My academic research since the mid 990s has focused primarily on media coverage of HIV/AIDS. Interest and commitment to the topic stems from a ten-year period in Malawi, Southern Africa (1981-1991), when I worked as a lecturer and broadcaster. By the late 1980s, a large number of young people had died from the disease, which then was locally known as the 'slim' disease. The media were slow to response to the health crisis and early reports of the epidemic were both sporadic and wildly inaccurate. This was a worrying situation since the only information people received about the disease came from the media, and this shaped their perception and understanding of the disease. My contribution in late 1980s and early 1990s to improve knowledge of the disease and promote prevention included several radio programs, newspaper stories, magazine articles and a book entitled: AIDS: A Christian Response (1991) which has been reprinted five times. By the mid 1990s, the Malawian government announced that HIV infections had climbed to 12 per cent of the total population. That figure is now closer to 25 per cent.
This close-up experience of HIV in southern Africa provides the backdrop to understand my long-standing focus on media coverage of HIV/AIDS in Africa. More recently this focus has shifted to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and parts of South East Asia, where the alarming spread of the disease has led health experts to predict a repeat performance of what occurred in Malawi and other Sub-Saharan African countries. My doctoral thesis (University of Queensland, 2000) was entitled:Repeating Mistakes: Press coverage of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific. Since my doctorate studies, I have coordinated workshops for editors and journalists on reporting HIV/AIDS in PNG, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Micronesia, Australia and presented research papers at international media and health conferences in Malaysia, China, Fiji, Egypt, Philippines, New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. These activities reveal my commitment to share the most up-to-date research on the topic and to keep it on the agenda for discussion among media and health professionals, and ultimately the public who read their publications or listen or watch their programs. Professor Stephen Tanner, Head of Journalism and Creative Writing at Wollongong University, said in a recent report on journalism curriculum development in Australian Universities: "Dr Cullen is considered Australias leading academic on media coverage of HIV-Aids."
I want to keep discussions of HIV in the public forum and among media educators and academics. For this reason, I have attended a number of overseas conferences addressing media coverage of HIV in countries where the HIV is a serious problem. Often, I am the only person at a large international media conference who speaks about this issue, and when you consider that more than 80 per cent of people receive their information on the disease from the media, it is vital that the media understand the problem, the latest developments and ways to report the story responsibly. Conference papers provide an important avenue to reach both Australian and international media academics and professionals.