UK tabloid The Sun has come under scrutiny after it posted an exposé article regarding an unnamed A-List actor who is reportedly causing "panic" in Hollywood as he won't publicly admit his HIV positive status.
The Sun ran the story with the headline "HOLLYWOOD HIV PANIC" on 11 November, drawing attention to the star's supposedly long list of ex-lovers, who are all said to be high-profile and in the public eye. One is allegedly an award-winning actress, whilst the rest are made up of "a religious movie star, a top Hollywood personality with a controversial past, a TV star, a media personality, and a glamour model."
The Sun also claimed that the actor's lawyers are "bracing for the threat of potential action." The paper also says that on 10 November, a US showbiz insider said: "It has now become common knowledge that this star is HIV positive, something he has known for a number of years. It could be a game-changer in the understanding of HIV given that he's a straight man."
The news about a Hollywood actor reportedly diagnosed with HIV is not new. Radar Online previously shared the story earlier this month, describing it at the time as a "bombshell world exclusive." But as speculation spread about who the Hollywood actor could potentially be, it wasn't necessarily the revelation that shocked readers, but the treatment the subject of HIV received from the popular news outlet, and the comments made by the source.
HIV campaigners and rights groups state that the attitude of the article undoes "years of hard work" in eliminating the stigma that surrounds sufferers.
On Twitter, users expressed their contempt for the piece. One user wrote that they were "physically repulsed" by the coverage. Another said that the "panic story was a disgrace." One user asked: "Whoever this HIV positive Hollywood actor is... Is it really any of our business?" Another wrote: "Have I woken up 25 years ago?"
Executive director of external affairs from the Terrence Higgins Trust, Shaun Griffin, explained to the Huffington Post UK why the 'scare' report is so harmful, detailing how intentionally or not, it supports "unfounded prejudices."
"At its best this is irresponsible journalism. At its worst an insidious headline grab. It is impossible to comment on the details here because there aren't any. However we can counter the lack of veracity with fact. The fact is that for anyone diagnosed with HIV, they are given treatment that reduces the amount of HIV virus to an 'undetectable' amount and this means HIV cannot be passed on," said Griffin.
"The fact is that it is utterly wrong to disclose an individual's HIV status without their permission – though what we are provided with enough information here to effectively identify them. Even with the advances made in HIV testing and treatment, this shows that unfounded prejudices still remain. It is attitudes like these that perpetuate HIV stigma.
"Stigma is a dangerous construct and we've seen that it has a damaging effect on individuals and on public health. It can deter people from accessing testing or treatment, and can isolate a person living with HIV, causing anxiety or depression."
An estimated 100,000 people live with HIV in the UK. The Terrence Higgins Trust provides support to those concerned about HIV on its website.