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REPORT

Convened by Plan Haiti, Promoteurs Objectif ZeroSIDA (POZ) and the Panos Institute, under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Public Health and Population:

National Forum on AIDS 1999:
“Solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS”
Ritz Kinam II, Petionville, Haiti, 21-23 April 1999
Summary and analysis of the media activities of the Forum

Prepared by:Jean Claude Louis & Jan Voordouw

Introduction

The National Forum on AIDS 1999 took place from 21 – 23 April 1999 in Petionville, Haiti. This event, with a participation of more than 100 persons, was organized by Plan Haiti, the Panos Institute and the Foundation “Promoteurs de l’Objectif ZéroSIDA (POZ)”, under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) and several other institutions working on AIDS prevention.

The Forum aimed to encourage solidarity with people living with AIDS and once again to ring the alarm on the disease. AIDS has remained an epidemic with a hidden face. The gathering allowed for a rediscovery of the disease, and was a place where infected and affected people could reconnect as human beings in their own right. One of the main points of the forum was to give space during its entire programme to men and women with AIDS. They could, without feeling any fear, declare their seropositive status. There were many moments full of emotion.

An exhibition was held in connection to the Forum. This demonstrated materials of many groups working on the prevention of the disease.

 

The organizers of the forum

The Forum was prepared and planned by POZ, the Panos Institute and Plan Haiti. The Foundation “Promoteurs de l’Objectif ZéroSIDA (POZ)” is a Haitian non-governmental organization that is actively involved in the prevention of HIV/AIDS in the country since three years. POZ came about as a result of the closure of the former AIDSCAP programme funded by USAID. POZ is currently involved in a countrywide HIV/AIDS prevention programme in partnership with Plan Haiti. This programme is carried out in three of the nine departments of the country.

Plan is an international humanitarian organization, focusing on the development of children, without religious, political or governmental affiliation. Child sponsorship is the basic foundation of the organisation. Plan provides support in the following domains: Learning, Health, Livelihood, Habitat and Promoting Cultural Exchange.

Since some time, the Panos Institute had planned to organize in Haiti a regional conference on AIDS for the mass media, in collaboration with Info-Services and the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) of Jamaica. This activity was part of a joint project, financed by the Netherlands Government for the period February 1997 – January 1999. However, the conference could not take place during the original project implementation, and the Netherlands Government did not approve an extension of the project duration, to cover the period in which this conference was planned to take place. Nevertheless, Panos has as much as possible provided its technical and financial support to those forum activities within its field of work.

Context

The rapid spread of HIV in Haiti has resulted in the highest general infection rate of the Western Hemisphere, rates which have been estimated at 10% among adults in urban areas, and as high as 16% in some of the poorest urban areas. Because the rural zones have a lower infection rate (4-5%) then the cities, the national average is calculated to be between 5.1 and 7.3% (all 1998 figures).

There is therefore a huge and growing population of People Living With AIDS in Haiti. From an estimated 12,000 cases in 1987, the number is now around 300,000 with between 28 and 40,000 new cases per year. By 2005 almost half a million persons will be infected.

The seriousness of the AIDS epidemic is aggravated by a number of factors, including a very weak health infrastructure already struggling to provide preventive and simple curative services to the general population. For example, fewer than 30% of children receive the basic protocol of childhood vaccinations despite the fact that the required vaccines are often provided free of charge. It is clear that adequate treatment of individuals with HIV/AIDS will not be possible within the existing health infrastructure.

The major efforts of AIDS service organizations are correctly focused on preventing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as the treatment of STDs. Yet even the resources allocated to these activities have been reduced drastically in recent years. It is estimated that current expenditures in Haiti on AIDS prevention activities are only 10% of the level of the early 1990s: from 1990-1995 over 2.5 million US$ was allocated annually to AIDS specific projects. Since 1996 only about US$200-250,000 is available to carry out AIDS prevention activities.

So far, little attention has been given to People Living With AIDS and their needs. The same holds for devising appropriate response strategies. It is apparent that multiple and innovative approaches are going to be needed in the country.

The mass media

Public awareness on the disease is still very low and the mass media are vital in highlighting its seriousness. However, they are hardly ever involved in the struggle against the realities of AIDS. The media suffer from the general underdevelopment and systematic degradation of institutions as experienced in the wider Haitian society, starting with a very weak educational system. In Haiti, few working journalists receive any formal training prior to entering their profession. Generally speaking, the Haitian press is geared towards providing information on the (very current) political events going on, but lacks an active role with analysis, constructive criticism and education.

