Media Advocacy

– The first phase of the intervention- between 2005-2009 – aimed at “Using Media Advocacy to build a supportive environment to address HIV/AIDS” saw a 5095-strong community spokespeople and advocates and 2014 programme representatives deliberating upon and improving the media discourse around HIV in six states – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland.

To many media persons it appeared to be a complex subject (usually referred to as syndrome, epidemic).  (see HIV-Media module) The efforts “ enhanced informed   reporting on the HIV programme” and contributed significantly towards advancing the “rights and entitlements of the marginalised communities”. (Evaluation Report)

Media advocacy was seen as a strategy that could work at three levels:

— to share the ever-growing evidence on the epidemic and provide an informed understanding of the response to HIV from the national to the grassroots level (HIV Media Module 2009) ;

— to facilitate and capacitate communities to develop the power and confidence to tell their stories (CB Module MA Final) and;

—  to work with the media to enhance and nuance their understanding and coverage of HIV and vulnerable communities (Evaluation Report).

The journey

In 2005, CFAR conducted a Baseline Media Monitoring study in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh to assess media coverage of high-risk groups in the local environments and the media issues that needed to be addressed. (Needs Assessment ppt – all States).

The baseline study found 327 media reports on vulnerable communities that were negative, with Maharashtra contributing nearly two-thirds of these biased reports. Disturbingly, these represented around 25 to 30 percent of the total coverage monitored across the three states.

It was clear that any media advocacy for vulnerable communities had to use evidence to demonstrate the need to partner with these communities for an effective HIV response.

Accordingly, CFAR adopted a multi pronged approach for media advocacy. It included:

1. Tracking and monitoring media coverage of HIV issues and vulnerable communities to record and analyze trends in the media and to identify powerful media spaces and journalists to partner with in order to have maximum impact.

CFAR tracked over 45000 reports from 264 newspapers Out of the 264, 40 were national media, 107 from published in English language, 87 in state language and 170 were district level edition. 22 electronic channels were also monitored daily.

Rationale for Media Advocacy

A baseline analyses done by CFAR showed that media coverage of HIV prevention programming was uneven before 2005; this was particularly evident in the in the local language press. Much of the coverage in the English press focused on macro issues such as HIV incidence, affordability of drugs, women’s vulnerability, and research on HIV prevention technology, such as vaccine-related studies. However, these stories were often not covered in the local language press whose readership primarily demanded local news. Even when these issues appeared in the English press, these reports often failed to give “voice” to the community and represent vulnerable communities and others seeking to influence the issues that were being raised.

When it came to reporting about sex workers, stories were largely about police raids and trafficking and filled with salacious details rather than helpful information on HIV prevention.

The degree of bias against the key population was more severe in Maharashtra because of the societal and political pressure to ban bargirls and this was achieved at very high cost, as many, later fell prey to the epidemic. In Andhra Pradesh because of the growing evidence about the State being a source of trafficking of girls and minors, there was a tendency to criminalize all sex work. With so many negative stories about sex workers and HIV, it was important to improve evidence-based, program- related coverage and create an interface between the Avahan program and the media.

Furthermore, HIV media coverage provided an opportunity to mainstream vulnerable populations by presenting them in a more realistic, balanced, and sympathetic light. An informed media representation of the issues surrounding sex workers and sexual minorities, especially their work on HIV prevention, could help reduce the stigma and intolerance they face. This situational assessment (needs assessment) indicated some key issues that needed to be addressed through media advocacy.

2. Training program implementers and peer leaders was deemed to be highly necessary, as only peer leaders and those most affected by the problem could present accurate and balanced information, which lessens biases against vulnerable communities. They were trained to engage with the media as spokespeople and that gave them the confidence to be effective media advocates who can provide interviews and accurate information for reporters.

Just as the media needed to understand the program in order to appreciate it, program implementers and peer leaders from the vulnerable communities also needed to understand the media as an institution in order to engage with journalists effectively. Thus, the capacity building with peer leaders and programme persons was done with a two-fold objective – be able to present evidences and engage the media and, to  create an appreciation of the media domain.

Advocacy training

CFAR has provided media advocacy training to 7,109 people, including 5,095 community representatives or peer leaders and 2,014 program implementers (2005-09) in the six states. (Media Advocacy Module) This training was delivered mainly through formal workshops and over 500 community events. Through these trainings, CFAR was able to increase the number and capacity of the “voices” of vulnerable populations and their representation and visibility in mass media.

A total of 84 capacity building workshops were also conducted to train 1,873 community representatives and 648 program implementers to engage with the media as effective spokespeople on their issues from 2005 – 2010. An additional 6,008 community representatives and 1,370 program officials were further trained in training sessions organized specifically around events.

While training peer leaders from vulnerable communities, the first major hurdle was overcoming the mistrust that these communities felt toward the media, which often portrayed them negatively.

Such concerns got addressed as the community participants were asked to view video clips of news stories about vulnerable communities that CFAR had facilitated in the past. Typically, these balanced clips quickly changed their attitudes when they saw what is possible with positive media advocacy. The trainees felt if others like them can be portrayed positively in the media, they can also learn to be positive advocates and they want to be part of this process.

To enhance their skills in interacting with the media, they then participated in mock press conferences, rehearsals, and live presentations before a media panel. They learnt how to present key messages and how to successfully field their questions. They also learnt the ways that journalists framed a news story and the type of information journalists sought when writing a story.


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