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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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  1. The Fight for LGBT Equality Is Connected to HIV Risk: While the media continues to improve its reporting on LGBT issues -- especially around bullying, homophobia, DADT (the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law), marriage equality and job discrimination -- more needs to be done to illustrate how these issues directly impact one's own HIV risk.

    This year, on a global level, we saw the media cover the criminalization of homosexuality in certain countries in Africa and explore how that anti-gay sentiment made it extremely difficult to do HIV work. We need to be able to make those same connections in the U.S.

    It may come as a surprise to some that there are still many cases (and many states) in which it is legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the U.S. And if people can be fired from their job, that means they can lose their financial stability. They become less able to look after their health care, and in some cases may even become homeless. A slew of reasons begin to emerge that can make those individuals more vulnerable to HIV.

    (Hint, hint: National LGBT organizations, perhaps now is the time to make HIV/AIDS a platform issue. If you do, the media might follow.)

  2. Stop Ignoring the "T" in "LGBT": Don't let the New York Times' article about how "2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual" fool you into believing that transgender people get their fair share of media coverage and respect. While there has been a slight increase in trans representation, all media -- mainstream, LGBT and even HIV/AIDS media (including us at -- needs to do a better job at discussing how issues of safety, job instability and sex work heighten trans folks' HIV risk. (Not to mention how hormone therapy may interact with HIV meds.) However, it's also true that more work needs to be done within the HIV/AIDS community to ensure that transgender advocates receive more funding and support to conduct necessary research about transgender health.
  3. Try Normalizing HIV; It's Not That Hard: HIV has always been the "cheese that stands alone" -- it's even classified separately from other sexually transmitted diseases. One way to help destigmatize the disease is to include a discussion about HIV into stories in which HIV is simply a fact to be noted, not the focus of the entire piece. For example, in a feature about people struggling to pay for their health care or the difficulties of adhering to daily medications, why not include a person living with HIV as one of the interviewees? Or in a story about Mother's Day, or Valentine's Day, or Veteran's Day, why not include the perspective of an HIV-positive person? HIV doesn't always have to exist outside the box.
  4. If You Don't Know, You Better Ask Somebody: Dear journalists: Since the invention of the telephone (and, more recently, the Internet), there is no longer any reason to continue to publish stories that are not factual or that are irresponsibly one-sided. There are plenty of experts, people living with HIV and advocates who can help you understand the complexities of the epidemic. If you have a question, reach out to them. You can even reach out to one of us and we can help get you into contact with the right people. Please use us as a resource. Yours truly,

What else do you believe was mismanaged in the media this year? What other recommendations do you have for journalists? Please e-mail us or leave a comment below!

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

Copyright © 2010 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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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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Replies to this comment:
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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Replies to this comment:
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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