HIV/AIDS came late to Papua New Guinea (PNG). Yet, despite the opportunity to learn from press coverage in other parts of the world, the press in PNG during the 1990s repeated the same trends and mistakes that occurred with coverage of HIV/AIDS in the Western press during the 1980s; initially a slow response in which certain groups were targeted as the main offenders and sufferers. This was followed by increased coverage after the recognition of possible HIV infection in the wider population. Finally, there was a gradual decrease in the number of news items on HIV/AIDS. This pattern also reflected what Downs (1972) described as the 'issue attention cycle' - the rise, peak and decline of media interest in a well-established health issue.
The research material was based on a quantitative analysis of all HIV/ AIDS articles in the three main English newspapers in PNG from June 1987 - when the first HIV/AIDS story was reported - until December 1997 when the National AIDS Council (NAC) was set up by an act of Parliament. To chart more recent developments, a quantitative and qualitative analysis of press coverage of HIV/AIDS in PNG was undertaken during a two-year period from January 1998 until December 1999. In total, a 12-year period of press coverage of HIV/AIDS in PNG was researched. Also, interviews with 25 newspaper and magazine editors in the Pacific region were conducted by the author to discover the motivation for the inclusion or omission of HIV/AIDS news items. Seven countries in the Pacific were selected so as to reflect the three main racial groups and to assess if they adopted different approaches to reporting HIV/AIDS. These countries included PNG and Fiji (Melanesia); Tonga and Samoa (Polynesia); New Caledonia and Tahiti (French Melanesia and Polynesia) and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Results show that press coverage of HIV/AIDS in PNG during the 1990s followed closely the threefold chronological pattern adopted by the Western press in the 1980s with variations in timing and emphasis. Similar mistakes were repeated, most notably an initial over-emphasis on risk groups instead of risk behaviours and a lack of information about ways to prevent infection. Interviews with editors in PNG and the South Pacific revealed a noticeable lack of knowledge and understanding of the disease. Up until mid-1999, more than 70 per cent of the editors interviewed by the author believed malaria was a more serious health threat than HIV/AIDS.