HIV stigma in UK press reporting of a case of intentional HIV transmission

Rusi Jaspal, Brigitte Nerlich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The UK has set itself the ambitious target of zero new HIV transmissions by 2030. HIV stigma is a significant barrier to achieving this target. Media reporting plays an important role in shaping social representations of HIV and of stigma. Between 2016 and 2018, the media in the UK reported on the Daryll Rowe case – the first criminal prosecution for intentional transmission of HIV in the UK. This article examines the way that UK newspapers reported this case, which may have exacerbated HIV stigma. Using Nexis, 178 UK newspaper articles were extracted and subjected to qualitative thematic analysis through a social constructionist lens. Informed by social representations theory, the analysis yielded three discursive themes: (1) Representing the perpetrator through HIV-focussed metaphors; (2) Constructing volitional ambiguity; and (3) Anchoring the lived experience of HIV to misery and death. UK newspapers constructed an ‘evil vs victimhood’ dichotomy in relation to Rowe and the men infected with HIV, respectively. This article argues that news coverage of the Rowe story constructs HIV in ways that are inconsistent with public health messaging. Reporting failed to note innovations in HIV treatment and prevention but instead disseminated stigmatising social representations of HIV. This is important because stigma impedes effective HIV prevention, engagement with HIV care and ultimately our ability to achieve the zero-infections target.


  • Daryll Rowe
  • HIV
  • HIV criminalisation
  • media
  • social representations theory
  • stigma


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