The media can be a positive force for improving human rights, health of homosexuals and transgender people in South Asia, says a new report developed by Centre for Advocacy & Research (CFAR) and UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The report, ‘A Framework for Media Engagement on MSM and Transgender Persons in South Asia,’ provides direction for how homosexuals and transgender communities should engage with the media and how the media itself should leverage its influence to reduce stigma and discrimination, educate and raise awareness of human rights issues and support strategies, programmes that improve the political, social and legal environments for homosexuals and the transgender people.

Examining media reporting in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, researchers found prejudiced, inaccurate and sensationalised news coverage that increased stigma and distorted public perception on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. It also enforced stereotypes and not reported community issues accurately.

“Though media coverage of HIV has increased over the last two decades, the coverage of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identities has often been weak and objectionable,” said Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor at UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre.

“By engaging with communities, raising awareness among media practitioners and wielding their powers for good, the media can influence public opinion and policies and programmes, and contribute to a more effective HIV response in the region,” said Mr. Settle.

The report recommends that community organisations create partnerships with all levels of the media – local, state and national – to improve accurate reporting and representation of key issues.

Taking the appeal forward, Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director, CFAR, said: “Today, more than ever before, there was both an imperative and an opportunity for community-based organisations to systematically harness the media, in particular the local language and district media and engage them in impacting policies and programmes with the decisive aim to advance social inclusion of and affirmative action for homosexuals and transgender persons.”

The authors and researchers of the report, CFAR, also noted reasons for hope. “Sexual and gender minority communities in the countries studied have made huge strides in recent years. On several occasions, they’ve been key ‘newsmakers’ and driven intensive periods of national discourse around key community issues.”

In India, media sensitisation workshops have improved coverage, as have partnerships between community and media to raise issues on HIV, human rights and human interest stories.

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