Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Henry D. Chizimba, Final Year, Education Humanities, Chancellor College

That HIV/AIDS has caused untold ethical, eco-political, socio-cultural, and epidemiological havoc is well documented here in Malawi and abroad. Pessimism, and more specifically, stigma and discrimination have been described as hampering efforts to end HIV/AIDS. Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)—a tool that analyzes how people understand and are understood through use of language (Tiainen, 2009)—and through Framing Theory especially  through specific analysis of personal pronouns, lexical choices, and demonstratives, the study found that the 2011 World AIDS Day commemoration adverts in The Nation and The Daily Times Malawi newspapers contained pessimism about HIV/AIDS containment and stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV/ADS (PLHIV). In total, 33 adverts were found, 19 with messages and 14 without messages. 10 adverts of the 19 messaged-adverts were analysed (because some messages were similar and only one was considered to represent the others). Of the 10 adverts, 2 contained neither pessimism nor stigma and discrimination (20%), 3 adverts contained pessimism (30%), and 5 adverts contained stigma and discrimination (50%). The study therefore reveals the hidden meaning of the adverts—pessimism, stigma and discrimination—thus helping readers unmask the real meaning behind the adverts.

KEYWORDS: CDA, 2011 World AIDS Day, Pessimism, Stigma and Discrimination

Still unclear about its origin, AIDS—Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome—is the final stage of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV attacks and destroys the body’s defence against infections leaving an individual vulnerable to opportunistic diseases that eventually cause death (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012). Findings from research confirm the fact that HIV/AIDS epidemic has had, and if unchecked, will continue to have many and far-reaching consequences on all spheres of life.

In Malawi, the first hospital case of HIV/AIDS was registered in 1985, though some (e.g. Lwanda, 2004) believe AIDS might have arrived in Malawi around 1977. Ever since, Malawi, just like other countries faced with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, has had to grapple with havoc wrecked by it; rise in number of orphans; missing adult population; increased mortality; and reduced population growth among other problems.

The study aimed at investigating pessimism, stigma and discrimination in World AIDS Day commemoration adverts of 2011 in The Daily Times and The Nation Malawi newspapers

To achieve the main objective, the study first;
  --Identified personal pronouns, demonstratives, and lexical choices in both dailies
--Assessed how these linguistic items had been used by both dailies
--Examined how the above linguistic items created and sustained pessimism, stigma and discrimination in both dailies  

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)—an interdisciplinary approach to the study of how language enacts and resists socio-political domination (van Dijk, 1995)—sees power relations as exercised and negotiated through language. Van Dijk (1985) believes that some of CDA’s tenets are from Frankfurt School before the Second World War and that CDA borrows its analytical resources from sociology, psychology, sociolinguistics, and the social sciences. He points out that CDA operates on the belief that discourse contains hidden messages about relationships in society (Van Dijk, 1986). To this end, scholars (e.g. Mineshima, 2009) have confirmed from their studies that indeed discourse contains hidden messages that either re-enforce the existing social circumstances or resist them.

Any text or talk, whether being it about education, constitution, or HIV/AIDS contain hidden messages because no discourse is “value-free” (van Dijk, 1995). HIV/AIDS discourse has received unprecedented intellectual, political, economic, and epidemiological attention because, among other reasons, of its disastrous impact to humanity. Worldwide HIV/ AIDS has seen an estimated 33.2 million people living with it, approximately 2.5 million newly infected with it, and 2.1 million people dying of it (UN report, 2007). Findings from HIV/AIDS studies show that HIV/AIDS has negatively affected the military (Ostergard & Matthew, 2004), undermined democratic governance (Taylor, 2004), disrupted society (Folayan, 2004), reduced life expectancy and increased mortality (Poku and Whiteside, 2004). Honestly, HIV/AIDS epidemic is an issue that needs serious and concerted effort to contain otherwise humanity is at risk of being irreversibly disturbed for good.

Recently, stigma and discrimination in HIV/AIDS text and talk has become a major concern. The United Nations General Assembly, for example, in its high-level meeting on AIDS in June, 2011 adopted bold targets for 2015 that included the desire to end stigma and discrimination (The Nation, Dec 1, 2011). This is the case because ending stigma and discrimination is seen as a powerful step towards arresting the AIDS pandemic. Stigma refers “negative thoughts or prejudices about people from particular groups or with certain characteristics (Southern Africa AIDs Action, 2002, p. 2). On its part, discrimination, according to Dorsen and Lierberman (2008) refers to treating others differently based solely on their membership in a socially distinct group or category, such as race, ethnicity, sex, religion, age, or disability. In this study, discrimination means treating people with HIV/AIDS differently solely based on the fact that they are HIV positive.

