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For World AIDS Day, read about stigma, criminalization and more >>
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10 Tips for the Media on How to Stop Screwing Up HIV/AIDS Coverage

December 10, 2010

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And this is where we come in. We looked over 2010's media coverage of HIV/AIDS and came up with 10 important lessons that journalists should keep in mind for next year:

  1. Include More Voices of People Living With HIV: This is a "no duh" if we want to eliminate stigma. But minus the media frenzy around Project Runway's Mondo Guerra disclosing his HIV status on air, mainstream media almost never showcases the real voices of people living with HIV.

    Wouldn't it be awesome if -- on a day other than World AIDS Day -- we could hear people living with HIV talk about love and marriage; stigma and discrimination; pregnancy and family; treatment and adhering to drugs; the trials and tribulations of being on an ADAP waiting list; disclosing to others; and all that other good stuff? Perhaps "reality" only works for the Kardashians.

  2. Complicate the Issue of HIV Criminalization: It took a German pop star to get most of the world to take notice of the increasing number of HIV criminalization and non-disclosure laws around the world. And the world did notice: In 2010, there was a flurry of media coverage on the issue. (You know the topic is here to stay when Law & Order: SVU dedicates an entire episode to it.)

    But minus the exception of The Michigan Messenger's Todd Heywood, who does a wonderful job of defining the nuances of the issue and exposing the hypocrisy of these laws, too often media coverage depicts people living with HIV as "bitter, irresponsible and dangerous criminals" who purposely infect their "innocent" partners.

    We hope that with the legal work and advocacy of criminalization experts such as the Center for HIV Law & Policy's Catherine Hanssens and Sean Strub, Lambda Legal's Bebe Anderson and journalist and blogger Edwin Bernard, journalists will begin asking their readers when writing about criminalization, "Whose responsibility is it to keep you negative: your partner or yours?"

  3. Lay the Down Low to Rest: Even though studies show that closeted men who have sex with both men and women are not fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in black America, this topic just won't die. This year alone, we had the debacle on The View, op-eds written in black media, and Tyler Perry's new film, For Colored Girls, to remind us just how prevalent and powerful this cultural phenomenon still is. In 2011, let's start focusing on what's really going on: disproportionate poverty, intravenous drug use, homophobia, lack of access to health care, high rates of undiagnosed sexually transmitted diseases, high rates of incarceration and barriers to condom use, to name a few.
  4. Bigwigs Are Not the Only People You Should Pay Attention To: Did you know that, this summer at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, sex workers from around the world had a major presence (including a huge rally)? Or that the same was true of drug users, who had an international declaration on their behalf signed by more than 18,000 people? Did you know that UNIFEM and the ATHENA Network released a comprehensive report that highlighted the lack of female leadership in HIV policymaking despite the fact that the global face of AIDS is more female than male? Did you know that, the day before the conference, an amazing event took place where gay men and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community members and supporters from around the world could meet and network?

    Of course you did. But the rest of the world probably did not: All of those stories were overlooked, because journalists were more interested in writing about Bill Gates, Annie Lennox and other high-powered players who were present at the conference. While the work they do can be helpful, here is a plea to the media: Please don't forget about the grassroots work that is being done to better the lives of people living with HIV. You might be missing out on a good story.

  5. Teens and Seniors Have Sex Too: If it wasn't for the reality shows 16 and Pregnant and Sunset Daze, or the occasional sensationalized stories about "retirement homes gone wild" or "teen sex parties," one would think that these two groups never had sex. Oh, but they do -- and the media (along with most of society) needs to get over its hang-ups and begin exploring the alarming and rising rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among these demographics. This means fewer interviews with Bristol Palin and company, and more interviews with women such as Marvelyn Brown and Jane Fowler.
  6. It's About Power (or the Lack Thereof): Articles about condom negotiation are wonderful and we need more of them, but not everyone has the power to use a condom. This point was brilliantly made in the documentary The Other City, when J'Mia, an HIV-positive mother of three, talked about the impossibility of demanding condom use when in an abusive relationship. She said she would do what it took to not get "beat on" and that meant keeping her mouth shut about using protection.

    While feminism in the U.S. has made many strides, there are many who have been left behind in the U.S. and abroad. There should be more articles that illustrate the concrete harms that gender oppression, poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse and economic instability have on women and their vulnerability to contracting HIV.

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See Also
HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television


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