Primary Finding of This Report
Black immigrant men living with HIV are disproportionately highlighted and summarily demonized in Canadian mainstream newspaper coverage about HIV non-disclosure criminal cases. While these men account for only 15% of defendants, they are the focus of 61% of newspaper coverage, which inflames racist stereotypes and xenophobia towards those who are immigrants. Moreover, we know that most of the people who have faced criminal charges for HIV non-disclosure in Canada are, in fact, White. Yet mainstream newspapers focus on cases involving Black male defendants and report on those cases in extremely sensationalistic and stereotypical ways. What results is racially-biased reportage.
Significant Statistics of This Report
- A total of 68% (1141/1680) of the newspaper articles analyzed were found to focus on racialized defendants.
- African, Caribbean and Black men living with HIV are disproportionately represented in mainstream newspaper articles. While Black men account for 20% (36/181) of people who have faced criminal charges related to HIV non-disclosure in Canada, they are the focus of 62% (1049/1680) of newspaper articles addressing such cases.
- Immigrant and refugee defendants receive remarkably high amounts of coverage. Only 18% (32/181) of defendants are known to be immigrants or refugees, yet stories about immigrants and refugees account for 62% (1046/1680) of our corpus.
- There are more than 2.5 times the number of newspaper articles featuring Black (1049) than White (412) defendants.
Methodology of the Report
The five-person team created two datasets for this project. The first dataset focuses on people in Canada who have faced criminal charges related to HIV non-disclosure or exposure of HIV infection to their sexual partners. To gather that information, the team updated files from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and relied on media reports, internet searches, searches of legal databases and information from lawyers and HIV/AIDS organizations. The second dataset includes newspaper articles dealing with HIV non-disclosure criminal cases. No previous Canadian study had ever assessed such a large number of newspaper articles about HIV non-disclosure criminal cases.
The dataset was created with the news aggregator Factiva. The team used a variety of different search terms in electronic searches of the Factiva database for the period 1989 to 2015. They discarded articles that did not deal with HIV non-disclosure criminal cases (e.g. articles on quarantine, blood donation, and the regulation of health professionals who are living with HIV). Their final corpus includes 1680 newspaper articles. The team read and analyzed all 1680 articles. The final report's analysis of the representation of Black immigrant male defendants in HIV non-disclosure criminal cases is based on an analysis of 820 newspaper articles.
A group of HIV-positive and HIV-negative people with a long history of engagement with HIV advocacy and research. Team members have over 40 years of experience doing social science research on HIV and have worked in the community, providing HIV prevention, treatment and support services.
Eric Mykhalovskiy is Professor of Sociology at York University. Colin Hastings is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at York University in Toronto. Chris Sanders is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lakehead University. Michelle Hayman is completing a combined JD/MSW degree at the University of Toronto. Laura Bisaillon is a social scientist and professor at the University of Toronto.
A Call for Newsroom Reform
"Callous, Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous" asserts that such racist coverage of HIV criminalization and non-disclosure issues has extremely negative effects on the public: It stigmatizes people living with HIV, misinforms the public about HIV transmission and contributes to a culture of fear about HIV and hostility toward people living with HIV, especially Black immigrants.
The report team proposes ways to improve such media coverage:
- Treat these stories as health matters, not criminal matters. Assign such stories to health editors, not crime beat reporters.
- Do not use mug shots in filing stories; they drive home the notion of people with HIV as criminals.
- Expunge story descriptions that are inherently racist or demonize the defendant.
- Ensure that coverage about HIV transmission is based on current scientific research, including research on the negligible risk of transmitting HIV when people living with HIV have an undetectable viral load.
- When interviewing sources for these stories, do not overlook AIDS service organizations and HIV advocates for enlightened perspectives.
- Create a uniform editorial policy across Canadian newsrooms regarding HIV non-disclosure coverage. Take the opportunity to impart crucial education about preventing transmission, rather than demonizing people.
Journalists should consider stories on why Canadians with HIV are charged with aggravated sexual assault in non-disclosure incidents -- even when no HIV transmission has occurred. (In almost 40% of such Canadian convictions, there is no allegation of HIV transmission.)