So far, there seems to be no research done on HIV/AIDS using CDA. This study therefore is an attempt to unravel the hidden meanings in HIV/AIDS messages using CDA. To this end, the study investigated pessimism, stigma and discrimination in the 2011 World AIDS Day commemoration messages in The Nation and The Daily Times Malawi newspapers.

Several scholars, for example (Kimu, 2009; Chizimba, 2012) have conducted studies on news reports using Framing as a theory of media effects. According to Scheufele (1999), framing refers to the media’s use of schemas that listeners or readers use to interpret and discuss public events. Scheufele points out that the theory borrows its tools from psychology where it is held that people’s information processing and interpretation is largely influenced by pre-existing meaning structures. Though Framing theory is said to be vaguely conceptualized (Brosius & Eps, 1995 as cited by Scheufele, 1999), it nevertheless provides the tools to understand how meanings are encoded and decoded by writers and readers to construe the natural world. This study uses Framing theory in its investigation of pessimism, stigma and discrimination in the 2011 World AIDS Day commemoration adverts in The Daily Times and The Nation Malawi newspapers.

The study considers adverts only that were carried by the two dailies on 1st December, 2011 World AIDS Day for analysis and not news articles. This becomes a limitation in that the news articles left out could possibly contain pessimism, stigma and discrimination just like the adverts analysed, and, expectedly, the articles left out could have thus added to the richness of the findings of the study.

That HIV/AIDS epidemic is an epidemiological and eco-political issue is common knowledge. Given this, it should be little wonder that different corporations, government institutions and Ministries in Malawi joined the President, late Bingu wa Mutharika, and other local and international corporations and organizations in commemorating 2011’s World AIDS Day which falls on 1st December every year. However, most CDA studies in Malawi have been on constitution (e.g. Chizimba, 2012; Kimu, 2009), and media adverts on gender (e.g. Chikatentha, 2012) and none so far on media adverts on HIV/AIDS. This study investigated HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination on 2011 World AIDS Day commemoration adverts. It is hoped that the study will reveal ideologies hidden in the commemoration adverts thus adding knowledge to people’s understanding of misrepresentation of reality in adverts.

The study is a content analysis of purposively-sampled adverts. The study used this sampling technique because its purpose (Bryman, 1992) was to analyse adverts that dealt with HIV/AIDS only on 1st December, 2011. This day was chosen because it is, according to United Nation, a World AIDS Day and, expectedly, it is the day HIV/AIDS messages are most prominent in the media. Again, this day was chosen because of its theme phrased as “Getting to Zero”—Zero new infections, Zero AIDS-related deaths, and Zero stigma and discrimination. 33 adverts were found, 16 (9 containing messages) from The Daily Times, and 17 (10 containing messages) from The Nation. Of the 19 messaged-adverts, 5 adverts were found to be formulaic, so only one was considered to represent the other; 4 appeared in both dailies with exactly the same message and were considered once. Overall, 10 adverts were considered for Critical Discourse Analysis for their language richness and content.

Findings from the study show that the 2011 World AIDS Day commemoration adverts were full of pessimism, stigma and discrimination against people infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. The study critically analysed 10 messaged-adverts in The Nation and The Daily Times. These 10 adverts were from the UN Secretary-General, UNAIDS, MASM, Lilongwe Water Board, Nation Publications Limited (NPL), Illovo Sugar, Sunbird, EveryChild, African Union (AU), and ESCOM (ESCOM’s message is a formulaic one shared by National AIDS Commission (NAC), Blantyre Water Board, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), and Mapeto (DWSM) Ltd). Out of these 10 adverts, it was found that adverts from NPL and Illovo Sugar contained neither pessimism nor stigma and discrimination (20%); ESCOM and all institutions sharing its message, UN Secretary-General, and UNAIDS contained pessimism (30%); and MASM, Lilongwe Water Board, Sunbird, EveryChild, African Union contained stigma and discrimination (50%).

It is established in the study that 30 percent of the adverts on 1st December, 2011 World AIDS Day were pessimistic about the containment of HIV/AIDS in so far as efforts made and to be made are concerned. Pessimism is when one expects only the worst to happen. For Microsoft Student 2009 (2008) pessimism is an “entrenched negative state of mind, or a permanent expectation of the worst under all circumstances....” Microsoft Student clarifies that pessimism is the end-product of the feelings of a person as induced by the actions of another as another’s actions contribute to “the difference between the world as it is and the world as it could be.” This section discusses pessimism in the 2011 World AIDS Day commemoration adverts.