The lack of in-depth features and analysis results in a near absence of HIV/AIDS coverage. From 1994 to 1998 there were about 40 articles on the issue in the main Haitian newspaper, le Nouvelliste. The majority of these articles were not written by journalists, but by medical personnel, researchers, immunologists or common citizens. The media tend to restrict coverage on AIDS/HIV to the 1st of December (World AIDS Day) or when there is a conference on the subject. In Haiti, there is no written or audio series dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and information, besides commercials for the use of condoms.

In the English-speaking Caribbean, with increasing competition of radio, one can notice a shift in the style of broadcasting, away from public service and news programming to entertainment, music and advertising. The emphasis of news programmes has also shifted from an international to a local perspective. However, phone-in/talk radio is growing with a broader range of discussion of sensitive issues – both political and sexual, and public service announcements (PSAs) on health and other issues are broadcast frequently. These are sometimes generated by the stations themselves but more often by agencies, such as the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) and the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC).

In a 1997 Panos survey on HIV/AIDS radio coverage, the majority of stations in the Caribbean region stated that HIV/AIDS issues are mentioned 1 to 3 times per week, and sometimes as often as once per day. The format in which the coverage is likeliest to appear remained news, talk, and PSAs, versus drama, music and phone-in shows. The most prevalent source was station-generated news and PSAs, followed by PSAs from other sources and station-generated music, drama and talk shows. The most common time allotted to HIV/AIDS coverage was 2 to 5 minutes followed by under one minute. By far the aspect covered the most is prevention; foreign news on AIDS is a distant second.

There are many organizations working on HIV/AIDS prevention and involved in information and awareness campaigns. They could and should involve the media better and provide them with pertinent information to be broadcast to the general public. In Haiti, the reach and diversity of media has widened tremendously in recent years, with the establishment of a multitude of audiovisual media. The directory of Info-Services of early 1997 reports a total of 132 radio stations, 23 TV stations and 51 print publications. The explosion hasn’t stop there and it is estimated that today Haiti has nearly 300 radio stations.

Capacity building of the media: Experience of the Panos Institute

In collaboration with various institutional partners, Panos has organized a great number of activities to promote the responsible reporting on HIV/AIDS issues. In addition to training journalists, a wealth of authoritative information has been produced and disseminated through books, radio magazines and features, print articles and special reports. Mutual support, peer-mentoring and networking among reporters has also been facilitated by Panos.

The media seminars and workshops on HIV/AIDS issues convened by Panos in the Caribbean and Central American region during recent years include:

  • CARIMAC/CAREC/Panos Regional Workshop: Responsible Reporting on HIV/AIDS, Kingston, Jamaica, 3-17 July 1993. This event targeted senior media practitioners from the leading media houses (radio, TV and print) in those Caribbean countries hit hardest by the disease. It aimed to increase their reporting capacity, as well as their understanding the range of social, cultural and economic impacts of the disease in the Caribbean. Participants were brought together with a wide group of leading Caribbean resource persons on HIV/AIDS, and one important result was the change in attitude in several participants, as well as a heightened degree of awareness and commitment to the issue.
  • CARIMAC/CAREC/Panos Regional Production Course: Responsible Reporting on HIV/AIDS, Kingston, Jamaica, 18 June – 2 July 1994. This follow-up event brought together senior media practitioners from those countries which were not represented in the 1993 production course. It focused on the role of journalists in providing information to the public on HIV/AIDS and related health issues, through in-depth coverage of scientific research, fostering public debate, etc. Together with the former event, this course resulted in a committed group of journalists, and various media productions. Also a Panos Fellowship was established, which entailed a travel budget for regional information collection.
  • ILPES/Panos First Central American Media Workshop on HIV/AIDS, San José, Costa Rica, 12-19 February 1995. This workshop for print, radio and TV journalists aimed to improve understanding of the extent and implications of HIV/AIDS, the ethics of reporting on this issue and increase involvement of the media in HIV/AIDS prevention. The social background of the epidemic was central in the programme, which included a great number of field visits to organizations, clinics, families, etc. This highlighted issues such as the status of women, sexual minorities, religion, and human rights. The workshop created a highly motivated team and the quality of reporting was high.
  • Radio St. Lucia/Panos “AIDS Today” Policy Seminar, Castries, St. Lucia, 14-15 June 1997. After a survey on current HIV/AIDS coverage by Caribbean radio and an extensive consultation process with a great number of regional media organizations, this meeting brought together 17 radio station managers from 14 English-speaking Caribbean countries. The seminar reviewed the survey results and established an over-all policy for coverage of HIV/AIDS for adoption by stations region-wide. The meeting was co-sponsored by the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC), CARIMAC and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).
  • Radio St. Lucia/Panos “AIDS Today” Radio Production Workshop, Castries, St. Lucia, 15-21 June 1997. Immediately following the station managers seminar, 24 radio reporters and presenters from 11 countries gathered for this hands-on production workshop. As is customary, much information on the disease was presented and used in media productions. These covered in a comprehensive way diagnostic, demographic and psychological aspects, as well as aspects of transmission, counseling, workplace policy and the role of journalists. Several productions were evaluated by public on the street.

