The study, published this month in China Media Research, identified a complex paradox in Chinese media – the more news stories focused on destigmatizing HIV/AIDS, the more they implicitly reinforced the stigma.
The comprehensive content analysis of HIV/AIDS coverage in eight Chinese newspapers over a nine year period was led by Chunbo Ren, a doctoral candidate, and his adviser Stacey Hust, assistant professor in communication. The third author is Peng Zhang from the University of Georgia.
According to Hust, this is one of the first published content analyses focused on the presence of HIV/AIDS stigmatization in Chinese media.
The study’s results indicate that the Chinese news articles often included stigmatizing metaphors, such as referring to AIDS as a super cancer or the plague. Other articles included labels for people who live with the HIV/AIDS virus, such as AIDS girl or AIDS orphan.
“This stigmatizing language implies that the disease is the person’s identity,” Ren said. “For example, one feature story was about a woman getting married. It was really only newsworthy because the ‘AIDS bride’ was getting married. That’s how Chinese journalists referred to her.”
“When a disease is this stigmatized, it can affect individuals’ decisions to seek health information or treatment,” Hust said.” That’s why it is important to identify whether diseases like HIV/AIDS are stigmatized by the media.”
The content analysis was the first step in what Ren figures will be a lifetime of research.
“This study took us more than one year to finish. It was exhausting, but the findings are of great significance,” he said.
Now that he has helped establish that Chinese media stigmatize HIV/AIDS, Ren plans to focus his dissertation research on the topic. He plans to develop a college curriculum for journalism students in China to help teach them to avoid using stigmatizing language in their news stories. Hust will advise his dissertation.
Stacey Hust, E.R. Murrow College of Communication, (509) 335-3696, [email protected]