Front page flop: HIV vaccine breakthrough doesn’t make headlines

  • Kim Johnson - 30 October 2012

Relegating reports on an HIV vaccine breakthrough to anywhere but the front page betrays a continuing reluctance to prioritise HIV in the media.

According to reports South African scientists have been part of a significant breakthrough, which has found that specific antibodies found in two HIV-positive women could hold the key to formulating an effective vaccine.

Despite the fact that this revolutionary discovery could herald the beginning of the end of what is arguably the worst health crisis in human history, it didn’t make front page news.

Aside from its ‘history in the making’ appeal, the story also had a South African pedigree to recommend it.

And the positive focus of the reports rendered the often used “HIV is too dark and depressing for our readers” defense null and void.

The sheer number of reports dedicated to the vaccine breakthrough is a glaring testament to that fact that the story was identified as big news, but a well-established reluctance to feature HIV on the frontpage relegated this important issue to the sidelines of public consciousness.

Papers chose to place the reports anywhere but the front page, with some reports managing to land a spot on page two—the glass ceiling of HIV reports.

HIV does appear on the front page occasionally, but usually in the context of conflict. This could be attributed to HIV reporting’s ‘debut’ amidst the clash over free HIV treatment for all, which has perhaps forged a path that is hard to deviate from.

But while HIV continues to be central to South Africa’s social, political and economic milieux, the media has a responsibility to actively address the epidemic through making HIV a news priority.

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