New Delhi: A day after the Press Council of India formally released its guidelines for reporting on HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) cases, many of the country’s leading media organizations said they weren’t consulted. Several said they were unaware of the guidelines, which were first reported by Mint on 17 November.
“We don’t know anything about this. In my knowledge, nothing has been sent to the NBA (News Broadcasters Association) members. They should have consulted us,” said Vinay Tewari, executive editor, CNN-IBN, an English news channel promoted by Network 18 Pvt. Ltd and Turner International (Turner).
Maheshwar Peri, publisher of the Rajan Raheja group-promoted Outlook Publishing (India) Pvt. Ltd which brings out Outlook and Outlook Money, among other magazines, echoed the sentiment. “When guidelines are set on how a particular subject should be reported, it is necessary for all media companies to be consulted first,” he said. “I haven’t even heard of these guidelines yet.”
“I am totally opposed to the idea of any kind of guidelines,” said Sanjay Gupta, editor of the Dainik Jagran, the most circulated Hindi newspaper in India. “Guidelines always have loopholes and it is not hard to find them. Besides, I feel it should be up to the editor or head of the publication to regulate what should be written and how it should be written.”
While maintaining that he wasn’t aware of the new guidelines, Chintamani Rao, chief executive, Times Global Broadcasting Co. Ltd, which runs English news channel Times Now, said guidelines could help. “There is no doubt that media needs to be sensitive while reporting on HIV and AIDS,” he said. “A lot of misinformation still exists on this subject.”
The guidelines, released on Sunday, have a host of content gathering and dissemination behaviours, both in print and television, including words that can’t be used. They also suggest that reporters should obtain signed prior-consent forms from HIV-positive people.
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“These guidelines are not mandatory. Their implementation is voluntary,” notes Mohuya Chaudhuri, senior editor-health, NDTV. Chaudhuri, along with Sanchita Sharma, health editor of the Hindustan Times, were the two journalists from mainstream media outlets who were part of the group that put the guidelines together. Others in the group largely comprised freelance journalists, as well as representatives of the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Press Council. The Hindustan Times is published by HT Media Ltd, the publisher of Mint.
“I don’t like the idea that we can no longer put pictures of positive people in the print or television media,” said Loon Gangte, a member of Delhi Network of Positive People. “If people are not allowed to come on TV or print then how will we increase awareness for HIV/AIDS? The concept of not showing their faces at all or not revealing their identity is against the positive community. We encourage the community to step out in the open and we want them to be seen. Guidelines like these will only increase the stigma.”
The guidelines say the identity of people with HIV or AIDS shouldn’t be disclosed and recommends that television cameras should be kept behind the person so that only a silhouette can be seen.
“If we hide faces, we will drive HIV underground,” insists Doe Nair, president of New-Delhi based Women’s Action Group—Chelsea. She said infected people should “be encouraged to give testimony.”
Both Gangte and Nair, however, welcome the idea of journalists using consent forms. “There have been instances where the media has sensationalized or accelerated issues and focused on other things rather than driving the main points of their story. With a consent form, positive people will at least know exactly how they are being featured in a story,” said Gangte.
“These guidelines are essentially a result of efforts undertaken by the non-government organisations,” notes P.N. Vasanti, director of Centre for Media Studies and a media columnist for Mint.
“These guidelines may go waste as even several of (Press Council’s) own initiatives go unnoticed,” she added.