Objectives

The objectives of the media component of the Forum were the following:

  • Sensitize media and journalists on the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS;
  • Stimulate/open the debate between journalists and resource persons on HIV/AIDS, including people infected and affected by AIDS;
  • Encourage the media to devote a part of their programming to HIV/AIDS issues or related themes, targeting all sectors of society;
  • Encourage NGOs to provide journalists with information pertinent to HIV/AIDS;
  • Establishment of a local media network in order to produce and distribute messages on STD/HIV/ AIDS.

Media team

The media team during the forum consisted of the following persons.

Barbara Jacobs-Small, Director of Radio St. Lucia, participated as speaker on regional media issues and as facilitator of the media workshop. She was actively involved in the Panos/Radio St. Lucia media meetings on HIV/AIDS in June 1997 and as such has ample experience in related media issues in the Caribbean.

Nancy Roc, journalist with TéléEclair, moderated one of panels of the forum. Additionally she drafted the recommendations of the media workshop. A journalist of Radio Vision 2000, Léontès Dorzilmé. spoke in the plenary on media and HIV/AIDS issues in Haiti.

Jean Claude Louis, consultant with the Panos Institute took charge of the public relations of the forum. He also assisted in the press service, in particular maintaining contacts with journalists and taking care of the distribution of releases. He further managed the exhibition and prepared the guidelines and context for the media workshop.

Ronald Colbert, free-lance journalist, was the Chief of the press service, and produced 5 press releases and articles during and immediately after the event. These products are included in this report. Fritznel Octave, journalist, produced also an article and assisted the press service in the recording of the event. Further, Ives Marie Chanel of Inter-Press Service and former Coordinator of a Panos/Info-Services/CARIMAC regional project, helped with the dissemination of the releases through the IPS structure. Finally, Jan Voordouw, Coordinator Caribbean and Central America of the Panos Institute, although not being able to participate in the forum itself, was instrumental during the preparation and organization of the event.

Activities developed and their results 

The participation of the Panos Institute was essential in the running of the forum. The particular responsibilities included the following activities:

  • Exhibition/Distribution of materials: Panos was one of the organizations that displayed and distributed materials during the forum. Panos displayed a number of books on AIDS issues, and a large number of people took the effort to consult these. People also flocked to our articles, attracted by evocative titles such as “AIDS and Men” or “Women and AIDS”. Within two days, the participants had taken hundreds of copies of the articles. Since the majority of the people present represented their organizations, they sometimes took several copies for their offices and there will be further spin-off.
  • The press service: All the press releases produced by our Chief of the Press Service were disseminated through electronic mail to a great many stations. Many of the releases were utilized in radio news broadcasts. Several journalists and several media attended also the conference, including the Haitian News Network and TV channels such as TéléMax and TéléEclair. Three days before the forum, three panelists and Jean-Claude Louis participated in “Contraste,” a weekly broadcast presented by the journalist Nancy Roc on TéléEclair. The programme covered a number of the topics that would be tackled during the forum. Also, some days after the forum, on two occasions, TéléEclair broadcast a complete summary of the forum. Dr. Eddy Génécé of POZ did also give interviews to a number of journalists. However, we regret that the articles and releases that were sent to “Le Nouvelliste” were not printed. But fortunately, the texts were utilized by the daily “Le Matin.”
  • The workshop on the role of the mass media: More than a dozen journalists from various media, as well as several doctors participated in this workshop. The workshop was rich in discussion. Journalists listed a number of constraints that they encounter in covering themes related to HIV/AIDS. They are not always well informed on the issue and have a lot of difficulty to understand the medical jargon. The doctors in the workshop said that journalists do not often turn up to get information. Many journalists promised their involvement, but they do not always have the decision making power. They depend on their Station Director, who usually is most interested in reports that might generate revenue. Often, station time will not be provided to broadcasts that have not found sponsors. Journalists underlined that certain NGOs should sponsor programmes related to HIV/AIDS. It was noted also that the owners of media houses were not present at the forum. They remain the group that is most difficult to convince. For more information, see the recommendations that came out of the media workshop, included in this report.
  • General support (interpretation, etc): All people speaking a certain language were grouped with an interpreter. This service run to everyone’s satisfaction.

