But where are our moral heroes? An analysis of South African press reporting on children affected by HIV/AIDS

Case Studies & Research
Cape Town
Children's Institute
Centre for Social Science Research
38 p.

Messages conveyed both explicitly and implicitly in the media play an important role in the shaping of public understanding of issues, as well as associated policy, programme and popular responses to these issues. This paper applies discourse analysis to a series of articles on children affected by HIV/AIDS published in 2002/2003 in the English-medium South African press. The analysis reveals layer upon layer of moral messaging present in the reporting, the cumulative effect of which is the communication of a series of moral judgements about who is and who is not performing appropriate roles in relation to children. Discourses of moral transgression specifically on the part of African parents and families for failing in their moral responsibilities towards their children coalesce with discourses of anticipated moral decay amongst (previously innocent) children who lack their due care. The need for moral regeneration amongst South Africans generally (but implicitly black South Africans) is contrasted with an accolade of (usually white) middle class individuals who have gone beyond their moral duty to respond. The paper argues that in each instance, the particular moralism is questionable in the light of both empirical evidence and principles of human dignity underlying our constitution. Children - and particularly "AIDS orphans" - are shown to be presented as either the quintessential innocent victims of the epidemic or as potential delinquents. While journalists intentions when representing children in these ways are likely to be positive, the paper argues that this approach is employed at a cost, both in the public's knowledge and attitudes around the impact of AIDS, and more importantly, in the lives of children affected by the epidemic.

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