Research and report by: Eric Mykhalovskiy, York University, Colin Hastings, York University, Chris Sanders, Lakehead University, Michelle Hayman, University of Toronto & Laura Bisaillon, University of Toronto
For some time now, growing concerns have been voiced by African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) activists, people living with HIV, and AIDS service organizations (ASOs) that ACB people living with HIV are negatively portrayed and overrepresented in Canadian newspaper stories about criminal HIV non-disclosure cases. We investigate those alarming concerns in our report, “Callous, Cold and Deliberately Duplicitous”: Racialization, Immigration and the Representation of HIV Criminalization in Canadian Mainstream Newspapers.
Our report explores mainstream Canadian newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure criminal cases in Canada. Our analysis is based on 1680 English-language Canadian newspaper articles about HIV non-disclosure criminal cases in Canada written between 1989-2015. Overall, our findings show that newspapers are indeed a source of profoundly stigmatizing representations of ACB men living with HIV. This should be of great concern because the mainstream media are an important source of public information about HIV as most Canadians do not have close, first-hand knowledge of HIV, people living with HIV or crime.
Our quantitative findings overwhelmingly support community concerns about overrepresentation. For example, 68% of the articles focus on racialized defendants. Black men, and specifically Black immigrant men, are exceptionally overrepresented in our data. They are featured in newspaper articles three times more often than would be warranted on the basis of the proportion of all defendants they represent. Moreover, this overrepresentation holds true over time. Finally, newspaper coverage is highly concentrated on a small number of sensationalized cases involving four Black men. For example, almost half (802/1680, or 49%) of all coverage since 1989 is concentrated on just four racialized people.
Our qualitative analysis focuses on four Black men living with HIV who have received extensive newspaper coverage. Once more, our findings unequivocally support community concerns about the negative and stereotypical ways ACB men living with HIV are represented. For example, we show how they are represented as dangerous, “foreign others.” One way this happens is when newspaper stories are told in criminal justice time, a technique that objectifies people within a “crime story” genre, treating them primarily as criminal subjects whose personal circumstances are largely ignored. A second way that ACB men living with HIV are represented as dangerous occurs when representations of racialized difference and immigration status are associated with constructions of moral blameworthiness and public health threats. This happens, for example, by including photographs of defendants, by referring to so-called “rare” strains of HIV that originate in African countries, and by identifying defendants by country of origin.
Despite the disconcerting findings, we conclude the report on a hopeful note with possibilities for deepening and extending alternative ways of writing about and representing HIV criminalization. The profound silencing, othering and objectification of ACB defendants in newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure criminal cases calls for strategies that create a positive presence, in mainstream media, for ACB men living with HIV. Efforts to work toward that end are underway by ASOs and other organizations that are a part of African, Caribbean and Black communities. We hope that our report will help to inform ongoing public discussion of this issue at such events as the African, Caribbean and Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.