Last December, a Khmer-language newspaper reported that a popular condom brand might be infected with the AIDS virus to kill Cambodians, forcing government officials to scramble to get the word out that the report was false.
A two-week training workshop that began Monday aims to ensure that kind of mistake doesn’t happen again by educating journalists about HIV/AIDS.
Ou Chantha, a reporter for the Khmer-language newspaper Damnoeng Pellngeach (Evening News), said journalists need to learn about HIV/AIDS so they can report about it accurately.
“The readers are careless about HIV/AIDS and some people still don’t believe that this virus exists,” he said.
The workshop, organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, includes 35 journalists from Battambang, Pursat, Kompong Cham, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh. Many of the participants work in radio or television, Sek Barisoth, director of the Cambodia Communication Institute, said.
Topics to be discussed include sex workers and their clients, HIV testing, community-based care for people living with HIV/
AIDS and mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Participants will practice writing stories about HIV/AIDS, go to an AIDS hospice and take a test on what they’ve learned.
Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, asked the journalists to write more stories about HIV/ AIDS, but to avoid exaggeration.
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in Asia. Most adults in urban areas have heard of the virus, while 80 percent of women in some rural areas have heard of HIV, said Ly Po, deputy chairman of the National AIDS Authority. Up to 1 million condoms a month are distributed through social programs.
Many Cambodians still have misconceptions about the virus in terms of how people contract HIV, whether there is a cure and other issues. Traditional healers who claim they can cure AIDS exacerbate the problem.
“People know about HIV but they still don’t pay attention to the danger of it,” said Chan Ny Pheakdei of the Women’s Media Center. She is in charge of a question and answer show on HIV/
AIDS that is broadcast weekly on three radio stations
Ly Po said the media plays a key role in educating the public about HIV/AIDS.
“Central to any national response to HIV/AIDS is a massive information and advocacy strategy to ensure that all sections of society know about HIV/AIDS,” Ly Po said.