On 1 December 2008 over 130 media houses in 11 countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) l publicly launched HIV and AIDS policies as part of commemorations to mark World AIDS Day, according to an article by Arthur Okwemba and Dumisani Gandhi as part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service. The climax of a three-year Media Action Plan (MAP) on HIV and AIDS and Gender, simultaneous launches were due to take place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lesotho; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritius; Mozambique; Namibia; Seychelles; Swaziland; Tanzania; and Zambia. 

 

Following public events in each country, media managers, journalists, people living with HIV, care workers, and others from across the region will connect in cyber space to discuss issues around HIV and AIDS and gender policy, and the funding of care work. Led by the Southern African Editor’s Forum (SAEF), MAP’s goal is for 80% of SADC media houses to have HIV and AIDS and Gender Policies by the end of 2008, recognising the importance of media in the regional response to the pandemic.
 
For facilitators working with media to put these policies in place, the going has not been easy, and the even more challenging task of implementation still lies ahead. “Having fantastic policies in place is one thing, but implementing them is totally different. This is the gap we need to urgently address,” says Eduardo Namburete, Senior Lecturer, School of Communications and Arts at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique.
 
One of the biggest constraints to implementing policies, media managers say, is the lack of sufficient resources, especially in countries like Lesotho, where independent media houses often run their operations with little resources, both human and financial.
 
“The media houses have drawn up action plans that run up to between 2010 and 2015. But now the biggest constraint is lack of resources to implement them,” explains Sophia Tlali, Managing Director of KK Media and Editorial Services, Pvt. Ltd in Lesotho. Both Tlali and Namburete are working on the Media Action Plan (MAP) rollout in their countries.
 
Baseline data from research prior MAP’s launch in 2005 showed that HIV and AIDS constitutes less than 3% of all coverage in the region; only 4% of sources are people living with HIV and AIDS, and that media struggles to understand and reflect the gender dimensions of the pandemic. A similar study in three French-speaking SADC countries in 2007 produced similar results, showing that HIV and AIDS constituted a very low average of 2.1% of all coverage and that such coverage lacked depth.
 
Yet celebrations will come to naught if the brilliant policies are not implemented. Some aspects of policy implementation do not require resources, but just a change of mind-set among the media managers and journalists.
 
 “Resources will always follow quality programmes and action plans, and media houses should explore raising resources from other sources,” says Colleen Lowe Morna, Executive Director of Gender Links. “For example,” she says, “the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has managed to raise resources from government and other sources to implement its policy.”
 
GL in partnership with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) leads the policy arm of MAP.  Lowe Morna adds that National AIDS Councils and Commissions are emerging in some countries as potential sources of funds that media houses need to tap.
 
In Lesotho, Tlali has worked with media houses to develop proposals to the Lesotho National AIDS Commission requesting support for at least one HIV and AIDS broadcast programme every month, or a supplement on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the newspapers.
 
 “The other thing to do in terms of strategy,” adds Namburete, “is to put in place a system that tracks how media houses are implementing their policies, so that MAP does not end with just the adoption of the policy.”
 
While some media houses drag their feet on policy implementation, others are miles ahead. In Namibia, the Katutura Community Radio, winner of the 2008 Sol Plaatje Institute – MAP Gender, HIV and AIDS Institutional Excellence Awards, uses its policy to guide gender-sensitive HIV and AIDS programming targeting youth, the gay community and vulnerable groups. The station requires its news desk to ensure that 60% of coverage is on issues such as HIV and AIDS, gender, human rights, poverty, and education.
 
In Madagascar, the National Radio of Madagascar (RNM) is already implementing its policy adopted this year, airing several programmes on gender and HIV/AIDS.   “Starting next year, we are going to have three programmes on gender and HIV and AIDS, and we will intensify the involvement of employees in the fight against the pandemic,” says Harrison Ratavondrahona, a reporter at RNM.
 
Some media houses are more receptive to the idea of policies around HIV and AIDS, rather than gender. “There is this misconception among male media managers that introducing gender policies are a strategy to help women take over their influential positions,” says Gladness Mumo, Coordinator of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) Good Governance project in Tanzania.
 
It remains to be seen whether these policies will have an impact on how media treat HIV and AIDS and gender. However, more needs to be done to ensure that HIV and AIDS and gender are mainstreamed into media practice and in the coverage of all other topics. This requires more than a policy. It requires political will from the media and continuous training of media practitioners to ensure they are able to handle the ever changing discourse on HIV and AIDS and gender.
 
The adoption of policies by these media house symbolises a bold step by media to play a positive role in reducing the spread of HIV and mitigating the impact of the pandemic. However, policies alone will not be enough, but with adequate training for media mangers and journalists and effective implementation they will ensure a systematic and more effective response to HIV and AIDS by the media in the region.
 
* Arthur Okwemba is a Kenyan journalist with the African Woman and Child Feature Service. Dumisani Gandhi is the HIV/AIDS and Gender, and Media Manager and Gender Links. This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism