MEI-LING HSU, WEN-CHI LIN AND TSUI-SUNG WU
For years, the mass media have been a major conduit through which public perceptions of and attitudes towards AIDS have been formed and influenced. Large-scale media campaigns around the world have played a critical role in instilling intended effects of AIDS awareness and prevention, but the unintended effects of the news coverage about AIDS cannot be overlooked. At a more general level, research has shown that news media are important sources of health information for both private individuals (Freimuth et al. 1984; Simpkins and Brenner 1984; Wallack 1990) and for policy makers (Weiss 1974). Given their predominance in modern society, news media sometimes have a stronger impact on public cognition, attitudes, and preventive behaviour than planned media campaigns do. For the population at large, those who have no direct contact with AIDS or its sufferers, the awareness of the disease is mostly media related. Therefore, it is to these media portrayals that we must turn to, if we are to achieve a better understanding of how and why stigmatization of AIDS-related groups occurs.
In addressing the functions of the mass media, Watney (1987) maintained that the mass media use a mode of address which constructs recipients of the messages as a unified 'general public' with shared values and characteristics. Deviant or marginalized groups are excised and made to stand outside the general public, inevitably assuming the appearance of a threat to its internal cohesion. Newspapers in particular tend to construct an ideal audience of national family units, surrounded by the threatening spectacle of the deviants. In other words, the ideal audience addressed by the newspapers can be seen as the implicit 'us' group in the mainstream society. Those who are considered to threaten the norms or welfare of the ideal audience are thus categorized as 'Others.' An issue worth addressing here is: Who are the members of these 'Us' and 'Other' groups formed in the news discourse? How have they been changed over time?