Gift givers, bug chasers and sexual outlaws: media responses to cases of knowing and reckless HIV transmission

Published: August 1, 2008

Gift givers, bug chasers and sexual outlaws: media responses to cases of knowing and reckless HIV transmission

Issues: Australia has seen several high profile cases in the past two years where criminal charges were laid involving deliberate or reckless transmission of HIV or reckless behaviour that might have led to HIV transmission. A new feature of the Australian cases was that three involved male to male sex with multiple partners.

Description: This paper analyses both gay and mainstream media responses to these cases. Mainstream media demonstrated little understanding of gay male sexual cultures and focused on the most sensational aspects of the cases, in particular claiming that there was a culture of gift giving and bug chasing in gay Melbourne despite a lack of evidence to support the claims. In the heterosexual cases, both of which involved African immigrants, stereotypes of sexually uncontrolled African men preying on white Australian women dominated the media discourse. This distorted media representation of people living with HIV/AIDS had a significant negative impact on PLWHA communities with an increased use of counselling services, peer support, and internet based support groups.

Lessons learned: Although community based service providers had anticipated some negative fallout from the cases, the impact of a month of sustained negative media coverage was far greater than we had originally anticipated. While some preparatory work had been done with journalists covering the health rounds, journalists covering the courts and legal rounds with no background in health issues wrote the ongoing coverage of the stories. A more comprehensive set of briefings and written briefing materials may have minimised some of the more negative coverage.

Next steps: For the next round of trials, community organisations are collaborating with the Health Department to minimise negative coverage and provide credible spokespeople who can provide a balanced view of gay male sex cultures.

-Abstract available at link below-

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