New guidelines for media while reporting on HIV/AIDS


New Delhi : No using the term “scourge”, no hidden camera to show people living with HIV, no images of the sick and dying, and no graphics of skulls and crossbones while reporting on HIV and AIDS, the Press Council of India (PCI) has said in its revised guidelines to the media.

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It has also stipulated that journalists should not disclose the identity of the people infected with HIV. The council clarified that since “HIV is not synonymous with AIDS, ‘HIV/AIDS’ as a term is no longer considered accurate”.

The 1993 guidelines were revised after a writ petition was filed by the National Network of Positive People in the Juvenile court in Thiruvananthapuram, objecting to visuals shown by the media of two children suffering from the condition and the subsequent false reporting of the death of one of them.

The court then directed the PCI to issue fresh directions to the media. The council held meetings with the UNAIDS and activists working in the field and issued its revised guidelines Sunday.

India is home to 2.5 million HIV-positive patients, including 70,000 children below the age of 14.

The councils’s “don’ts” to the print and electronic media are: Not to sensationalise the story; avoid alarmist reports and images of the sick and dying; not to use skull-and-crossbones or snakes as graphics; avoid references to caste, gender or sexual orientation; and not to reinforce stereotypes about sexual minorities like lesbians, gays or transgenders.

“Uphold confidentiality and obtain informed consent. Journalists should not disclose the identity of the person infected with HIV unless they have specific permission to do so. Whenever possible, they should get written consent,” the guidelines said.

But the Press Council added that to “minimise damaging repercussions, it would be best to avoid identification even when written consent is obtained. This can be done by changing names and locations in the story”.

It also made clear that the identity of children affected by HIV should not be revealed and their photographs should not be published.

“This includes orphans and children living in orphanages and juvenile homes,” the council stressed.

Media must “ensure their story is objective, factual and sensitive” and should give their stories a human face.

“The focus should be on facts. Distortion of facts in any manner to make the story salacious and, therefore, more saleable is unacceptable,” it added.

It said that the media should take care not to promote myths related to prevention and transmission of HIV.

The visual media must “deal sensitively and ethically with the identities of those who have HIV and AIDS as well as their families and associates.”

“Hidden cameras should never be used. Try to show people living with HIV in a positive light by portraying them as individuals instead of ‘victims’.”

According to Akhila Sivadas, who heads a media advocacy group, these “guidelines were essential as the earlier ones were outdated”.

“This is the recommended approach. It now depends on the media to translate it into practice. It is still to be worked on,” Sivadas, who is the executive director of the Centre for Advocacy and Research, told IANS.