HIV Criminalization Study Shows Pattern of Racism Toward Black Men

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(EDGE) A pioneering study of Canadian media, focusing on the newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure and transmission cases, has identified a clear pattern of racism towards Black men in Canadian mainstream newspaper articles from 1989 though 2015. These startling findings dovetail with the theme of the recent World AIDS Day 2016 -- HIV Stigma: Not Retro, Just Wrong.

The just-released report, "Callous, Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous" proves that in Canadian media coverage, Black men are repeatedly represented in sensationalistic and racially stereotypical terms, and demonized as deceitful sexual predators. This trend occurs despite evidence that the majority of people who face criminal charges for HIV non-disclosure in Canada are White.

The landmark report -- subtitled "Racialization, Immigration and the Representation of HIV Criminalization in Canadian Mainstream Newspapers" -- was researched and written by a five-person team of academics who also have been active for years in the arenas of community organizing and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Related: Report on HIV Criminalization in Florida

Their report determines that black immigrant men living with HIV in Canada are dramatically overemphasized in Canadian mainstream newspaper stories about HIV non-disclosure criminal cases. While these men account for only 15 percent of defendants charged in such cases, they are the focus of 61 percent of newspaper coverage. In fact, almost half (49 percent) of the coverage focuses on the specific cases of four black men, all of whom are immigrants.

The new report reached its conclusions by utilizing the largest-ever sampling of newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure criminal cases. The severity of the results was unexpected, the team said.
"The most striking revelation of this report was the grand scale of stereotyping and stigmatizing by Canadian media outlets in their sensationalistic coverage of HIV non-disclosure cases," said Eric Mykhalovskiy, Professor of Sociology at York University and report team leader. "It's upsetting to read myths masquerading as news and repeating the theme of how black man living with HIV are hypersexual dangerous "others." This approach not only demeans journalism, but it inflames racism and HIV stigmatization, undermining educational and treatment efforts."
The Report has already been presented in several of the most influential academic venues in Canada and the United States, including Yale University. The findings have both shocked and galvanized advocates working to end HIV criminalization, stigma and injustice across North America and abroad.

"Callous Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous exposes the anti-black, anti-immigrant and AIDS-phobic discourses used by the Canadian media in highly sensationalized news reports," said Christian Hui, an HIV-positive activist and co-founder of the Canadian Positive People Network. "The report documents the media's stigmatizing and unjust racial profiling of Black heterosexual immigrant men in HIV non-disclosure cases that perpetuates systematic discrimination."

Related: BrothasSpeakFTL: A Gathering Place for GBT Black Men

"This report is a powerful and persuasive indictment of mainstream Canadian media's coverage of HIV criminalization cases, exposing the media's bias against people of color, immigrants and people with HIV in general," said Sean Strub, a veteran AIDS advocate activist and executive director of The Sero Project, a United States-based organization whose mission is to end inappropriate criminal prosecution of people with HIV for non-disclosure.
"An analysis of U.S. media coverage of HIV criminalization cases would no doubt come to similar conclusions," Strub continued. "This important document offers incontrovertible evidence as to how mainstream media is a major driver of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, as well as against racial minorities and immigrant communities."

"Callous, Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous" offers several proposals for improving media coverage of HIV criminalization.  The report team suggest that newspapers:


  • Treat HIV non-disclosure as a health issue, not simply a crime story. Assign stories to health editors, not crime beat reporters.
  • Do not use mug shots in filing stories; they drive home the stigmatizing and discriminatory idea that people with HIV are criminals.
  • Expunge story descriptions that are inherently racist or that demonize the defendant.
  • Ensure that coverage about HIV transmission is based on current scientific research, including research on the negligible risk of transmitting HIV when people living with HIV have an undetectable viral load.
  • Reach out to AIDS service organizations, people living with HIV and HIV advocates for enlightened perspectives, when interviewing sources for these stories.

For the full report, click 

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