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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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This article was provided by TheBody.
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

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Sally (London) Mon., Mar. 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm UTC
Great article, thank you.

The thing that drives me mad in the UK is the media writing hiv/AIDS or hiv/aids. I see it in all the major punlications. They're acronyms! HIV/AIDS please!
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Comment by: Martin Stolk (Amsterdam, NL) Fri., Jan. 7, 2011 at 4:24 am UTC
Can I add that aside from seniors and teens, also people with disabilities (deaf, blind or otherwise) have sex and are at increased risk of HIV as a) they can end up in abusive relationships; b) educational materials are not in sign language or braille... When we talk about key populations at risk we should include people with disabilities.
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Comment by: Diana B. (La Jolla, CA) Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm UTC
Kellee, This is such an amazing piece. You have hit on so many great points and have opened my eyes to so many truths about the media coverage of HIV/Aids. Thank you for sharing the information on Marvelyn Brown and Jane Fowler. Incredible individuals. I will follow your writings on twitter.
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Comment by: Jerry (Los Angeles) Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm UTC
Good article, but if you're going to bash Fox News, then you should bash CNN,MSNBC,ABC,NBC,CBS,CNBC,etc... Fox does not fabricate or sensationalize the news. The facts are the facts. We're all adults here and we have Internet access to look them up and disprove them for ourselves. :)
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Comment by: Jennifer Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm UTC
You are kidding yourself if you believe that Fox news is not biased with their news coverage. And as for media coverage of HIV, until it affects more of the general population, the wealthy, white women, and heterosexuals, then the search for a cure and news coverage will remain skewed and scarce.

Comment by: David B. (Key West) Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 6:29 am UTC
You failed to mention Jerry Herman in the Kennedy Center Honors--who is also known for his work on Broadway as a composer/lyricist and is also HIV+!
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Comment by: Martha (Harare, ZW) Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 12:56 am UTC
Great great article ... food for thought, not just for media, but for programmers in HIV/AIDS, human rights and health work.
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Comment by: mack470 (Jersey City,NJ) Thu., Dec. 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm UTC
This a really great message but what are the chances the media will follow your suggestions,most likely not at all.The points you made were right on target.HIV will never get the coverage like the,LINDSAY LOHAN,OR THE KARDASHIANS unless one of them gets infected.
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Comment by: Martha (Harare, ZW) Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 12:54 am UTC
"HIV will never get the coverage like the,LINDSAY LOHAN,OR THE KARDASHIANS unless one of them gets infected" ... and disclose publicly...

Comment by: HIVgirl - (Okanagan, BC, Canada) Thu., Dec. 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm UTC
This is an article that is excellent... thank you for saying it like it is! has always been a great resource for me and no, I don't work there.. hah! I am just a woman with HIV in Canada and look to you guys as people who know what you are talking about. THANKS AGAIN!
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Comment by: Jonathan Batiste (San Francisco, CA) Mon., Dec. 13, 2010 at 3:35 pm UTC
Best article around HIV i've read all year. I LOVE the proactive activism in the message. Your quote on the REAL reason for the HIV disparity among Black folk is in my signature line at work.
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Comment by: Hilly (France) Mon., Dec. 13, 2010 at 3:01 pm UTC
It annoys me that in all soap operas and TV films people jump into bed or other places with each other, but condoms are never mentioned !
As much as smoking in TV films has been reduced, as much should condoms become a subject on TV.

Soap operas are on TV all day long, why can't they just add a few seconds by letting the actors use condoms or at least mention them?
I remember that I saw ONE film in the last ten years or so, where the couple actually bought condoms first, and then went on !
That's simply not enough.

And also: Bring back the condom adverts from the Eighties !!!
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Comment by: Krishna Stone (New York City) Mon., Dec. 13, 2010 at 11:18 am UTC
Thank you Kellee for a superb and inspiring article on the media and HIV/AIDS!

Krishna Stone
Communications Department
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