Sun, 08 Dec 2019

Photo from the Department of Health's Facebook page.

JEERS TO the Manila Standard for a misleading headline that reinforces prejudice against homosexuals.

International news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) on November 8 first reported that Spanish health authorities confirmed the first known case of dengue transmitted through sexual activity. The man reportedly contracted it from his male partner, who had recently been to Cuba where the illness is common. The story was straightforward in reporting the case, without highlighting the homosexual sex involved. Scientific studies have established that if a disease can be transmitted through sexual activity, then this would include both heterosexual and homosexual sex.

Both foreign and local news organizations republished the story, but the Standard stood out for using the headline "Dengue virus spreads via same-sex act" on its November 10 front page. Other headlines merely mentioned that dengue was transmitted sexually, refraining from any identification of the sex of the people involved.

The Standard's headline may be based on the fact that the partners in the case are the same sex. However, it implies that the transmission of the dengue virus through sexual activity is limited to people of the same sex. This ignored the reference by the AFP report to a scientific article on the possibility of transmitting dengue through heterosexual sex.

The headline misses the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections; the health sector has maintained that while official data show the predominance of cases of male-to-male sex, heterosexual sex can spread HIV as well, when the sex is unprotected.

The Standard's headline can then lead people to believe that gay people are responsible for transmitting certain illnesses, thus further contributing to the discrimination that has long stigmatized homosexuals. The media should lead in the correction of stereotypes, and keep themselves updated in reporting public health issues, especially in the context of recent controversies on vaccination programs and childhood diseases. Journalists would do well to avoid causing harm in their reports, hyping negative perceptions that are not based on facts. Journalism requires research, especially when covering special subjects.

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