View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. News
February 15, 2023

‘Disproportionate’ amount of HIV coverage relates to criminal cases, says charity

The National AIDS Trust said there are “really exciting roles” for journalists to play in ending transmission.

By Bron Maher

A “disproportionate” amount of coverage of HIV relates to criminal allegations, according to the National AIDS Trust (NAT).

The charity, which campaigns on HIV rights and to end transmission of the virus, said it also still sees misleading reporting about how it can spread.

But, its director of policy and communications Kat Smithson said, there are “important and really exciting roles” for journalists to play in ending stigmatisation and transmission.

NAT has long collaborated with press regulator IPSO to provide guidelines around reporting on the virus, Smithson told Press Gazette last week during National HIV Testing Week.

https://twitter.com/NAT_AIDS_Trust/status/1619969045318565889

In its most recent revision, Smithson said the NAT hoped to make the guidelines “quite concise and punchy”, adding a clear list of dos and don’ts and more information about “the key things we see reported and misreported in the media”.

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

The don’ts include making reference to AIDS the journalist really means HIV and calling people living with HIV “victims” or “sufferers” of the virus. Dos include remembering “most people living with HIV in the UK are on effective treatment and cannot transmit the virus”.

Content from our partners
Free journalism awards for journalists under 30: Deadline today
MHP Group's 30 To Watch awards for young journalists open for entries
How PA Media is helping newspapers make the digital transition

The guidelines also emphasise that three false claims keep cropping up in reporting on HIV: that a bite from a person with HIV can transmit the virus, that being spat on by someone with HIV can transmit it and that stepping on a discarded needle can transmit HIV.

“This has consequences for stigma,” Smithson said. So too did the fact that “a really disproportionate amount of coverage of HIV relates to criminal cases… particularly around human interest stories”.

She was speaking with Press Gazette less than two weeks after former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas settled a civil legal case levelled against him by his ex-partner Ian Baum, who accused Thomas of “deceptively” transmitting HIV to him. Thomas did not accept liability and maintains his innocence.

[Read more: Rugby star Gareth Thomas on media portrayal of HIV and tabloid blackmail allegations]

Asked if she had advice for journalists covering such cases, Smithson said “misrepresentation of the charge” was the most common mistake the NAT saw in reporting, as there is a difference under the law between “reckless” and “intentional” infection.

But she added: “A really key thing is this is a civil case and not a criminal case.” She said it is important not to infer it could be criminal if the complainant had chosen to pursue it in the criminal courts because the standard of evidence for a criminal charge is much higher.

Another of the charity’s concerns was that the case “opens up a discussion about talking about your HIV status that can misrepresent the law”.

“There is no legal requirement for a person living with HIV to talk about their status with sexual partners, or with anyone else, in any circumstances.”

The Thomas-Baum case, Smithson said, looked specifically at whether Thomas recklessly transmitted HIV to Baum, not whether or not Thomas should have informed Baum of his status. 

While commentators were free to discuss whether there is a responsibility for someone who cannot pass on the virus to tell their partners regardless, Smithson said it was important “that it’s not presented as an issue under the law”.

Looking beyond cases like that one, Smithson said the public was “still really interested in HIV” and “not necessarily in a negative way…Research we’ve done has shown that the general public really want to see approaches to HIV that are supportive of people living with HIV.”

The public understands that there is a stigma around the virus, Smithson said, and wanted that addressed “but they’re not necessarily being armed with all of the facts.

“When you do come across HIV coverage it’s usually to do with risks of HIV exposure and the negative impacts of HIV diagnoses – there isn’t really a counter-narrative.”

Smithson suggested there was an appetite for human interest stories focusing on people with HIV happily living their lives as normal.

“There are some important and really exciting roles for journalists and the media to make a huge difference over HIV.”

DON’T say AIDS (unless you really
mean it) or HIV/AIDS.
DON’T write that a person has been
at risk of HIV when they have not.
DON’T refer to ‘HIV sufferers’ or
‘HIV victims’ or to HIV as a ‘death
sentence’ or a ‘terminal disease’.
DON’T imply that only gay men can
acquire HIV.
DON’T report that condoms are the
only way to prevent HIV.
DON’T put HIV in a story, or
disclose a person’s HIV status,
when it’s not relevant.
DOS & DON’TS
DO say HIV and, if relevant, HIV and AIDS.
DO remember most people living with
HIV in the UK are on effective treatment
and cannot transmit the virus and that you
cannot get HIV from spitting, biting for from
discarded needles.
DO refer to ‘people living with HIV’
and to HIV as a long-term condition,
remembering that people diagnosed
with HIV in good time have the same life
expectancy as anyone else.
DO remember lots of people living
with HIV are heterosexual (roughly half in
the UK) and that HIV disproportionately
affects groups that face wider prejudice
such as gay and bisexual men, trans
people and people from BAME groups.
DO report that condoms are an important
aspect of HIV and STI prevention, but that
there is also a pill you can take to protect
yourself from HIV (PrEP) and that HIV
treatment means that most people living
with HIV cannot transmit the virus.
DO remove unnecessary references to HIV
and protect the right to confidentiality of a
person living with HIV wherever possible.
“Dos and don’ts” guidance from the National AIDS Trust on reporting on HIV/AIDS.

Topics in this article : ,

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network