Yesterday The Sun published an article entitled ‘Taliban using HIV bombs’. According to The Sun Taliban fighters are burying dirty needles with their bombs in a bid to infect British troops with HIV.
I was alerted to the article by an email by Press Gang, an initiative by the National Aids Trust to keep activists alerted of how HIV is portrayed in the news and encourage people to respond and challenge inaccurate and stigmatizing reporting. I decided to write to The Sun because it is a national papers with millions of readers.
Here is my response. I hope it may inspire also others to write.
I am writing to complain about the article ‘Taliban using HIV Bombs ‘ which appeared on your paper today.
First of all the article is factually inaccurate. There is not scientific evidence that HIV can be transmitted by old needles. HIV is a very fragile virus and is dead and inactive as soon as it enters in contact with air. Dry blood is not infectious.There is not a single reported case anywhere in the world of someone being infected by a needle stick injury outside of a healthcare setting.
Secondly, the language and the tone of the article is highly stigmatizing. HIV is a virus, not a bomb and it is also easily avoidable. It is not used in wars and the vast majority of us who live with this virus go to great length to spread awareness, and prevent infections. Stigmatizing language and an approach that depicts HIV and by extension people who live with this virus as threats add to the stigma that already thrives in our communities. While HIV can easily be treated with ARVs, stigma kills. Because of stigma associated with HIV many people don’t even want to approach testing, or don’t access health services and support that could save their lives. By increasing stigma with your inaccurate and shallow reporting you are negatively affecting the lives of more then 85,000 people who live with HIV in the UK.
The National AIDS Trust has developed a very good resource for editors and journalists on reporting on HIV. You can have a look at it here
I really hope this letter will help you to report better around HIV in the future. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss the matter with me more in depth.’
So far I haven’t received a response, but if you would also like to write to The Sun regarding this article you can do so at email@example.com or directly to the journalist firstname.lastname@example.org . If you don’t want your letter to be published add: NOT FOR PUBLICATION.