Reporting on a 'Hollywood HIV panic' like it's the 1980s will only help the virus spread

The mainstream media has outdone itself today when it comes to reinforcing the stigma around HIV

Tom Hayes
Wednesday 11 November 2015 16:06 GMT
The Sun's front page, 11 November 2015 The Sun
The Sun's front page, 11 November 2015 The Sun (The Sun)

Thanks to an insidious piece of stigma-reinforcing “journalism” from The Sun, today saw a huge step back in the fight to change attitudes and perceptions around HIV.

The article in question, which is based on a report from Radar Online, claims that there is a Hollywood celebrity who has HIV, and that he has knowingly been sleeping around without telling his sexual partners. This has apparently led to a “Hollywood HIV Panic”.

As someone who lives with HIV, when I read about this I felt like screaming. Let's go through it bit by bit...

1) How does anyone know this celebrity actually has HIV? Could it be based on medical records? Either way, it seems highly likely that someone's privacy has been invaded.

2) If this celebrity actually does have HIV, what business is it to anyone else? Unless you've gone to the press yourself, any medical conditions you may have are private. End of.

3) Their use of the term “womanising”. What's with the slut shaming? Everyone is entitled to a healthy sex life.

All the papers who reported on this "HIV panic" are stuck decades behind medical science and public opinion. They appear to have completely lost their handle on what's publicly acceptable these days.

Assuming this story is true, and assuming this celebrity who has had HIV “for years” is living in the USA, it's a fair assumption that this person would be receiving some of the best treatment available – meaning that they are essentially non-infectious. Which renders it even more of a non-story than it already is.

In an attempt to add some gravitas, and actual facts, to a non-story, The Sun dredged up some old content that HIV policy advisor Lisa Power had given them, along with a pretty old photo. However, when I contacted her, Lisa told me that she felt “deeply disappointed that an erstwhile ally [The Sun's Head of Showbiz Dan Wootton] lent his name to such a shameful piece that he knows better about.”

She even took time to tell Dan Wootton exactly how she felt:

Articles like his create and reinforce stigma. Articles like this cause harm. Articles like this stop people going to get tested, which in turn stops them getting treated, which in turn leads to more people being infected. Articles like this make it harder for people to disclose their HIV status. Articles like this make people living with HIV feel like social outcasts.

So I'd ask The Sun, and all other papers for that matter, to get a grip, and have a good hard read of The National AIDS Trust's reporting guidelines. HIV is like any other medical condition, and it's time we all started treating it as such.

Tom Hayes is Editor-in-chief of beyondpositive. To follow: @PositiveLad

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