Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Reflections of Inequalities: The Construction of HIV/AIDS in Africa in the Australian Print Media

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Reflections of Inequalities: The Construction of HIV/AIDS in Africa in the Australian Print Media

Article excerpt


Over the past two decades, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/ AIDS) pandemic has developed into an international crisis warranting a coordinated global response (Barnett and Whiteside 2002). The response, however, has not significantly curbed the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, the region where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent (UNAIDS/ WHO 2007). There, high infection and mortality rates, limited access to treatment, and widespread social and economic disadvantage are having a devastating impact on the lives of many African people (The World Bank 2008; UNAIDS/WHO 2007; Chhagan et al 2008). Consequently, the global community needs to reconsider and improve its current response to the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. A necessary step in that process is to examine the discourses surrounding the response in order to better understand how it has been framed to date.

This study analyses the portrayal of the HIV/ AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa by utilising critical discourse analysis to interpret how the pandemic has been constructed in the media. Much research has been done on how the media represents HIV/AIDS in industrialised nations and this has shown how negative concepts and stereotypes can inhibit the ability of health workers and the community to address the pandemic (Kitzinger and Miller 1992; Austin 1990; Patton 1990). However, far fewer studies have looked at how the media in industrialised nations portray HIV/AIDS in the so called less or least developed nations. Therefore, there is limited understanding of the contextual and deeper meaning of the discourses surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa by people in industrialised nations such as Australia. How the media portrays this global health issue and its solutions reflects the power structures shaping public health thinking in the international community (Alleyne 1997; Herman and Chonsky 2002). This study aims to explain how the discourses surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa have been represented in the Australian print media and how issues of power, ideology, causation and responsibility are expressed and utilised to validate certain stances and responses to the pandemic and ignore others.

Research approach

Discourse analysis as theory and method

This study applies critical discourse analysis to examine the Australian print media's portrayal of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Discourse analysis can reveal underlying power relations in society through examining discursive structures and the discourses surrounding an issue (van Dijk 2001). One way of uncovering these discourses is to examine the role of language in constructing perceptions of the social world and how language is used to promote and reproduce dominant values and ideologies held by particular social groups (Mills 2004; Lupton 2003; van Dijk 2001). In this instance, analysing the construction of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the media can assist us to understand the associated international power relations that interact with and shape this pandemic. As Thussu (2008:2) notes, news is 'a vehicle for engagement in the democratic process, feeding off and into domestic politics and international relations'. In recognition of the power of ideology in the construction of health, public health researchers have used discourse analysis to analyse representations of health issues (Lupton 1992). The greater understanding such analysis brings has helped to challenge exploitation and stigmatisation, which are obstacles to effective health promotion and treatment (Scannell 1998; Lupton 1992).

A strength of critical discourse analysis lies in its systematic deconstruction of texts according to textual and linguistic features such as active and passive constructions, ideological squares, local coherence and implied propositions (van Dijk 1988, 1998, 2001). This enables the researcher to uncover assumptions and ideologies otherwise overlooked by the casual reader. …

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