Analysis, conclusions and recommendations

The forum benefitted from a large coverage by the media. Many journalists from a variety of media turned up to cover the event. They were enormously facilitated in their work by the regular press releases which were produced by the Panos Press Service. Through this service, a journalist could get all the basic information on the forum, quickly understand the development of its deliberations and preliminary conclusions, and receive assistance with the setting up of interviews.

The forum got particularly good coverage on the radio. It is clear that many media have a sincere interest in reporting more and better on HIV/AIDS issues and that assistance is highly appreciated. One of the objectives of the forum was to sensitize the public and raise their understanding on the extent of the disease, and social, cultural as well as economic impacts. Because of the broad media coverage, we believe that important steps in this direction have been made.

It should be noted that, in terms of news worthiness, unfortunately the forum had to compete with a high level of political unrest. There were several manifestations and riots on the streets during the three days of the forum, demanding the attention of the media. Many journalists were obliged to be at several fronts at one time and only fifteen journalists were able to stay and fully participate throughout the forum.

The press service suffered also from the absence of a telephone line. This major logistical hindrance significantly slowed down the dissemination of press releases, since these had to be e-mailed and faxed from external places instead of straight from the conference.

As is a common problem in events like this, media managers were absent. It remains very hard to demonstrate to media managers that it would be in their advantage to play an active part in the country’s development and ease social tensions, such as those relating to HIV/AIDS.

The media workers that stayed participated actively, displayed a lot of enthusiasm and made the workshop on the media a success. This workshop clearly defined the role of the media in changing attitudes and behaviour regarding avoiding risky sexual behaviour and combating the taboos surrounding people living with AIDS. A start was made with the debate between journalists, resource persons on HIV/AIDS and people affected and infected by AIDS. In this regard, it was reiterated that sources of information and distribution channels need to collaborate closely in order to achieve maximum results.

It was further stated that the media should provide more space to HIV/AIDS issues, locally generate programmes and enable people living with AIDS to express themselves. The creation of a media/communication centre was advocated, as well as specialized training for journalists, the establishment of a network of journalists and information seminars for media managers. See also the report of the workshop.

There were about 15 representatives from the Caribbean region, mainly from organizations combating AIDS and assisting seropositive people in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Yolanda Simon from Trinidad and Tobago, well-known from Panos events in the past, participated also as representative of the regional association of people living with AIDS. However, because Panos’ funding for the conference had been cut, only one Caribbean speaker/participant (Barbara Jacobs-Small of Radio St. Lucia) represented the media. Her role was vital to underline the potential for regional collaboration and mutual assistance among media.

Because of the low regional participation, it will be very important to communicate the results of the forum to the media, agencies and NGOs of the region.

Panos was able to present a balanced package of materials, which media as well as NGOs used and can further use as baseline materials for producing local information. The materials are included in section 4 of the French version of this report. The positive role of these materials in the follow-up to the forum has become exceedingly clear. At the time of writing this report (July 1999) we continue to receive reactions and feedback on them.

In view of the fact that the forum was a first event of this type in Haiti, we should recognize it as a total success. Having this forum demonstrated the resolve of the civil society and the Government of Haiti to attack the scourge of AIDS in a united fashion; its repercussions are not just awaited. All the target groups were there, very strong testimonies were made and also the other interventions were of high quality. The forum has already started to generate a number of spin-off activities. Many lessons have been learned, and a wealth of tips and recommendations have been provided by participants, to take into account for the future.

The cooperation between the three institutions that were involved in the organization of the forum worked well and provides an excellent basis for follow-up. An evaluation session, convened by POZ on 5 May 1999, and attended by all the organizing and sponsoring institutions, identified a continued strong media programme as a priority for follow-up, including the collection of oral testimonies from people living with HIV/AIDS, training of journalists, a special activity to attract media managers and continued linkages with media in the Caribbean region. It was emphasized that these and other follow-up activities should be targeted to community media in the provinces as well.

Report of workshop V: “Involvement of the media in the battle against STD/AIDS”

I. ROLE OF THE MEDIA

  • Regular dissemination of information aimed at changing behaviour and risky sexual attitudes;
  • Ensure national awareness, involving the level of media managers in the dissemination of messages against the spread of the HIV virus;
  • Obligation of the Government to bring into force the law on radio and TV broadcasting with regard to their social roles.

