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 Saturday 15 December 2007
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GLOBAL: UK media could do more to combat HIV stigma

Photo: Pierre Holtz/IRIN
African migrants living with HIV fear being further stigmatised if they speak out about their status.
JOHANNESBURG, 15 November 2007 (PlusNews) - Instead of challenging the dual stigmas attached to HIV/AIDS and African migrants, UK media coverage may have contributed to them by painting HIV as primarily an African disease, failing to include the voices of HIV-positive African migrants, and relying on racist stereotypes.

These are some of the findings in the report, Start the Press: How African communities in the UK can work with the media to confront HIV stigma, jointly produced by the African HIV Policy Network (AHPN), an advocacy group, and Panos London, part of a global not-for-profit network that promotes debate about international development issues.

Between November 2005 and December 2006, researchers analysed HIV coverage in five daily national newspapers and five papers targeted at African communities. They also interviewed journalists, advocacy groups, African migrants living with HIV and African community leaders, with the goal of finding ways in which these groups could work with each other to cover HIV among the UK's African communities more responsibly.

African migrants have accounted for the greatest number of new HIV infections in the UK in recent years but, fearful of adding to the stigma and discrimination they already face, there is little incentive for them either to be tested or seek treatment. "As an African woman living with HIV I feel I am stigmatised more for where I come [from]," said one of the interviewees.

A 2003 study by Sigma Research found that only about half of all HIV-positive Africans in the UK had revealed their status to someone they lived with, while one quarter had not even told their doctor.

''People living with HIV, their advocates and leaders...all felt that press coverage of HIV and migration is stigmatising.''
The Start the Press report makes the case that sensationalist or inaccurate coverage of HIV and migration can add to stigma, further reducing the likelihood that Africans living in the UK will be motivated to be tested or live openly and positively with the virus.

One of the key findings from the research was how rarely African migrants living with HIV were interviewed for articles. In the national press, they were quoted in only 10 percent of reports about HIV in African communities. Instead, journalists relied mainly on government spokespeople, doctors and activists.

Researchers also found a shift away from characterising HIV as a "gay plague", typical in the 1980s and 1990s, to portraying the disease as an African problem. More than half the analysed articles in both the national and ethnic press focused on HIV in other countries, mainly in Africa.

There was also relatively little coverage of HIV in relation to migration, and those articles that did link the two did so mainly in relation to legal issues. Only one article investigated the underlying social and cultural factors, such as uncertain legal status, poverty and lack of access to health services, that can make African migrants particularly vulnerable to HIV.

Although national broadsheet newspapers generally avoided non-stigmatising language, popular UK tabloids, such as The Sun, used headlines like "HIV fiend put us on death row" and "Lock up the HIV monster" for a series of stories about a Zimbabwean national who allegedly infected six women with HIV while working at a holiday camp.

"The stigmatising reporting reinforced racial stereotypes by linking African migrants, and men particularly, with sexually predatory behaviour," noted the study's authors, who pointed out that the articles presented no evidence that the man had been tested or was aware of his HIV status.

From their conversations with the African community, researchers found that "people living with HIV, their advocates and leaders ... all felt that press coverage of HIV and migration is stigmatising."

In addition to providing journalists with guidelines for reporting on HIV and encouraging them to broaden their sources, the study's authors urged members of the UK's African communities to help raise awareness of the discrimination they face by telling journalists their stories. To this end, AHPN is helping to conduct media and communication workshops for African people living with HIV in London and other UK cities.


See also, GLOBAL: Asylum seekers struggle to access ARVs

Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) Media - PlusNews, (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, (IRIN) Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.