Background/introduction Despite media guidance from the National Aids Trust (NAT), there is evidence to suggest the UK media are continuing to portray HIV infection in a negative fashion. The “Charlie Sheen effect” has been described with a reported 400% increase in Google related HIV searches just after Charlie Sheen’s diagnosis.
Aim(s)/objectives Our aim was to identify themes of discussion about HIV in the media following the publication of Charlie Sheen’s diagnosis, focussing specifically on language used.
Methods Articles were selected using the term “Charlie Sheen HIV” in Google search engine. Fourteen articles dating from 17th November 2015 to 27th November 2015 were reviewed and common themes identified. We compared the language used to NAT guidelines.
Results 9/14 articles were negative in their overall discussion about HIV and three contained factually incorrect information. There were a large number of sensationalist headlines and quotes including “HIV monster”. 6/7 articles from 17th November referred to Sheen’s drug use, wealth and sexual preferences. Three speculated about sexual contact with “prostitutes” and transgender men. Two articles commented on racism and domestic violence despite no association with article content.
Discussion/conclusion The media continue to associate HIV infection with negative personality traits, which have no impact on HIV transmission. The media has a key role in reducing stigma associated with HIV. With a quarter of people living with HIV in the UK unaware of their status, it is imperative that barriers to testing and treatment (including pervasive stigma) are tackled urgently.
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