Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation

By Bob Franklin | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Dying of ignorance?

Journalists, news sources and the media reporting of HIV/AIDS

Kevin Williams

The media are judged to have played a crucial role in determining successive governments' response to AIDS. Berridge (1992) points out that the media have always played a role in the construction and presentation of disease, but AIDS figured prominently in media coverage throughout the 1980s: AIDS was the first 'media disease' (Street 1988). It was widely reported in news broadcasts, newspapers, television documentaries as well as soap operas and people identified television and the press as their most important source of information about the disease. Many people living with HIV and AIDS have testified to the impact of media coverage on their lives. Norman Fowler, Secretary of State for Health during the height of the crisis, has spoken of the 'magnificent' efforts of the media as part of the government's campaign to educate the public about AIDS. For Berridge there is an evident correlation between the media treatment of the disease and the development of AIDS policy (1992:16). In particular, the media played a 'critical role in generating a growing sense of crisis and in focussing on issues with which the government and their advisors had to deal' (Strong and Berridge 1990:247). But this assessment has proved contentious. Fox, Day and Klein (1989) argue that the influence of the media on policy makers was minimal. Ministers and civil servants were able to make policy on the basis of rational needs and professional advice in the face of the growing hysteria of the mass media.

This chapter explores two related aspects of the media's role in shaping policy on AIDS-and in helping people to learn about the disease. First, the media response to AIDS is examined; this response was not homogeneous. There were obvious differences between particular media, but even within the press and television it is possible to identify a number of agendas and attitudes. A struggle took place inside media organisations, between editors and reporters and crucially between specialist correspondents and general reporters, about rival ways in which to frame the understanding of the disease. The outcome of this struggle assumed different forms in the various news organisations. Consequently, public understanding and policy makers' perceptions of AIDS were shaped by a range of media accounts of the disease.

A second aspect of the connection between the media and policy concerns

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Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Introduction 1
  • References 13
  • Part 1 - Producing Social Policy News 15
  • Chapter 1 - Soft-Soaping the Public? 17
  • References 36
  • Chapter 2 - Media Coverage of Social Policy 39
  • Chapter 3 - Charitable Images 51
  • Chapter 4 - Dying of Ignorance? 69
  • References 84
  • Part 2 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 87
  • Chapter 5 - Poor Relations 89
  • Notes 102
  • Chapter 6 - Home Truths 104
  • Chapter 7 - The Picture of Health? 118
  • References 133
  • Chapter 8 - Media and Mental Health 135
  • Note 144
  • Chapter 9 - Thinking the Unthinkable 146
  • Note 156
  • Chapter 10 - Are You Paying Attention? 157
  • References 172
  • Chapter 11 - Exorcising Demons 174
  • Part 3 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 191
  • Chapter 12 - Bulger, 'Back to Basics' and the Rediscovery of Community 193
  • References 205
  • Chapter 13 - The Ultimate Neighbour from Hell? 207
  • Notes 220
  • Chapter 14 - Out of the Closet 222
  • Chapter 15 - Social Threat or Social Problem? 238
  • Note 251
  • Chapter 16 - They Make Us Out to Be Monsters 253
  • Index 269
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