Statistics and Research – Media Watch
Getting the gist at a glance
A Sapa report published in the The Citizen is a good example of how the representation of stats and data is vital in doing a story justice.
There’s nothing like a good solid statistic. Generally considered reliable and empirical indicators, it is no wonder that statistics and data are an important element of HIV treatment and prevention, used to represent how far we’ve come and often how far we have yet to go.
Last week the The Citizen featured a Sapa report which tried to do just that. Drawing on a recent UNAIDS report, the piece tried to get across information on major declines in HIV among children. But given that the page 6 piece parroted a laundry list of stats, this report would have readers switched off in seconds, turning the page on the important issue of paediatric HIV.
The case for making research relevant
An article in The Star raises an important issue around HIV and sexual minorities but by simply rehashing the findings of one report, stops short of making it relevant to local audiences.
There is growing awareness that addressing the sexual health of men who have sex with men is key to an adequate response to the HIV epidemic.
Last week (17 May 2013) an article in The Star chimed in on the conversation, pointing out that as a result of stigma, discrimination and underfinancing this group has been severely neglected. The Star’s coverage, though dotted with overused combative language (like “battle” and “fight against HIV”), does a good job reminding readers that though progress is being made, not everyone is benefiting equally from HIV programmes.
Sowetan’s misrepresentation of a pregnancy statistic points to an urgent need for a culture of fact checking in journalism
When the people who govern our country make public statements there is bound to be something very newsworthy in their speeches. Reporters make a living picking out those useful bits and selling them to the public as “need to know” information.
As news consumers we trust that information and appreciate that we can get the gist of what was said without having to sit through the proceedings ourselves. It would be real value for the readers’ money, however, if the media first checked and verified those statements before printing them.
Headline grossly misrepresents research findings to suggest that half of people living with HIV will die of heart failure.
Statistics are an extremely effective shorthand for conveying ratios and relationships with high impact. Their charisma is apparent in our daily references to well-known figures, like “90% of lung cancer cases are smoking-related” or “most accidents happen near the home”.
In fact, so effective are statistics that more than 85% of people make up their own percentages to prove a point. (See what I did there?)
That they so easily become part of the social currency makes it extremely tempting to misrepresent information for the sake of impact, or otherwise to over-simplify figures to get people’s attention.
IAS reporting: Between cure and care
Last week’s International AIDS Summit (IAS) coverage generally ended on a positive note, but articles in The New Age (TNA) and City Press took very different angles in discussing the gains made in addressing HIV.
City Press ran a story that boldly proclaimed: “Aids cure is imminent” and discussed the most recent medical breakthroughs that have allegedly cured patients of HIV.
But TNA took a slightly more muted tack, reporting on how getting people on treatment in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa is a standing issue. The article also applauded the gains made through interventions like medical male circumcision (MMC).