9.1.1 Lexical Choices
Simply put, lexical choices refer to the words the author uses. In perhaps CDA terms, by lexical choices it is meant the author’s ability to select words from amongst alternatives. What follows is a discussion of lexical choices as they are used to enact pessimism in the 2011 World AIDS Day Commemoration adverts.

Excerpts 1, 2, and 3 contain the modal auxiliary “can” which shows possibility (Lillian, 2008) of realizing a vision (Excerpt 1), of achieving targets (Excerpt 2), and of accelerating ahead (Excerpt 3). Admittedly, the modal “can” denotes ability to realize, to achieve, and accelerate in these Excerpts. However, expressing possibility of defeating the HIV/AIDS epidemic is also expressing impossibility of defeating it, and thus, paradoxically, conceding failure to  what Poku and Whiteside (2004) call an HIV/AIDS “crisis” hence sending waves of pessimism to the readers. This is the case because the message the modality “can” sends is that these organizations know they have the ability to arrest HIV/AIDS and also doubt the potency of that ability.

Excerpt 1
The progress we have made so far is proof that we can realize our vision of Zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths (UN Secretary-General)

Excerpt 2
With strong political will, reasonable financial resources, and a firm human rights based approach, we can achieve all of these targets (UN Secretary-General)

Excerpt 3
The road before us is clear and we can accelerate ahead with smart investments, capitalizing on scientific advancements and evidence and respecting human rights (UNAIDS)

In Excerpt 4 below, the lexical items ‘take control’ take the statement that the groups of people mentioned in this Excerpt do not “take control of their health” as unquestionably and obviously true. Given the fact that no evidence is given to confirm this in the advert, one would not be wrong to conclude that UN Secretary-General expressed, though covertly, the frustration they have with HIV/AIDS containment. Also, in a way, such presupposition seems to push the responsibility of curbing HIV/AIDS from the UN to the individual. In this way, the UN (as an organization with Aids component in its programmes) is pessimistic about HIV/AIDS containment suggesting that perhaps the way to defeating HIV/AIDS pandemic is by pushing the responsibility to the people thus showing pessimism.

Similarly, Excerpt 5 contains the noun ‘dream’ which portrays pessimism on the part of these organizations since the word ‘dream’ has the connotations of ‘nightmare’, ‘hallucinations’, ‘delusion’ etcetera. Expectedly, Mapeto (DWSM) Ltd sends the message of that it is only by sheer luck that HIV/AIDS is to be defeated.

Excerpt 4
Among populations at risk, the tide is shifting. Access to HIV prevention services are helping young people, sex workers and their clients, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people to take control of their health for greater well-being (UN Secretary-General)

Excerpt 5
May we all help in the dream of Getting to zero (ESCOM, NAC, Bt Water Board, MRA, Mapeto (DWSM) Ltd)

Stigma and discrimination, as elsewhere herein defined, is the projection of demeaning judgment about another because of one’s status and treating such a one unfairly due to the same. It is found in the study that 50 percent of the adverts on this day created and re-enforced stigma and discrimination as the below discussion shows;

9.2.1 Personal Pronouns
Microsoft Encarta (2009) defines personal pronoun as words that stand in for the name of a person speaking, spoken to, spoken about. Microsoft Encarta points out that personal pronouns differ in forms according to their person, number, and case. They thus can be first person singular (I, me) or plural (we, us); second person singular/plural (you, your); and third person singular (he, it) and plural (they, them).

In Excerpt 6 below, MASM uses the general second person singular/plural ‘you’ according to Bramley (2001) classification. Bramley (2001, p. 147) cites Laberge and Sankoff (1980, p. 272) who assert that ‘you’, when used in general sense, refers to either “everyone” or “someone or group in particular”. In this Excerpt, MASM uses ‘you’ to refer to a group of people and not everyone; people living with HIV/AIDS in particular (and the ‘you’ is in bold for emphasis). In this way MASM singles out this group of people living with HIV/AIDS thereby passing the message that the people belonging to this group are different from others (them). Since ‘you’ in this sense “connotes a higher degree of intimacy and solidarity” (Hoainhat, 2008), it also means MASM informs people with HIV/ADS that they deserve special care because of their status. In this way, MASM looks down upon people living with HIV/ADS by depicting them as different from them and needing special attention thus enacting stigma and discrimination.

