Why is the media stuck in the 80s on HIV? Stigma

Why is the media stuck in the 80s on HIV? Stigma

If you took all your information about HIV from the mainstream media you’d think we were still living in the 1980s, why hasn’t it caught up?

The Sun's stigmatising headline

The Sun’s stigmatising headline

I don’t know, dear reader, whether you read the newspapers but today saw a huge step back in the fight to change attitudes and perceptions around HIV, thanks to an insidious piece of stigma-reinforcing “journalism” from The Sun.

The article in question (read at your own mental health risk) is purporting that there is a Hollywood celebrity who has HIV, and that he has knowingly been sleeping around and not telling his sexual partners – and that this had now caused a “Hollywood HIV Panic”.

*deep breaths… deep breaths*

Let’s go through this bit by bit…

1) How do The Sun know this celebrity actually has HIV? Turns out they’re simply reprinting an old rumour that first surfaced on Radar Online some weeks ago. So we already know it’s a quality and well researched piece of journalism. 

2) If this celebrity actually does have HIV what business is it of anyone else? Their HIV status, along with any other medical condition, is private. End of.

3) “Womanising”. What’s with the slut shaming? Everyone is entitled to a healthy sex life. Although I’d prefer it if those working at The Sun wore protection, I wouldn’t want them catching anything – or reproducing.

The fact is The Sun, and other “newspapers” of a similar standing are still stuck decades behind medical science, behind public opinion, and appear to have lost a handle what’s publicly acceptable these days. They’re the racist, homophobic, elderly relative you put in a corner and warn visitors to keep conversation brief.

Assuming this story is true, and assuming this celebrity who has had HIV “for years” is living in the USA, it’s a fair assumption (given America’s ‘Test and Treat’ policy and the fact that this person would be able to afford top-notch medical care) that this person would be on treatment and undetectable – meaning that they are essentially non-infectious. Which renders it even more of a non-story than it already is.

In attempt to add some gravitas, and actual fucking facts, to a non-story The Sun dredged up some old content that HIV policy advisor Lisa Power had given them, along with a pretty old photo. Lisa told beyondpositive that she felt “deeply disappointed that an erstwhile ally (Dan Wootton) lent his name to such a shameful piece that he knows better about.”

She even took time to tell The Sun’s ‘Head of showbiz’ and gay man who should know better, Dan Wootton exactly how she felt…

A colleague of mine who often mentions Jade Goody when we’re talking about HIV, and I think it’s quite fitting in this context. She was a celebrity, in the UK, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer – which was caused by HPV. HPV is a sexually transmittable infection, and it’s just one letter from HIV. Was she slut shamed? Were her partners suing her? Was she demonised for bringing it on herself and putting other people at risk? No. The nation rallied around her, thousands upon thousands of women got tested, she died and there was public mourning as she was given a beautiful funeral – her boyfriend was even let out of prison for the occasion. Similar condition, one letter difference, but a completely different story. Such is the hypocrisy of the gutter press.

The NAT guidelines for reporting HIV are a must for anyone covering HIV

The NAT guidelines for reporting HIV are a must for anyone covering HIV

Articles like his create and reinforce stigma. Articles like this cause harm. Articles like this stop people going to get tested, which in turn stops them getting treated, which in turn leads to more people being infected. Articles like this make it harder for people to disclose their HIV status. Articles like this make people living with HIV feel like social-outcasts.

I’d ask The Sun, and all other papers for that matter, to get a fucking grip, have a good hard read of The National AIDS Trust’s reporting guidelines, and start treating HIV like any other medical condition.

Oh, and when you finally reach the 21st century, Sun, check out iPhones – they’ll blow your mind.

You can follow Tom on twitter as: @PositiveLad

Tom Hayes