Media Accountability and Responsible Reporting on HIV

by Sonia RastogiSBR MHP

In mid-May of 2011, “a brutal rape and sexual assault was not enough. Now the New York Post has turned its vicious sights on the woman who brought assault charges against International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Rather than focus on the issue of this young woman’s assault charges against a high-powered diplomat, the NY Post chose to break a sensationalist, and unfounded story speculating about the young woman’s HIV status. […] It perpetuates and environment where people cannot feel safe coming forward as survivors of violence without having their sexual history, health status, and ultimately their credibility, questioned.”

Above is an excerpt from PWN-USA in response to the NY Post’s horrendous coverage of the Strauss-Kahn case. As a young woman courageously brought assault charges against Strauss-Kahn, the NY Post chose to re-traumatize her by speculating about her HIV status and publishing their ideas.

The lack of responsible reporting on HIV issues is not an unfamiliar friend to the HIV community. Stigmatizing and sensationalist media stories and the lack of coverage of critical issues is a common battle faced by advocates in the field. For example, at the time of writing this piece, yours truly was notified of Portland, Oregon’s City Commissioner Randy Leonard’s stigmatizing statement implying that Portland residents could get AIDS from someone urinating in the city’s reservoir. The press continues to cover HIV-related stories with a fabricated dehumanizing lens.

In response to the Strauss-Kahn case, the women and HIV movement mobilized to bombard the NY Post with Letters to the Editor, facebook posts and tweets, blog articles, and a slew of other visibility initiatives. PWN-USA released a set of talking points for advocates nationwide, in addition to our public statement. NY Post coverage of the Strauss-Kahn case exacerbates the current war on women, where the sovereignty of women’s bodies, women’s reproductive choices, and women’s rights are being attacked and violated. For women living with HIV, the consequences are even more dire as access to sexual and reproductive services is already a existing challenge as positive women face tremendous stigma and human rights violations around pregnancy, their sexual desires, and access to basic preventative care such as pap smears.

Women and HIV advocates identified a need for us to take action to hold media accountable to responsible reporting. As we lead up to the International AIDS Conference in July 2012 – a moment in our history to shine a light on the epidemic among women and girls – our voices must be heard and we must be prepared to face the media with our stories, our words, and our fight for human rights. Stay tuned for how you can be involved in media accountability and responsible reporting!


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