Broadcaster TVB has come under fire for spreading misleading messages related to AIDS, after its TV drama portrayed a character committing suicide after being told that he may be infected with HIV.
An episode of TVB’s Cantonese drama “Two Steps From Heaven,” aired this week, tells the story of a man who has unprotected sex with a model. It is then revealed to be a setup designed by another character, who tells the man that the model carries HIV virus. “You are going to die anyway. Either you die alone, or take revenge on [another character],” the man is told.
The man then tells his family who tries to stop him from committing suicide: “I’m doomed. I have AIDS. I was about to get together with [a female character], but I got infected. I deserve to die… I will never have the chance to be living happily again.”
The NGO AIDS Concern responded in a statement that the public should remain calm and seek medical help as soon as possible if they suspect they may be infected with HIV. It urged the public not to “make judgments based on appearances, as HIV-positive patients may not develop any apparent symptoms.”
Marco Wong of AIDS Concern told HKFP: “We worried that portraits like this might lead to tragedies of people copying the character of the drama. Whether it is AIDS or other diseases, we don’t want to see any tragedy.”
“Local media – from news reports to TV dramas – still spread backward information about AIDS. They often send the message that AIDS is a fatal disease, and that there is no point in living once infected,” he said.
Wong added that common misconceptions in Hong Kong that AIDS is a disease for homosexuals and those who are into casual sex should also be corrected.
Apart from scaremongering headlines occasionally used by newspapers, Wong said there are also many rumours on the internet that spread misconception about the disease. He gave the example of HIV-infected banana hoax that emerged many years ago but has been circulating again recently.
“These rumours emerge from time to time and create fear among the public about the disease,” he said. “If people misunderstand the disease and are scared about it, it would reduce people’s incentive to seek medical help. They may also not be willing to seek help if they are afraid of being labelled and criticised by their family.”
A spokesperson for TVB told Ming Pao that the story is fictional and does not intend to promote incorrect understanding of AIDS or target any particular group of society.
According to the Centre of Health Protection, the life expectancy of HIV-positive patients is comparable to that of people without HIV.
The government’s latest figures show that there have been around 8,200 reported HIV infections in total since 1984.
If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084.