II. SOLIDARITY WITH PEOPLE WITH HIV

  • Institutions working in the field of STD/AIDS prevention need to maintain a permanent contact with the media;
  • Allow infected and affected people to express themselves;
  • Remove prejudices, taboos and exclusion. Sensitize the population to accept PWAs, because they are normal people;
  • Media should create more space for agencies and institutions involved in STD/AIDS prevention.

III. CONSTRAINTS

  • Mental: (a) Taboo subject; (b) Politics always occupies the first place and AIDS is frightening; (c) Very few journalists are trained.
  • Financial: The owners of the media could open up their programming schedules to the battle against AIDS, through a minimum, even symbolic, sponsorship.
  • Lack of awareness among media owners on STD/AIDS.

IV. INVOLVEMENT

Establish a centre of communication with selected journalists who could benefit from linkages with all concerned agencies, like the international organizations and private sector. This communication centre could also be expanded to a more general centre combating STD/AIDS, with journalists, researchers, doctors, etc.

V. ACTIVITIES

  • Organize training seminars for journalists and media managers;
  • Find sponsors able to encourage the participation of Haitian journalists in covering national and international conferences on AIDS, in particular in the Caribbean region;
  • Stimulate production of new local programmes. A prize may be awarded annually to three journalists involved in the battle against STD/AIDS, one from radio, one from TV and one from print;
  • A prize may be awarded to those media that distinguish themselves in the battle against STD/AIDS (radio/TV/print).

VI. RECOMMENDATIONS

  • A national consultation is urgent, gathering the institutions working on STD/AIDS, the media, the religious community, political parties, and professional social associations in order to identify and analyze the various aspects of STD/AIDS and to allow each stakeholder to determine his/her involvement in the battle. Subsequent to this consultation, the media should solemnly commit themselves by creating more space in their programming for the dissemination of messages relating to the prevention of STD/AIDS and relating to comprehensive sexual education with a view to dispelling taboos and encouraging more responsible sexual behaviours;
  • Institutions working in the prevention of STD/AIDS must stay in continuous touch with the media in order to facilitate the flow of pertinent information. The media should create more space for people living with AIDS and allow them to express themselves freely;
  • Root out the taboos – combat the prejudices. Sensitize the people to change their attitudes towards seropositive persons;
  • After the consultation, a spirit of collaboration could be established between the Government, the media and social partners, in order to: (a) Enable the Government to sponsor training seminars targeting the spoken, visual and printed press; (b) Encourage the Government to exempt of import duties institutions involved in the battle against STD/AIDS; (c) Enable the media to select a group of journalists to specialize themselves in the dissemination of information on STD/AIDS and other issues related to health; (d) Enable governmental and non-governmental institutions to establish media contact persons to facilitate the exchange of programmes, productions, equipment and financing of sophisticated radio and TV programmes, for instance: radio and TV soap operas; (e) Establish a national multi-sectorial committee on combating STD/AIDS. This committee should include journalists, doctors, educators and lawyers.

Materials distributed by the Panos Institute

The following materials were distributed by Panos during the Forum:

  • Presentation of the Panos Institute. (Distributed in English and French)
  • AIDS in the Third World: A Global Disaster. Published in “The Economist” of 2 January 1999 and based on a number of USAIDS reports. (Distributed in English and French)
  • AIDS and Men: Taking Risks or Taking Responsibility? Based on a new book by Martin Foreman of the Panos Institute, which examines the relationship between men’s actions and HIV worldwide, the impact of those actions on men and women and initiatives designed to help men protect themselves and their partners (Distributed in English and French)
  • Chronique mensuelle sur le SIDA: “Le HIV/SIDA, un thème hors de portée des ondes de la radio centraméricaine.” By Ernest Landos of Radio Cadena YSU in El Salvador and published on 28 February 1997. (Distributed in Spanish and French)
  • Chronique mensuelle sur le SIDA: “Les femmes et le HIV: un cri dans l’obscurité.” A review of a 1997 publication of the Panos Institute focusing on women and AIDS in Central America, by Marcela Sánchez of the Panos Institute, published on 22 December 1996. (Distributed in Spanish and French)
  • MediaNET bulletin. Briefing on Haiti, No 1, March 1999: “Perspectives on AIDS: Between fear, ignorance and disbelief in Haiti – Which responses in the Caribbean? By Ronald Colbert, free-lance journalist. (Distributed in English, French and Spanish).