The press is still perpetuating ‘hurtful and damaging’ HIV myths
A new study has confirmed that press coverage of HIV is still overwhelmingly negative, in stark contrast to other health conditions.
The research, conducted by the National AIDS Trust, looked at coverage of stories involving people with HIV across major UK newspapers in the past year.
The study found that people with HIV are far more likely to be portrayed negatively or unsympathetically in the press, and were more likely to be portrayed negatively than those with other conditions such such as cancer.
Researchers found that media coverage of people living with HIV is twice as likely to be negative (48%) as positive (26%) or neutral (26%).
This stands in stark contrast to coverage of stories relating to cervical and testicular cancer, in which almost all stories were positive (53%) or neutral (42%) with only a small number being negative (5%).
The NAT study found that the HIV stories often included stigmatising themes – such as ‘blaming’ the person for their condition, showing a lack of sympathy, or discussing how the person got HIV where it has no relevance to the story.
The study notes: “Headlines relating to HIV were often negative and stigmatising, using words such as selfish, pervert, deceived, womaniser and perverse.
“In contrast, headlines in articles about people who have or had testicular or cervical cancer often used words such as tragedy, shock, battling, victim, heartbreak and heart-rending.”
NAT Chief Executive Deborah Gold said: “With HIV in the media you are often seen as a victim or a villain.
“If you acquire HIV before birth or by blood-transfusion you are treated far more sympathetically than if you acquire HIV through unprotected sex, which accounts for 95% of all HIV transmission in the UK.
“Then you are seen as asking for it. Most newspaper articles include how people got HIV, not only through misplaced voyeurism, but also to ensure their readers know whether to feel sorry for the person or not.”
“This HIV blame culture filters down to individuals with HIV themselves. The UK’s Stigma Index found that in the past 12 months, almost half of people living with HIV have felt guilty or blamed themselves because of their HIV status. Eighteen percent have felt suicidal because of it.”
Compared to this, people with cervical and testicular cancer are portrayed as brave and inspirational, with articles often including supportive comments from family and friends.
Deborah Gold added: “This is a much more effective way of raising awareness of a health condition. By positioning people with cancer as someone you might know and like you feel this could happen to you, rather than this ‘othering’ of people with HIV.”
“If you read the news or go online you get the impression that people living with HIV have done something to deserve it, that they are intent on spreading the disease, that they are less deserving of our sympathy and respect simply because they have the wrong health condition.
“This is stigma at its most pure and simple and it has no place in the 21st Century.”
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