This World AIDS Day NAT sets out to tackle HIV fake news

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A review of UK media coverage of HIV has revealed that myths and stigma, reminiscent of the ignorance of the 80s, are still rife in the press.

NAT examined 400 online news stories from recent months. 13% of national stories contained misinformation or stigmatising language. And in local news, more than a third (35%) of stories that mentioned HIV transmission gave incorrect information.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at NAT, commented: “News stories that erroneously refer to spitting or biting as an HIV transmission risk are a common issue NAT comes across – the prevalence of these myths in the media only increases fear and stigma around HIV. It’s worrying that the proportion of people who wrongly think HIV can be transmitted in these ways has increased in recent years.”

The charity is concerned that press do not always project the true context of HIV in the UK today, where it is considered a long-term manageable condition. The fact that most people living with HIV cannot transmit the virus due to effective treatment, is underappreciated. The charity is therefore calling on journalists to ensure that their reporting is up to date with the latest facts.

Additionally, NAT came across news reports that disclosed the HIV status of individuals, despite it having no relevance to the stories in question. On this Deborah added: “HIV is a medical condition, unless someone wants to talk about it, it should be treated as a private matter. Yet we see HIV status featuring in stories where the only relevance is that a person involved in the story happens to be living with HIV.”

NAT has published new guidelines for journalists, Reporting HIV: how to get it right. The charity is working with activists, MPs and journalists to spread the word about these guidelines.

Deborah Gold, chief executive of NAT said: “Journalists contend with a heavy workload and a fast-paced environment. 16% of the public think you can get HIV from spitting and 36% from biting – it’s no wonder we see the same misconceptions in our press. We hope these guidelines will be a practical tool for journalists to fact check stories and avoid some of the common pitfalls. We’re hopeful that our new guidelines will be adopted and used widely by publications across the UK.”

Anyone who wants to alert their local MP to the issue of stigmatising misinformation in their local media can do so here: http://act.lifewithhiv.org.uk/lobby/HIVmedia.

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