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AIDS falling off media radar, but environment rising: study

Nov. 30, 2010
Courtesy of the University of Leeds
and World Science staff

Me­dia cov­er­age on the AIDS pan­dem­ic has fall­en by more than 70 per­cent in de­vel­oped coun­tries over the past two dec­ades, ac­cord­ing to a team of re­search­ers. On the oth­er hand, they re­port, the me­dia is pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment.

The find­ings are part of an on­go­ing study by sev­er­al Eu­ro­pe­an uni­vers­i­ties and in­sti­tu­tions in­to me­dia cov­er­age world­wide touching on issues such as health, en­vi­ron­ment, pov­erty and hu­man rights.

In the early 1990s, an av­er­age of 1.5 ar­ti­cles linked to AIDS could be found in eve­ry is­sue of the main broad­sheet news­pa­pe­rs, the study found. That lev­el of cov­er­age has dropped to be­low 0.5 ar­ti­cles per newspape­r is­sue since 2008, with the steepest drops ap­pear­ing in French and U.S. news­pa­pe­rs, ac­cord­ing to re­search­ers.

The proj­ect, dubbed Trends in Sustainability, tracks cov­er­age in 115 lead­ing broad­sheets news­pa­pe­rs from 41 coun­tries be­tween 1990 and this year. The re­search has looked at about 69 mil­lion ar­ti­cles in 410,000 newspape­r is­sues. The re­sults have been used to gen­er­ate a web­site, trends­in­sus­tain­abil­ity.com, set to launch on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

The re­searchers said that while at­ten­tion to “sus­tain­abil­ity-related” is­sues has in­creased overall dur­ing the last 20 years, the me­dia agen­da in this ar­ea has changed. Co­verage of prob­lems like ac­id rain and the ozone hole, which have been ad­dressed with suc­cess, has di­min­ished, but sto­ries on cli­mate change have in­creased more than ten­fold, amount­ing to an av­er­age of more than two ar­ti­cles per newspape­r is­sue.

“Cli­mate change has emerged as a de­fin­ing is­sue,” said Uni­vers­ity of Leeds, U.K. re­searcher Ralf Barke­meyer. While he hailed this dev­el­op­ment as a success, he worried that it may have come “at the ex­pense of at­ten­tion to so­ci­o­ec­on­omic prob­lems such as ma­lar­ia and HIV/AIDS or even cor­rup­tion, hu­man rights or po­verty.”

The re­search­ers in­volved in the study came from the Uni­vers­ity of Leeds; Queen’s Uni­vers­ity Bel­fast, Ire­land; the Berlin-based In­sti­tute for Fu­tures Stud­ies and Tech­nol­o­gy As­sess­ment; and Eu­ro­med Man­age­ment School in Mar­seille, France.


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Media coverage on the AIDS pandemic has fallen by more than 70% in developed countries over the past two decades, according to a team of researchers. On the other hand, they report, the media is paying more attention to the environment. The findings are part of an ongoing study by several European universities and institutions into “sustainability-related” media coverage worldwide. In the early 1990s, an average of 1.5 articles linked to AIDS could be found in every issue of the main broadsheet newspapers, the study found. That level of coverage has dropped to below 0.5 articles per newspaper issue since 2008. Coverage in French and U.S.-based newspapers has decreased particularly dramatically, according to researchers. The project tracks coverage of issues such as climate change, poverty and human rights in 115 leading broadsheets newspapers from 41 countries between 1990 and this year. To date the research has looked at about 69 million articles in 410,000 newspaper issues, and the results have been used to generate a website, trendsinsustainability.com, set to launch on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. The research found that while attention to sustainability-related issues has increased overall during the last 20 years, the media agenda in this area has changed. Coverage of problems like acid rain and the ozone hole, which have been addressed with success, has diminished, the group found; but stories on climate change have increased more than tenfold, amounting to an average of more than two articles per newspaper issue. “Climate change has emerged as a defining issue in the context of sustainability,” said University of Leeds, U.K. researcher Ralf Barkemeyer. “This globally-important issue has been very successful in terms of gaining general public acceptance of and attention to sustainability, but at the same time it may have significantly changed the sustainability agenda itself – possibly at the expense of attention to socioeconomic problems such as malaria and HIV/AIDS or even corruption, human rights or poverty.” The researchers involved in the study came from the University of Leeds; Queen’s University Belfast, Ireland; the Berlin-based Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment; and Euromed Management School in Marseille, France.