April 23, 2014 9:39 am ET by Luke Brinker
Significant steps have been taken in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the past several years, but media coverage of the issue all too often fixates on stories that sensationalize the spread of the disease and even encourage the criminalization of people with HIV.
A new Equality Matters report examining evening cable news coverage of HIV/AIDS stories found that cable news networks largely ignored some of the most significant developments in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2013:
But even while news outlets have ignored major progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, many continue to highlight crime stories that sensationalize the spread of HIV. A look at CNN's evening coverage of HIV/AIDS stories in 2013, for example, reveals that, after the story of a baby who's HIV was in remission after early antiretroviral drug treatment, the network's top two HIV/AIDS topics were about a Missouri man who knowingly infected sex partners with the virus and an Oklahoma dentist whose unsanitary equipment may have infected patients:
Sensationalist news coverage, especially when it comes at the expense of serious reporting on the fight against HIV/AIDS, has real and damaging consequences for people living with the disease. As the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD notes, stories like the case of the Missouri man are used "to justify salacious and vilifying coverage that perpetuate stereotypes against HIV+ and LGBT communities":
This story directly relates to the matter of treating people who have HIV as criminals, while overlooking many of the realities with which such people struggle, like stigma and fear. Many media outlets have effectively reinforced the very issues they fail to acknowledge.
Rather than inform the public of the realities of living with HIV/AIDS, these kinds of stories encourage panic and further stigmatize an already marginalized community, which in turn worsens the problem of attempting to combat the spread of HIV.