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People with HIV demonised in the press

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The research, which examined online national UK papers over the past year, found almost half of all media coverage on people living with HIV is negative compared to cervical and testicular cancer, in which almost all stories were positive (53%) or neutral (42%) with only a small number being negative (5%).

Stories about people with HIV had many stigmatising themes in common, including discussing how the person got HIV when it has no relevance to the story, hinting at or openly blaming the person and showing a lack of sympathy. 

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, National AIDS Trust (NAT) 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.

Media coverage of people with cervical and testicular cancer was found to be almost entirely positive with people with cancer often being described as brave or inspirational and positive comments from friends and family included in the article. Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, National AIDS Trust said: “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.”

The impact of this negative HIV reporting is increased by an unwelcome atmosphere on social media. Recent analysis, by global social media agency We Are Social for NAT, found when people use the term AIDS on Twitter, 80% of the time it is in an insulting way, such as ‘this football match is AIDS’.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, National AIDS Trust said: “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 base and it has no place in the 21st Century.”

The National AIDS Trust’s World AIDS Day campaign hopes to challenge this stigma by asking the public to Think Positive and Rethink HIV, by learning and sharing the facts about HIV. More information can be found at www.worldaidsday.org.

As part of the campaign the charity will be running a pop-up Kissing Booth in Soho Square on World AIDS Day (11-3pm) in partnership with Attitude Magazine and LGBT club night, Sink The Pink. The event is free and challenges the myth you can get HIV from kissing. 

Notes to the editor:

For further information please contact:

Suzi Price, communications manager, NAT, 020 7814 6733, press@nat.org.uk

National AIDS Trust (NAT)

NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change. www.nat.org.uk

Shaping attitudes. Challenging injustice. Changing lives.

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