Ontario researchers have found most Canadian newspaper coverage of HIV-related criminal cases focuses on black men, even though the majority of defendants are white.
The team reviewed 1,680 English-language newspaper articles about people facing criminal charges related to not disclosing their HIV diagnosis to a partner, written between 1989 and 2015.
Of the 181 defendants during that time, 20 per cent were black. Yet 62 per cent of those articles were about black men.
“Our findings are startling,” said Laura Bisaillon, assistant professor of Health Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
“(The findings) point to a clear pattern of stereotypical, prejudicial, very generalizing and racist portrayal of black immigrant men living with HIV.”
Sixty-eight per cent of articles concentrated on non-white defendants. Forty-nine per cent focused on four African, Caribbean or black immigrant men, including former CFL player Trevis Smith.
The report’s title itself is scathing: Callous, Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous: Racialization, Immigration and the Representation of HIV Criminalization in Canadian Mainstream Newspapers. The quotation comes from a newspaper article.
“We were catalyzed to do this work because of concerns from African, black and Caribbean communities about prejudicial print media reporting,” Bisaillon said.
“Most people who are brought up on charges are white. But this isn’t how the press is having the Canadian public see and understand these issues.”
The report includes strategies for media to avoid racial bias, including not identifying a defendant’s country of origin, not using photos, and not referring to them as a “sex attacker” or “predator.”
Laura Keegan, director of public engagement for HIV Edmonton, emailed Global News this statement:
“It’s great to see research that is done that not only confirms what anecdotally was believed to be true but also comes with recommendations and next steps for change.
“The results speak for themselves as to the racial bias that exists and it is up to all of us to work together to ensure accurate, non-inflammatory reporting of all issues but we know that it is especially important in terms of the continued stigma facing people living with HIV.”
Professors from York, Lakehead and the University of Toronto compiled the report with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.