Mail on Sunday continues to show prejudice: why am I surprised?

Amidst the stories surrounding the founder of WikLeaks, Julian Assange, today’s Mail on Sunday, the headline appears

Accusers went to police after he refused AIDS test

mail on sunday assange 2010-12-19It has to be said that the text of the story refers to an HIV test – but the headlines that which grabs the readers’ attention is using incorrect language. Moreover, it is offensive to the many people throughout the world living with HIV – and as has been said before, I am one of them.

By sensationalising the story, the Editor of the Mail on Sunday breaches the the Guidelines for reporting HIV published by NAT, and supported by the Society of Editors, the NUJ, and the Press Complaints Commission which says that you should

Avoid sensationalism.  Resist the temptation
to sensationalise issues in ways which could be
harmful.  Sensational language and images can
cause unnecessary anxiety for people with HIV as
well as more widespread fear.  In the past, poor
reporting of HIV has cost people living with HIV
their jobs and their homes.

UNESCO even has a guide on how to use language around HIV and AIDS, one of the problematic terms they have listed is

Using AIDS when you mean HIV

Even though this distinction is made clear in the
examples throughout this document, this is one of the
most common mistakes seen in reports on HIV and
AIDS issues.
AIDS is a range of conditions – a syndrome – that
occurs when a perso ’ ns immune system is seriously
weakened by HIV infection. Someone who has HIV
infection has antibodies to the virus but may not have
developed any of the illnesses that constitute AIDS.

As more of us living with HIV ‘come out’ in UK society and the world learns that we are human beings just like any other, and that HIV is an infection and not something to be demonized, I hope that even the right-wing press like the Mail will learn to use language that is appropriate. Until that day, we’ll have to continue to make comment on the website, complain to the Press Complaints Commission, write letters to the Editor, and comment elsewhere highlighting the issue. I wish I didn’t have to do this on the Sunday before Christmas, but when you see an injustice, it is better to try and make it better. I’m sure that Jesus Christ would have done that.

What you can do?

  • Write to the editor by emailing
  • Complaint to Press Complaints Commission here
  • Support your local HIV charities, if in Northern Ireland, who are fighting against the stigma and prejudice surrounding HIV. If you are in Northern Ireland, I’d suggest you support The HIV Support Centre,

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