This research examined issues of representation in mainstream South African press reporting on children affected by HIV/AIDS with the aim to contribute to more sensitive and accurate media coverage.
There is a danger that the dominant rhetoric on the impact of HIV/AIDS on children (and of the experiences of the popularly labelled "AIDS orphans" in particular) not only fuels groundless assertions that label these children inappropriately, but also stands to misinform responses on the part of agencies providing support. The uncritical reproduction of these discourses can increase children's vulnerability further through marginalisation and a poor understanding of their lives and needs.
This analysis demonstrates how the cumulative effect of the coverage is the communication of a series of moral judgements about who is and who is not performing appropriate roles in relation to children. Discourses of moral transgression – specifically on the part of African parents and 'families' for failing in their moral responsibilities towards their children – are shown to coalesce with discourses of anticipated moral decay amongst (previously innocent) children who lack their due care.
The analysis further illustrates how children – and particularly so-called 'AIDS orphans' – are presented by the press as either the quintessential innocent victims of the pandemic, or as potential delinquents. While journalists' intentions when representing children in these ways are likely to be positive, it is argued that this approach is employed at a cost, both in the public's knowledge about – and attitudes towards – the impact of HIV/AIDS and, more importantly, in the lives of children affected by the pandemic.
In addition to the production of an academic paper, a resource for journalists on reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS was published. Developed in collaboration with the Centre for Social Science Research, the Media Monitoring Project (now called Media Monitoring Africa) and the HIV/AIDS Media Project at the University of the Witwatersrand, the resource identifies a range of relevant reference information and tips for coverage for journalists. While primarily targeted at South African journalists, the resource contains information that should be useful elsewhere in the region.
The resource is available electronically (see below).
This project was funded by the Bernard van Leer Foundation.
'But where are our moral heroes?' An analysis of South African press reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS
Meintjes H & Bray R 2005
African Journal of AIDS Research 4(3), 147-159.
'But where are our moral heroes?' An analysis of South African press reporting on children affected by HIV/AIDS
Meintjes H & Bray R 2005
A joint working paper by the Children's Institute and the Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town.
Reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS: A journalist's resource
Children's Institute, Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town; the Media Monitoring Project & the HIV/AIDS and the Media Project, School of Journalism, University of Witwatersrand, 2005.