Excerpt 6
There for you. always (highlighting original)(MASM)

9.2.2 Demonstratives
Demonstratives (e.g. this, these, that, those) are words whose full meaning is contextual and are used to refer to particular items other than the speaker(s). For scholars, demonstratives are used to point out the people, things, situations, or experiences a speaker refers to and distinguishes those entities from others. Demonstratives are said to be spatial—used in the physical surroundings of the speaker and/or listener), and discoursal—used to refer to what is currently being said or was said earlier other than the relative location of the speaker.
A CDA of Excerpts 7, 8, 9, and 10 below, confirm that the institutions acknowledged in these Excerpts used demonstrative ‘those’—a plural demonstrative—both spatially and discoursally. In these Excerpts, ‘those’ refers to, spatially, a group of people more distant to the speaking institution, and discoursally, this group of people distant to the speaking institutions is that of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV). Elsewhere, scholars have clarified that demonstratives ‘this’ and ‘these’ refer to entities close to the speaker whereas ‘that’ and ‘those’ refer to entities more distant to the speaker.

Excerpt 7
For starters, the HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy is put into action through the Workplace Program. The Program’s overall objective is to retain high qualitative and quantitative level of human resources. Activities under the program are modelled within three thematic areas; (i) prevention of new infections, (ii) treatment of those already infected, and (iii) care and support of infected personnel and their direct families (LL Water Board)

Ironically, Lilongwe Water Board in Excerpt 7 above, by using ‘those’ in this context, distances itself from PLHIV by depicting PLHIV as different from them. In this way, LL Water Board stigmatizes PLHIV and, by extension, discriminates against PLHIV. The same institutional distancing from PLHIV is seen in Excerpt 8 below where Sunbird paints the picture that Sunbird is different from PLHIV hence need to make that distancing clear from the onset. The Excerpt reads;

Excerpt 8
In the same vein, Sunbird would like to congratulate all its employees and families that have already gone for HIV-testing in the last 12 months and that as Sunbird we will continue to support and care for those employees infected and affected as stipulated in our HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy (SUNBIRD, Hotels and Resorts)

Again, EveryChild in Excerpt 9 and AU in Excerpt 10 below use demonstrative ‘those’ in a manner described elsewhere herein. In Excerpt 9 EveryChild portrays children orphaned by HIV/AIDS as a distinct category different from that of other children orphaned by other causes other than HIV/AIDS. Here also, EveryChild differentiates between the children thus stigmatizing children orphaned by HIV/AIDS thereby enacting discrimination. Similarly, AU stigmatizes and discriminates PLHIV as Excerpt 10 below shows;

Excerpt 9
EveryChild Malawi also supports children including those orphaned by HIV/AIDS through Early Childhood Development and Psychosocial Programmes (EveryChild) 

Excerpt 10
We have the responsibility not only to ensure access to treatment for all people in need but also not to discriminate against those with the disease (AU)

Findings from the study give evidence that the institutions which flighted adverts on 1st December, 2011, World AIDS Day commemoration in The Nation and The Daily Times created and maintained pessimism, stigma and discrimination. The CDA shows that the institutions used personal pronouns, demonstratives, and lexical choices to produce and reproduce pessimism, stigma and discrimination. Pessimism on war on HIV/AIDS has also been observed elsewhere. For example, in a study by Government of Malawi (GoM, 2003, p. 49), it was observed that respondents were “twice as likely to express pessimism (54%)” on containment of HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, it is ironical that the CDA on 2011 World AIDS Day has found that the adverts flighted on this day contained stigma and discrimination when the adverts were meant to address the same stigma and discrimination. It has been established that the adverts in the two dailies used linguistic resources in such a way that the speaking institutions distanced themselves from PLHIV thus treating PLHIV as clearly different from the organizations thereby stigmatizing and discriminating against PLHIV.  This stigma and discrimination is saddening given the fact that HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination are “great barriers to preventing further infections and providing adequate care, support, and treatment.” (Southern Africa AIDS Action, 2002, p.1).  Worse still, this stigma and discrimination has been enacted by employers who were supposed to have destigmatized its guidelines on HIV/AIDS both in theory and practice as stipulated in the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) codes (Southern Africa AIDS Action, 2002).

However, it is difficult to conclude whether such pessimism, stigma and discrimination in the adverts is a true reflection of what actually happens on the ground or simply lack of language expertise. The same applies to National Publications Limited and Illovo Sugar where such pessimism, stigma and discrimination were not re-enforced let alone created.

Motivated by the conclusion above, the study strongly recommends that institutions and corporations should seek the services of language experts when developing adverts of this or other nature. Additionally, institutions, companies, and non-governmental organizations should also consider asking people well-versed in the field for proper terminologies. And lastly, further studies need to be done to investigate how language is used in HIV/AIDS literature to prevent the irony of weakly eradicating pessimism, stigma and discrimination, when actually they are, consciously or otherwise, fiercely promoting them.

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