region in terms of reporting on the epidemic, most stories concerned national dimensions (68 percent) and only nine percent originated from local areas. Vice Chairperson of the National Council Margaret Mensah-Williams noted with disappointment the low HIV/Aids coverage in the country, calling for a need to formulate and implement policies, training, and access to information to help improve the quality and quantity of coverage. She said the media concentrate on reporting on discrimination and stigmatization. Though that is commendable, she appealed to the media to prioritize other areas about the disease. “I would like to see a media code in this country and we need to see a speedy implementation of the policy on the media,” she indicated. Mensah-Williams expressed displeasure at some newspaper reports that are viewed as insulting to the leaders in the country. She said the media should rather concentrate on issues that directly affect the citizens. She appealed to editors of different media houses to consider allocating space and airtime to pressing developmental issues rather than what she termed “matters that divide the nation”. Salvator Niyonzima, UNAIDS country representative, in his statement emphasized the role the media can play in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He said the epidemic currently has its epicentre in the southern African region, with the shocking statistics of 22 000 people dying of the disease every week. “The media should worry because we are all affected directly or indirectly. The media do not operate in isolation and mass media have a responsibility to address the pandemic,” he stated. Niyonzima stressed a need for the media to designate the fight against the disease as a corporate priority by allocating substantial time and space for HIV/Aids issues including programming, editorial as well as advertising. He added, “We need to create an enabling environment by breaking the silence that surrounds the pandemic.” Currently, the media seem to have failed to influence and hold leaders accountable in order to support initiatives directed at creating a conducive environment for tackling the disease, such as training of journalists in reporting on HIV/AIDS. “Mass media has a pivotal role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Do what you do best – inform, educate and influence,” he concluded. Media houses monitored include New era, Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Republikein, The Namibian, Windhoek Observer, Cosmos Radio, Radio Kudu, and NBC TV and radio. The Namibia HIV/Aids and Gender Baseline Study is part of the Media Action Plan (MAP) led by the Southern African Editor’s Forum (SAEF). Polytechnic of Namibia consultant Emily brown and Sarry Xoagus-Eises of Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) network conducted the monitoring.
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