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"Callous, cold and deliberately duplicitous": calling out racism in Canadian newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure cases 1989-2015

Wednesday, 30 November 2016 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // Social Media, Activism, African, Caribbean and Black, Current Affairs, Research, Legal, Media, Revolving Door, Guest Authors

Report issued by Canadian university researchers calls for fairness and accuracy in the newsroom and an end to coverage that stigmatizes people with HIV.

For the entire report go here.

Toronto, Canada – 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 through 2015. These startling findings dovetail with the theme of World AIDS Day 2016 (December 1, 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 have also been active for years in the areas of community organizing and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

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% of defendants charged in such cases, they are the focus of 61% of newspaper coverage. In fact, almost half (49%) 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 men 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 some 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 (CPPN). “The report documents the media's stigmatizing and unjust racial profiling of Black, heterosexual, immigrant men in HIV non-disclosure cases that perpetuates systemic discrimination.”

“This report is a powerful and persuasive indictment of Canadian mainstream media's coverage of HIV criminalization cases, exposing the media's bias against people of colour, 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 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 entire report go here.

The five authors of “Callous, Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous” have 40 years of collective experience in conducting social science research on HIV in university settings. They are:

Eric Mykhalovskiy [pictured at left] is Professor of Sociology at York University. He has conducted critical social science research on HIV/AIDS for over 20 years and researched HIV criminalization for the past seven years.

Colin Hastings is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at York University in Toronto. His research on HIV disclosure has incorporated health studies, criminal-legal studies and media studies.

Chris Sanders is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lakehead University. His research focuses on HIV criminalization and public health HIV prevention. Previously he worked in the HIV/AIDS non-profit sector.

Michelle Hayman has a master's degree in History, where she studied queer and anti-racist activism relating to Canada's 1970's immigration policies.

Laura Bisaillon is a social scientist and professor at the University of Toronto. She has worked in direct care, policy development, research and advocacy relating to HIV in Canada and the Horn of Africa.

Founded in 1959, York University is the second largest university in the Province of Ontario and the third largest in Canada. It has more than 200 university partnerships across the globe.