On July 7, 2006 Internews Europe in partnership with the Foundation for Responsible Media (Formedia) conducted the first executive briefing on Media and HIV/AIDS issues in the North East region of India, under the joint MEDIAIDS project.
The two-year MEDIAIDS project has been co-funded by the European Union and DFID India. In 2006, MEDIAIDS is focused in the underserved region of northeast India, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Among these, Manipur and Nagaland are two of the six high prevalence states of India. So far, the role of the media in the fight against the spread of HIV has been extremely limited in comparison to the pressing needs of the northeastern region. The first step of the MEDIAIDS project in this region was to bring together primary stakeholders engaged in the dissemination, production or utilization of information. The objective was to galvanize each of them for a collective media response to combat HIV / AIDS in the region. With the broader aim of creating a better informed and responsive public environment on HIV/AIDS issues.
Representatives of the Directorates of Information & Public Relations (DIPR) of each State Government, IEC Officers of the State AIDS Control Societies (SACS), senior journalists and editors of local daily newspapers and senior representatives of All India Radio, especially from the North East services, were invited for the Executive Briefing. Spokespersons from networks of positive people and NGOs working on HIV / AIDS issues were present alongwith them.
Members and officials of the North Eastern Council were also invited as special observers. The Council is perceived as a potential primary stakeholder to create a collective platform of ownership for combating AIDS in northeast India.
The specific objective of this first MEDIAIDS Executive Briefing was to bring the stakeholders together and engage in discussions about the current HIV/AIDS information practices, strengths, existing gaps in the information loop for HIV / AIDS and the reasons for it.
In the first session, different points of view and perspectives were presented by highly respected representatives of the Government of India, international agencies, the press, All India Radio and civil society. Namely, Mr. Agrawal, Joint Director, IEC, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Mr. Thalari, Communication Advisor, UNAIDS, Mr. Veliath, Communications Officer, UNICEF, Mr. Manas Chaudhuri, editor of the Shillong Times, Mr. Lalrosanga, Deputy Director-General, All India Radio, Northeast (NER 1) and Mr. Singh, Chairperson of the GIPA Alliance.
After a break, there was an open session for interaction between speakers and other participants. The discussion centred around issues already raised by the speakers and proposals for improving the media response to HIV / AIDS in the region. Some of the concrete suggestions were regarding production and publication of an HIV / AIDS glossary of terminology in each of the main local languages and the participation of Networks of PLHIV in the Intermedia Publicity Coordination Committee (IMPCC). (The full list of propositions and inputs is detailed in this report further below.)
After the open forum, each group of participants (Governments representatives, Media professionals, and PLHIV Networks and NGOs) were given specific input forms to gather basic information about organizational use of information and institutional processes.
Apart from serving as a basis for formulating upcoming activities of MEDIAIDS in northeast India and responding more appropriately to the needs, the input forms are an eye-opener on the vacuum of pro-active and co-ordinated information flow in the region. The accrued information can help to build mechanisms that fill the information gaps and support the fostering of a collective response to the HIV / AIDS epidemic. The main outputs from these forms are highlighted below.
Finally, the most heartening aspect of the MEDIAIDS Executive Briefing was the effort that each participant made to come for this half-day session --- whether it was a 27-hour road and rail journey from Wokha in Nagaland, three landslides on the road from Mizoram , pressing official engagements or illness. This is a very clear signal that important stakeholders are keen to come together for the cause and will play their roles adequately, given the right platform.