The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) on Thursday launched a policy that addresses management and operational challenges faced by local media houses, on issues of HIV and AIDS at President Hotel. MISA recognised that though HIV and AIDS had seriously impacted Sub Saharan Africa, and Botswana being identified as one of the most affected countries in the region, the local media had not done much inside their own newsrooms to manage how they deal with the epidemic.
Thapelo Ndlovu, the new MISA Botswana National Director, giving an overview of the project said that sponsored by the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership (ACHAP), MISA selected three media houses, The Sunday Standard, The Voice and Mmegi to pilot the HIV and AIDS Workplace Policy and Code of Conduct for Botswana Media.
The reason for limiting the exercise to three media houses was based on funds availability as well as accessibility of these media houses during the project.
Media consultants, Beata Kasale and Caroline Phiri-Lubwika, alongside the previous National Director of MISA, Modise Maphanyane, workshopped with staff from all departments at the three media houses, drawing from them views that culminated in the HIV and AIDS Workplace Policy and Code of Conduct for the Botswana Media booklet. The policy also outlines a Code of Conduct and urges effective reporting on HIV and AIDS. All three houses had committed by signing that they would implement the policy.
In the process leading to the signing, taskforce teams were formed from each media house. The teams were to implement the policy, in their workplaces. Tlhalefang Charles, an employee at Mmegi, gave an account of his experience as a taskforce member.
“We previously had no clear cut policy on how to deal with health issues in the workplace,” he said.
More often than not they relied on the goodwill of management, and it was inconsistent.
“The policy will also help prevent discrimination and stigma which are outlined in the Policy from other employees in the workplace,” Charles added.
ACHAP Managing Director, Themba Moeti, said, “ACHAP has a comprehensive portfolio of support, which includes support for prevention initiatives, improving access to HIV counseling and testing, initiatives to mobilize communities through support provided at district and community level as well as working with community based organizations and national NGOs, and providing capacity building support across a number of sectors in support of the national response.
“Botswana’s response to the epidemic has evolved over the years. In the context of this evolving response, support for HIV prevention initiatives is now our highest priority as we seek to play an effective role in changing the course of the epidemic in Botswana to addressing and reducing the rate of HIV transmission significantly from its current very high levels so that indeed we may have real prospects of achieving our national vision of an HIV free generation by 2016.”
Dr Moeti also said that the media is uniquely placed to have a positive impact on the course of the national epidemic because of the impact it has on the kind of information people receive, influencing opinions.
The former Health minister, Dr Shiela Tlou, spoke of her background in HIV and AIDS activism that has seen her organise some of the first media workshops on HIV and AIDS reporting in the 80s.
Tlou commended the media for augmenting their values by institutionalising effective reporting on the subject.
“The media informs the nation on issues relating to the country,” she said, adding that the media is an important aspect of educating the nation on HIV and AIDS issues.
“Botswana leads the region in AIDS reportage,” she said, in contrast to South Africa where she said members of parliament have publicly made erroneous statements about HIV and AIDS and Zimbabwe where reportage was good but the collapse of the health system has left reporting mortality as one of the few options.
Spencer Mogapi, Deputy Editor of The Sunday Standard commended The Voice, for being the first newspaper in Botswana to install an HIV and AIDS policy. He also said that though the media houses are competitors, issues of HIV and AIDS call for unity.
“We are writing for an intelligent and discerning readership, and consequently we must inform ourselves on trends in HIV and AIDS studies,” Mogapi said, and urged the media to be disciplined to encourage similar partnerships in the future.